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Why is recruitment like a pair of decent sunglasses?

In a word: polarised. Or at least that’s my view.

I saw an article recently that predicted the demise of in-house recruitment. In your dreams (it was written by an agency recruiter). However if anyone thinks the recruitment industry is on its last knees that’s not right either. Not yet anyway.

About a decade ago I predicted that the UK market would split into two camps and I am still of that view today.

In the blue corner you have those employers who see in-house recruitment as the only way to go. They speak fluently about employer brand and employer value proposition. They see the role as attracting and managing talent into, through and out of the business. Resourcing is usually their preferred term – or talent acquisition. Recruitment is for the “dark side” – the agency recruiters.

So how about Darth Vader and his pals in the red corner? Well they might get on pretty well with employers at the other end of the spectrum. These organisations see recruitment as a thankless task and are happy to let others get on with it. For them it is a process orientated distraction from the real value HR can bring to a business. An HR Director I once worked for said something like “you’ll never win medals in recruitment. The best you can hope for is not getting beaten up”.

The reaction to this “no win” headset is often to either set up a project management style of recruitment function – ie a very small team of recruiters leveraging a big PSL of agency suppliers who effectively do the legwork. Either that or they go the whole hog and outsource recruitment completely to an RPO provider.

Personally I think both models can work extremely well. Well-resourced, knowledgeable and technologically savvy in-house teams can do a fantastic job. Even in markets where skills are scarce.

PSL and RPO models can work well too – provided you are clear what you are paying for. The RPO industry in my experience is all geared up around how quick or how cheap you can do something. It’s a transactional model – which is OK up to a point. And that point comes when you ask what part of their reward is linked to hiring people who are energised, engaged performers – versus who accepts job offers? What part of their fee for example is linked to the performance rating of the person they helped hire?

In-house teams go wrong too. And that is often down to them being under-resourced, under-skilled and technology poor. Recruitment is too often the bit of HR nobody wants to move in to – only out of. L&D, ER and Talent all seem somehow sexier. Let’s be honest though, the main reason is usually that telling people down the pub you work in recruitment is a bit like saying you are an estate agent.

The moral in all this is that I see the polarisation growing. Increasingly I see organisations coming off the fence and going one way or another. The winners in the in-house stakes (supplier wise) are likely to be consultants specialising in employer brand and candidate experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, agencies need to evolve. Putting technology aside what else has really changed in the way they work since the early 80’s? It is still pretty much the same level of fees for putting a bum on a seat.

I remember when Austin Knight first revealed the recruitment advertising market was shrinking in value in real terms. Revenues were going up due to inflation but other channels had gained market share. I see the same happening in the recruitment agency world. Client spend may be driven up by salary inflation and increasing staff turnover. But the danger is more money will go elsewhere… And that could, as the recruitment advertising industry discovered, mark the beginning of a long term decline.

So, the challenge I have set the Chiumento recruitment team is to come up with something very different. A genuine USP in a market used to re-packaging the same old offer. And they’ve come up with a corker. Such a bright one in fact that I might need those sunglasses.

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