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Talent Strategy | 40 minute read

Talent acquisition trends for 2021

January 21, 2021

2020 was one of the most challenging years of my career – as it was for many. I've experienced global recessions before and even social unrest, but I've not lived through a pandemic. As COVID-19 swept its way across the world, I, like everyone else, had no idea of the havoc it would wreak. Businesses had to make huge changes overnight, with many forced to adopt remote work models within a matter of hours, literally, to keep employees safe.

Boardroom priorities also changed. The main concern was how to ensure the safety of employees, their families and customers.

Many companies had to make difficult decisions about headcount; some made layoffs, others paused recruitment, while businesses in industries like healthcare, technology and pharmaceuticals, had to increase their headcount at speed (and still are) to cope with incredible demand.  

And, although uncertainty is the new norm for most of us, one thing that is certain as we head into 2021 is the need for employers to take a proactive approach to talent. In this blog, we’re going to look at seven talent trends that will shape recruitment in 2021. 

Employment brands will be refined. 

Employers that prioritise employee well-being over profit will find it easier to attract top talent this year. The results of our upcoming 2021 Fortune 500 Employment Branding report shows candidates (and customers) are judging companies on how well they responded to the pandemic.

Over-communication and transparency are key. Talent acquisition teams must personalise content and messaging to cater to all generations and segment of workers. For example, boomers will want to know if an organisation is financially strong before hitting the apply button and millennials will want to see how a company partnered with the community during tough times. 

Many organisations increased their use of gig workers in the latter half of 2020 and will likely continue to do so until economic conditions improve, so it’s vital this segment of workers is not forgotten about when it comes to employment branding. Prove you view talent as being equally important regardless of employment status and let contractors know what perks they’re entitled to.  

Remember, the aim of an employment brand is to attract top talent. Put yourselves in the shoes of candidates and think about what you’d want to learn more about before taking a job somewhere. This brings me nicely on to the next talent acquisition trend of 2021: the rise of the remote workforce.  

Hybrid remote-office models will be embraced. 

The pandemic has normalised remote working. And, although it was born out of necessity to help stop the spread of COVID-19, it's something that's here to stay. The shift has been much welcomed from an employee perspective. In fact, just 12% of people would prefer working from the office all the time, a survey from Slack found.

Several of the world’s largest tech companies have publicly announced plans to allow employees to work remotely permanently and many more have revealed plans for a hybrid remote-office model. Such a move will allow these organisations to position themselves as employers of choice. If your organisation is going to offer remote roles, make sure you refer to this in your recruitment marketing material. It could be the difference between a candidate choosing your company over a competitor.

Remote work, however, challenges companies to put extra effort into employee engagement to empower their teams. The water cooler catch-ups may have become a thing of the past, but employees still crave informal connections. Video calls help, as do buddy programmes and mentoring programmes.

The rise in remote working will widen talent pools. Employers will be able to rethink the geographical constrictions and hire from anywhere in the world. There are, however, some complexities to consider. Visas aren’t always easy to come by and there are nuances to how the job is presented and received that need consideration, in addition to taxes and compliance.  

And, because more companies are embracing a virtual model, some employees intend to relocate from cities with a high cost of living, like San Francisco and New York, to more affordable areas. This will improve their work-life balance for sure, but some employers have talked about reducing pay for those employees. While compensation has traditionally been based on pay rates that are adjusted geographically and are market-driven, companies changing rates based on where a remote worker lives could damage morale, hurt their employer brand and reduce retention rates. 

The benefits of a total talent approach will be realised. 

The notion of buying, building and borrowing talent has long been a consideration in any talent acquisition strategy; after all, it’s key to talent management. But, in 2021, borrowing talent will continue to play a critical role. Because we live in an era dominated by chronic skills shortages, companies have come to rely on temporary talent to plug the gaps. This was compounded by the priorities that millennials and gen Z, which make up the largest segment of employees in today's workforce, have regarding what work they should do, where, when and how they should do it.

Look no further than the rise in talent platforms such as UpWork, Toptal and InnoCentive. According to Harvard Business Review research, these on-demand platforms have quadrupled, going from 80 in 2009 to more than 330 now. Further, the Harvard Business Review surveyed almost 700 businesses that use the platforms, which revealed that 90% of the leaders questioned believe these platforms will be critical to their ability to compete in the future. This makes perfect sense given some employers are still treading cautiously; they don't want to hire to fire.

In addition to the contingent workforce, we expect organisations to place more of a focus on reskilling their current workforces to combat skills shortages. Internal mobility will also be a big trend in the year ahead. 

The skills of today are not the skills of tomorrow, and organisations will find several ways to ensure they have the talent they need to keep moving forward. Outsourcing their talent function  or part of it – will provide the flexibility employers are looking for to be ready for anything coming their way.

Read more with our Managing Talent Beyond Turbulent Times whitepaper 

Contingent workforce solutions will be integrated into total talent management.  

Employers that are planning to increase their use of gig workers in 2021 and beyond will need to ensure they have effective virtual onboarding and learning and development (L&D) processes in place to bring contractors up to speed. In addition, they'll also need to consider how to evaluate and manage performance. Some employers are even thinking about whether contractors will be eligible for some of the same perks as their full-time counterparts.  

And, of course, don’t forget to highlight the benefits of contractors to permanent employees. They need to know it’s not an “us v. them” situation; instead, promote the advantages of expanding the workforce and detail how you envision they’ll help lighten the load.  

Employee value propositions (EVPs) will need amending to reflect any changes. Like I’ve said countless times before, “talent is talent,” regardless of whether it’s permanent, contingent or otherwise. Talent must be viewed holistically and inclusively to get the most out of your talent management  strategy.  

Talent teams will lead diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts. 

When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), there was a (much needed) shift in how businesses prioritised it in 2020. The racial injustice and social inequalities that were felt around the world last year had many companies issuing statements about their stance and reviewing internal policies.

In September, we asked talent leaders if they had amended their DEIB strategies over the last six months and 30% said they had. The renewed focus on DEIB undeniably had an impact on employment brand and EVP. More than three in four employees and job seekers (76%) revealed a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and jobs. In addition, about one in three employees and job seekers (32%) said they wouldn't apply to a job at a company where there's a lack of workforce diversity according to research from Glassdoor. The figures speak for themselves. Now is the time to expand and optimise your workplace DEIB programmes.

As we move forward in 2021, talent acquisition teams will continue to play more of a role in holding businesses to account. It’s become clear that employees, candidates and even consumers, expect organisations to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Silence is acceptance, even if there is dialogue internally. Talent acquisition teams will have to ensure they’re delivering diverse pipelines of candidates and that they’re holding hiring managers accountable for tracking them through the funnel.Whether it’s building diverse interview panels or mandating reporting against diversity goals, talent acquisition teams will need to adapt hiring processes to reduce bias.   

Talent pipelining will increasingly become a priority. 

Pipelining talent has always been crucial for best-in-class organisations, but its importance was  highlighted during the pandemic. 

Companies that paused hiring got busy pipelining to prepare for what was to come. But pipelining isn't about collecting candidates for the sake of it. Organisations need to look at the trajectory of their organisation to determine what future skill sets they'll need to be successful. That way when it comes time to hire for those roles, there's a pool of interested, capable candidates waiting in the wings.

Once in the talent community, companies need to consider what candidates want to see and hear to stay engaged. Determine what frequency is right and gain an understanding of candidates’ interests and types of employment before sharing information that’s not relevant to them. Part of a successful talent community engagement strategy is to segment your audience so you’re sending them content that is specific and relevant to them. It will keep them more engaged.  

Authentic content will matter in talent community engagement. 

Talent communities provide the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships if you leverage them properly. Hyper-personalised content will keep candidates engaged for longer. Employee-generated blogs can effectively showcase company culture, giving candidates a glimpse into life at your company. In fact, all employee-generated content (including videos, podcasts and testimonials) works well within talent communities and can satisfy the cravings that today's candidates have for real content, from real people. They don't want to hear from marketing teams; they want to hear from those already working at the company (i.e., their future colleagues).

It's worth noting that during times of uncertainty, like a pandemic, over-communication is vital. If you're pausing recruitment, let your community know. They will appreciate the honesty. Remember to continually evaluate your talent community and the content you share with candidates to measure its effectiveness. If something isn't working, or engagement levels are low, adapt your strategy.

As we embark on 2021, talent acquisition will continue to be a business priority. Strategic workforce planning must take center stage. And, although we can't predict what the future holds, we can ready ourselves for several scenarios and be prepared to take on whatever's dished out. Cheers to a better year in 2021!

About Craig Sweeney

As executive vice president, global strategic talent solutions, Craig leads WilsonHCG's growth strategy and new partnership cultivation across the globe. Alongside the trusted consultants at WilsonHCG, he builds market-leading, scalable and customisable RPO solutions. Craig's relationships span all industry verticals and geographies with expertise in technology, business services, financial services, engineering, manufacturing, retail, and media.