Here are 8 things HR professionals need to know about 2017’s employment market, based on the work that’s been coming across my desk over the past 12 months
1. The HR Generalist will still be in demand
Forget notions of newly created specialist HR roles, from where I sat last year it was still a very generalist year.
It’s true that for every one of the seven years I’ve recruited in the Sydney HR market, the generalist has been the most common assignment. But this was especially the case over the past 12 months. It may be easy to dismiss this observation and point out that I worked with a lot of SMEs, who naturally need more of a ‘jack of all trades’. But I think it goes deeper than that.
After all, this was a trend I noticed at all levels - from HR Advisors through to Regional HR Directors - and across businesses of all sizes from small local players through to global giants.
2. So too is the Human Resources Business Partner
Within the generalist market the most popular job title is now the Human Resources Business Partner, or HRBP. That probably makes it sound like the action is all at the senior level. But, as I’ve already written, that’s a bit misleading. The thing is a lot of people don’t really know what a HRBP is.
That means they’re using the term HRBP to recruit people who perform the role of a typical HR Manager, HR Consultant or even HR Advisor. And, for that reason, the HRBP is also drawing a wide salary band - from $80,000 to more than $200,000.
Expect this confusion to continue.
3. HR Managers are getting in on the start-up ground floor
Over 2016 there was a lot of demand for stand-alone or greenfield HR managers. And it’s a trend that’s showing no sign of slowing anytime soon.
That’s because a lot of today’s successful entrepreneurs know virtually nothing is more critical to their early success than their people. So they’re starting to lay the foundations for their HR department much earlier than they used to - say, when their headcount reaches about 40. Sure, the startup or greenfield HR role may come with a little more risk than most other HR positions. But the good news is that it usually also comes with career potential as the business realises its expansion plans. The HR department is often also seen as a key driver for long-term business growth, so there’s soon often a chance to take on a lot of strategic responsibility too.
That said, greenfield or stand-alone roles aren’t for everyone. The key to succeeding in them means having the ability to handle both breadth and depth. You’ll also have zero internal specialist support so you’ll have to be proactive, knowledgeable and resourceful. And you won’t get away with trying to stay ‘above the fray’ either. After all, you’re likely to have to update the HRIS one minute and then advise on a strategic people plan the next.
Shifting gears like that can be a challenge for many.
4. Recruitment will keep moving in-house
Internal Recruitment or Talent Acquisition is no longer just a graveyard for agency recruiters. It’s now a legitimate and important role that some of Australia’s very best organisations are starting to take very seriously.
Last year, I saw a dramatic rise in businesses hiring permanent recruiters. Better still, they were being asked to do things like proactively manage internal stakeholders, support strategic workforce planning, build an employer branding and to do some strategic sourcing beyond searching LinkedIn.
This change in the perceived value of internal recruiters has been accompanied by a marked change in salary too. A base of more than $100,000 is now commonplace for pure delivery roles. There’s also a fairly consistent interim market for project-based internal recruiters, who can expect to command anything north of $400 a day.
5. It’s going to stay tough at the top
In 2016, the employment market for senior HR generalists was a congested space. Unfortunately, it’s going to stay just as tight this year.
When it comes to those plum $250,000+ HR positions, the sad news is that there’s a lot more good people then there are good roles - at least in Australia. To make matters worse, a lot of the most senior HR roles in global companies are being moved from Sydney to Asia, which I think is more than a bit short-sighted. You can read about why that is here.
There is some movement in the level below the very top - senior HRM’s and smaller heads of function - which is great news for up and coming HR professionals. But the reality is that there’s probably fewer senior HR roles to go around in Sydney than ever. If you’re impatient to reach the top, you may have to start looking in other markets.
6. Counter offers will become the new normal
There once was a time it was hard to get more money out of an employer you were threatening to leave. That’s not the case any more. A lot of employers now reach for their wallet the moment their HR staff hand over that resignation note.
I think this shows two things. First, businesses are becoming more aware of the cost involved in losing an employee and hiring a new one. Second, they’re starting to realise finding another good employee to fill a key role is no easy task.
Still, why an employee’s value is only really appreciated when they threaten to walk is anyone’s guess.
7. Breaking in will be hard to do
When you’re an outsider, Sydney is - and will remain - a pretty closed market for HR jobs. As someone originally from the UK I get a lot of interest from British HR professionals who are looking to make the move into the Sydney sun. And they’re invariably surprised when I tell them that their high level experience at a global brand in one of the world’s financial centres won’t always count for much.
But the prejudice towards outsiders doesn’t end with HR practitioners from overseas. It’s just as hard to break into a new industry.
There are, of course, sometimes valid reasons for this. For example, the skills a HR Manager needs to support a business with a highly unionised blue collar workforce are very different to those needed to support a group of front office traders. But the sector discrimination often applies to what should be closely aligned industries too, such as tech and pharma.
I put this down to short-term thinking. Too often I hear employers say their ideal candidate should ‘hit the ground running’ or have ‘instant credibility’. In doing so, they tend to overlook some very good people who would be much better fit for the role than the ones they ultimately hire. They also shut off new ideas and ways of doing things.
And the worst offenders? Lawyers, Accountants and other Professional Services Firms.
8. People will still expect you to hang around
In many parts of the world - such as London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong - it’s pretty normal to move on from an employer after about 18-24 months.
I think that’s only natural. After then, the learning curve flattens, the challenges often start to dry up and it’s only right for ambitious people to start thinking that there may be more on offer elsewhere.
But Sydney’s still something of a conservative place when it comes to HR hiring. Generally, you want to have spent at least two years - and ideally three - before you pull up stumps and move on. Otherwise, people ask questions and you still need to have a good explanation for why you left.
The temporary/contract market is obviously different and sometimes having many employers is desirable, so long as you honoured the contract length and have solid achievements you can point to within each assignment.
In fact, the temporary/contract market is more open-minded generally so it’s still one of the easiest ways to avoid sector or geographical discrimination when breaking into on a permanent basis is tricky.
And there it is…
The 8 trends that are shaping the HR employment market over 2017. I’d love to hear whether you’ve noticed the same thing or have some other ideas.
Get in touch if you’d like to have a conversation.
Matthew Mayoh is a HR Recruitment specialist operating in the Sydney market.
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