There is little doubt that the major political and economic changes taking place has caused a certain level of uncertainty in the recruitment market in recent months.
However, there are signs that this uncertainty is dispersing as we start to become clearer about the short term outlook. On the whole, professional services firms have been taking a pragmatic approach, looking for new ways to capitalise on market conditions, and carrying on with any hiring needs. Whilst 2017 started slowly we have seen hiring levels increase in some areas to levels that we hadn’t seen the previous 2 years which bodes very well for job seekers.
One of the noticeable changes taken by most firms has been to place more rigour around recruitment processes. This includes assessing whether tasks can be covered with existing resources, whether the role can be managed in a lower cost location, or indeed whether there is a need for the role at all. More interviews and checks are being undertaken by employers to ensure true consensus on making a hire and the decision to recruit is being taken further up the hierarchy.
One of biggest challenges for firms across the next 12 months will be balancing short term needs, long term objectives and economic uncertainty in a very candidate short market. Here is an overview of the skills most in demand as we enter Q2.
BD, marketing and communications
2017 hiring started slowly across Professional Services firms for Business Development, Marketing & Communications staff. However, by February the market began to pick up and job vacancies increased across the board.
One of the major highlights so far this year has been the increase in hiring at Director and 'Head of' level. This has been particularly prevalent within the legal sector where we saw hiring at this seniority increase to levels beyond that of the entire of 2016. Whilst hiring was mainly down to churn rather than due to newly created roles, we do expect this trend to continue through Q3 as more change is expected across professional services firms due to restructuring, M&A activity and on-going change in the political and economic landscape.
The other major trend of the year so far has been the shortage of job seekers in BD, Marketing and Communications versus the number of jobs available in the market. We have seen a shortage of talent across most areas from assistant to senior manager level but firms have particularly struggled to secure talent for BD Executive roles, Senior Manager roles, Marketing Managers as well as the typically talent-short areas of Bids and PR.
Legal finance and accounting
Following the uncertainty at the end of 2016, the legal finance recruitment market has been busier than ever in recent months. Jobseekers have the confidence to move and take risks in the market, and a significant number of new roles have become available due to organic growth.
Billing roles have been in high demand since the beginning of 2017 however many experienced billers are looking to move into a revenue/partner facing role. Pure billers are harder to come by.
E-billing continues to be a sought after skill set and there is currently a general lack of these candidates in the market as this is a newer area within legal finance.
Experience of Elite 3e remains highly desirable due to the number of firms upgrading their software, and demand for this will continue to grow.
On the temporary and contract side many Legal Cashier roles have become available while on the permanent side we have seen a rise in Credit Control vacancies.
Commercial/Pricing focused finance roles continue to be a growth area for the legal sector and we have seen a high demand from revenue controllers wanting to transition into these positions. Many have been able to transition successfully due to a lack of experienced pricing professionals in the market and because revenue controllers have the relevant skill set to evolve into a commercial role. i.e. their existing partner-facing skill sets, exposure to rates and strong numerical skills.
Insolvency and restructuring
Having experienced a flat insolvency market for the past few years, most Insolvency Practices would agree that activity has increased over the past six to nine months.
Hiring good staff at Administrator and Senior Administrator grade remains a major challenge for employers, with less movement taking place and a significantly reduced pool of candidates becoming available. A number of insolvency professionals have left the profession altogether in recent months.
Those candidates with 12 months to five years’ corporate case experience will be looked at favourably by the marketplace and those with the accountancy qualification or CPI are very well viewed.
Temporary and contract requirements picked up in Q1 despite the majority of vacancies being permanent. This has been due to the sporadic nature of new appointments coming through with Insolvency Practices favouring immediately available candidates that can step in and assist over a fixed busy period.
Experienced Legal PAs and EAs remain in high demand. Fee-earner recruitment remains a key focus law firms of all sizes and this of course impacts business support teams. Many firms are currently reviewing the support that PAs and Secretaries are providing to their partners and fee earners with the aim of ensuring that the lawyers are maximising their fee earning time.
Several law firms have redefined their PA/Secretarial roles and a high proportion of document work has been moved to dedicated Document Production teams. Some of these DP teams have also been outsourced.
With the market remaining steady, competition to recruit the best talent will remain high. To encourage staff retention, several firms have been implementing clearly defined career paths for their Secretarial / PA staff. This is encouraging as clear career progression for business support staff is one area that had been lacking in previous years.
Despite some uncertainty in the market there are still many things to be positive about when it comes to professional services recruitment.