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In Focus: Job vacancies equal job seekers for the first time. What does it mean?

Our In Focus series of articles originally appeared in The Leadership Bulletin, a free weekly bulletin for leaders and managers. You can subscribe here.

The Sunday Times business section is awash with charts, so much so that they usually blend in with each other. But one chart stood out to me in last week’s Sunday Times. It showed the ratio of job vacancies to job seekers - put another way, how many jobs there are being advertised to every job seeker in the UK. After tanking during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since soared to the highest level since modern records began: 1:1. For everybody looking for work, there is a job.

This sounds like good news. After all, job seekers want jobs and there are plenty of them about. But the picture is much more complex than it looks, especially for employers who are seeking to bring new talent in to their organisations. So what lessons might leaders and managers take from this latest development?

Firstly, employers need to recognise that their employees are in the driving seat. That is to say that existing staff, as well as potential staff, have more choice for employment than before. An example of this from a recent news report said that BA is currently paying a signing-on bonus of £1,000 to encourage people to jump ship from other airlines and join their cabin crew teams. Such ‘golden hellos’ will be taking place in many of the most staff-deprived sectors across the country; you need to start by knowing that your competitors may be inducing your team members away with welcome bonuses, better pay, or significant perks.

Secondly, recruitment is hard - and it is going to stay that way. Bringing new people into a team is always a big task, but it will be even more so in the months ahead. If you have a vacancy - especially one that is critical to your success - I recommend finding new and diverse ways to get your job vacancies in front of the right people. This might mean promotions on social media, incentivising existing members of your team with a bonus if they recommend someone who you subsequently recruit, or even doing something few managers like, using a recruitment agency. Think of the difference a superb hire makes compared to a misjudged one and factor that in to your decision-making when trying to bring the right skills and experience in to your organisation.

Thirdly, sensible employers need to make staff retention an absolute priority. That’s the logical consequence of the two observations above. After all, the best way to avoid the problem of recruitment is by keeping the good staff that you already have. I recommend that you consult widely on working practises, including where people work from and for how many days, to ensure your team are happy with how you work. If issues emerge, you could consider a shorter working week, if that would fit your team and organisation, or investigate options to enhance staff benefits (e.g., through a rewards system or offers - whatever makes people feel good about being part of your team).

The key takeaway is that we’re in one of the toughest labour markets for recruiting and holding on to great staff we have known in years. This isn’t without its advantages for employees, who find their skills more in demand and with less competition than before. But for employers it is an enormous challenge that cannot be taken too lightly.