It’s that time of the year when we’re all confronted by any number of predictions, some perhaps more meaningful than others. Where will the FTSE be at the end of December? What sort of GDP will the UK economy generate? Will unemployment hit the magical 7% figure? What will be the true social, economic and employment impact of this year’s influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants? Exactly how bad will it get for Roy out in Brazil? And, more critically, how far into January will I manage to stay off the chocolate?
And if we’d tried to answer similar, non-confectionery related questions back in January 2013, what sorts of answers would we have come up with? Faced with an apparent triple-dip recession, the omens were anything but buoyant. It would not have represented too much of a stretch to predict unemployment going the wrong way, GDP flat-lining and the confidence and appetite for risk of both employees and employers sinking further. And yet, 2013 took most people by surprise. Goldman Sachs described the UK’s performance over the last 12 months as a ‘Lazarus-like transformation’.
Smashing economic expectations
With the economy and employment market apparently defying both predictions and some basic laws of physics, it is perhaps no wonder that many employers and recruitment specialists were taken by surprise – indeed, the CIPD termed the period 2012/13, the ‘jobs enigma’. And it’s not just employers – the Office for Budget Responsibility suggested that the UK jobs market would not hit the iconic 30m mark until October 2015. This was reached last month, very nearly two years ahead of schedule. It’s entirely understandable, then, that investment in areas such as employer branding, engagement and the candidate experience may have seemed more like a nice-to-have than an absolute business requisite in 2013. Making the business case for developing and launching an employer brand when you have little idea about the respective strength and predictability of the market in which it will land is a delicate trick to pull off.
Growth on the horizon
But being taken by surprise is far less understandable or indeed advisable as we gird our loins for the forthcoming year. From an enigma in 2013, the CIPD forecasts that the current year will resemble more a ‘jobs machine’. The same organisation puts overall jobs growth at anything between 300,000 and 500,000. Service sector growth remains more than healthy and a survey from Bank of America Merrill Lynch suggests that 71% of fund managers anticipate a strengthening global economy in 2014, up from 40% a year previously. Barring unforeseen global catastrophes, 2014 looks set to be a strong year. Hiring indications are firming and employees have more options both internally and, increasingly, externally than they have had for half a decade. This year’s employer brands have to reflect the robustness and confidence of the times.
Economic and employment predictions for 2014 look more, well, predictable than prior to 2008’s fall from grace. Employers are now operating in a far more predictable and assured landscape – their responses need to reflect growing levels of confidence, competitor activity and risk comfort.
If you’re looking for unpredictability, look elsewhere. Look at the channels your employment messages are delivered through and the devices on which they are received.
Technology – becoming a necessity
Surely there’s nothing unpredictable about the unstoppable growth of Facebook. Let’s look further – research late last year from Pew suggests the appetite among young people for the social networking site is waning. And it’s waning for the very reason it is becoming more popular among older users. Whereas parents used to worry about their children accessing the site, they now view it as an important means of staying in touch with and looking out for their offspring (I may or may not be guilty of such activity). Increasing parental use of anything is unlikely to increase its attractiveness with young users who are looking at parent-free options such as Pheed, Albumatic and Snapchat.
Some fascinating research from OMD this week into the at-home use of technology of UK consumers threw up some staggering metrics. With the television on as a form of aural wallpaper, participants switched devices – mobiles, tablets, laptops, etc – no fewer than 21 times an hour. As OMD astutely puts it, people were ‘always one reach away from distraction’.
If you want an unpredictable series of media channels and an ever-changing environment for your messaging, welcome to 2014.
But make no mistake, the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that was 2013, which took most observers and employment market participants by surprise, will not be repeated. If employers are not ready for a year of growth, competition and the increasing demands of both employees and candidates, 2014 may be a far from comfortable experience. Now, where’s the Dairy Milk?