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Feb 9, 2022

Expected business concerns predicted for 2021 were dramatically different from the challenges leaders actually faced last year. That’s the most notable finding in hireEZ’s recent 2021 Recruiting for Recovery and 2022 Recruitment Outlook Reports. When reflecting on mid-year and end-of-year responses from talent acquisition pros, the following trends were illuminated:

  • Early investment priorities struggled to maintain as sharp of a focus
  • Employer competition heated up to capture candidates from limited talent pools
  • Staying competitive hinged on the ability to expand avenues to accessing and engaging talent

Although 87% of recruiters considered diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a top priority in 2020, it was not a top budget priority heading into 2021 — only being a priority for 6% of recruiters. However, within six months, the budget priorities for DEI grew by 21% compared with expectations — becoming the No. 1 budget priority for recruiting teams. 

But that moment of heightened focus was short-lived. By the end of 2021, DEI had slid to fifth in overall budget priority, as investments for improvements to tech stacks and marketing initiatives rose to compete for top priority. 

Meanwhile, team collaboration and remote work — anticipated by 53% of recruiters to be a No. 1 concern at the beginning of 2021 — were less of a challenge than expected. Instead, by mid-year, 61% said sourcing talent had been the biggest challenge — resulting in 60% of recruiters spending more than 10 hours per week sourcing, compared with just 5% at the end of 2020. 

What’s more, by the end of 2021, challenges of employer competition and talent shortages had risen to be top concerns for 49% and 40% of recruiters, respectively. As a result, we’ve seen a shift from initial sourcing challenges that pushed companies to depend heavily on channels like LinkedIn at the beginning of 2021 to now outbound recruiting approaches that are more equally reliant on ATS rediscovery and AI recruitment technology.

Of course, such shifts indicate what has happened, but the real question is why such changes occurred. 

A Return to Normal That Has Not Returned

We have been operating in unprecedented times. And with no historical data on which to base decisions, anticipated challenges leaned on both historical concerns and the trends known at the moment. And so while 2021 seemed like it would be more predictable a year ago, it turned out to be anything but.

Indeed, by late 2020 many organizations were planning on a return to the office or a hybrid work plan by summer. In anticipation of widespread Covid vaccine availability by early 2021, 53% of our respondents shared “expected” concerns that aligned with continuing remote/hybrid work in a way that more closely matched traditional ways of working and measuring success. 

However, such a “return-to-normal” never occurred. As the pandemic crossed the one-year mark, the realities of the Great Resignation and a candidate-driven market crystallized. It became clear that remote or hybrid or even in-person work — all of which many organizations initially thought they’d have a good handle on — continued to pose challenges due to evolving variants, societal debates around vaccinations, and how people increasingly began to view work. 

Speaking of…

Candidates Have Raised Their Standards

Working through a global pandemic is stressful. There have been lockdowns, furloughs, and layoffs. There was (and is) burnout from increased workloads, smaller teams, and the blurring of work and life boundaries. Large groups of the workforce have had to fundamentally rethink how they balance work and home. 

To put it simply: It’s been traumatic both emotionally and financially. 

But why is the concept of trauma important? Because it often makes people reprioritize their lives. Studies show that there are positive effects blended within the adverse effects of traumatic events (such as a pandemic), and those positive effects often manifest as rethinking of life priorities and a refocus on life’s meaning and the importance of relationships. 

As a result of all of this change at work and at home, workers have reconsidered their worth and priorities, from health to family to pay to benefits to stress to workload to employer values and beyond. The same goes for unemployed candidates looking to re-enter the workforce after a furlough or layoff. The bottom line is that candidates expect more from employers, and employers are starting to get serious about competing for their attention (well, some of them are).

All of which makes it difficult to recruit talent without investing time and budget into rethinking outdated hiring practices and engagement strategies like relying on inbound candidates through job postings or nurturing talent with slow, impersonal communications. Now, hiring teams are realizing they have to broaden their scope beyond LinkedIn, maximize the value of other channels — like their existing ATS — and use tech to scale communications and candidate engagement.

What’s more, beyond the universal work challenges brought on by the pandemic, BIPOC employees have historically struggled with bias and discrimination in the workplace. The current wave of worker empowerment means that to be competitive, employers have found the need to up their investment in DE&I measures and go beyond lip service to enact real change if they want to attract diverse talent. 

Unfortunately, hiring teams are still struggling to balance investment on DEI initiatives with other needs, like tech stack improvements. But tech investment and DEI progress don’t have to be competing forces. Recruiting platforms with built-in diversity tools — such as filters to source from underrepresented talent groups — have the opportunity for new technology improvements to positively impact DEI progress.

Ultimately, when you look at where we are today, the difference between the expected and real challenges of 2021 makes sense, which tracks with positive change. Employer concerns are starting to match what employees want and need more closely, and as interests continue to align, we should see fewer job vacancies and hope for optimism by both candidates and recruiters.

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