Talent in the Driver’s Seat: A Tight Labor Market Requires Business Flexibility

July 20, 2021
5 Minute Read
Anthony Roman, Carrie Robertson, Rachelle Davis

Clichés like “unprecedented times” and “new normal” are once again in vogue. But this time it’s describing the current labor squeeze, where demand for top talent far exceeds the supply. The balance of power has shifted. As employers begin to reopen offices, employees are demanding more flexible work models.

The shift happened quickly and across the board. In fact, our Talent leaders say this is the most competitive labor market they’ve seen in their entire careers, spanning decades. The growing economy has triggered a surge in demand for employees in numerous sectors—especially for the type of highly experienced knowledge workers with specialized skillsets like those RGP curates for our clients. At the same time, with that demand come new demands: 52% of workers now want greater flexibility1 in the way they work, while 47% will likely look for another job if their employer doesn’t at least offer a hybrid work model.2

In the following roundtable discussion, leaders from RGP’s Talent team talk about how they’re approaching the current challenge and how we serve as a next-generation human capital partner for our clients—enabling talented consultants to build portfolio-based careers where they have “editorial privilege” to choose the types of work they’re passionate about.

As employees as well as employers deal with yet another new normal, what’s the lay of the land from a workplace standpoint?

Carrie Robertson, Regional VP, Talent: It’s the tightest market I’ve lived through in my 20-plus-year career. And it also came on the fastest. The competitive nature of the landscape just shifted so quickly. We went from COVID conditions where you had so many people not working, to a flurry of demand. How work gets done has changed, not just in the last year, but in the last decade. And it continues to morph. Add to the mix disruptors like automation—and then a pandemic—and it’s just a really different time.

Anthony Roman, VP, Talent Acquisition: If you look back to where we were about a year ago, it’s the diametrically opposite view. Back then, we were working with our revenue partners to help uncover business development opportunities. Now, I’m having the exact opposite conversation and encouraging everyone at RGP to do as much networking as possible to help our recruiting team uncover good talent in areas where we need more options.

Rachelle Davis, Senior VP, Talent: I look at it like the real estate market: you’re typically either in a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. We went from a buyer’s market where the clients were in control, to now where everyone is needing to hire again. The employees are now the sellers who can demand a premium price and/or be more particular about how they work, because there is a limited supply of talent. If the job seekers only want remote work, they can more easily reject your offer if you’re only offering onsite work.52% of workers want flexibility, while 47% may look for another job

Or, they can resign and take a new position that offers the flexibility they desire. Hence the great “post-pandemic resignation” we’re seeing these days. Companies offering more remote opportunities will benefit from a larger talent pool to choose from, even in a tight talent market. In fact, many companies are already rethinking their policies around remote or hybrid work. “Does this position really need to be onsite? Is this something we can do virtually? And what does this future workforce need to look like, and how do we best support virtual teams?”

What’s driving this new balance of power between candidates and the companies that want to hire them?

Carrie: I think it’s pretty much all driven by the most significant trend, namely, candidates don’t want to always be onsite. They don’t want to work like they did pre-pandemic. They want choice. And that choice means having an opportunity to work with some flexibility, which varies from a hybrid model that’s part-time on-site/part-time remote, to working fully remote. At the same time, the last year-and-a-half caused a reckoning for a lot of people to make different decisions about how they work, or even if they’ll work.

Rachelle: Even before the pandemic, a number of megatrends were already making an impact on the labor market. For example, with more Boomers retiring there were fewer workers entering the workforce, resulting in a shrinking talent pool. The result? Candidates are back in control, so companies with the most flexible policies, offering an appealing brand and the best candidate and employee experience, will be among those most attractive to workers these days.

I’m encouraging companies to look at the future of work and how the digitization of our world is rapidly changing the way we work. Are you going back to the way you worked pre-pandemic because it’s more comfortable? Or, are you open to trying something different and thinking about new ways to engage your workforce with tools and virtual events that broaden and expand your workforce? In essence, are you offering what employees want—sometimes even demand—these days.

Anthony: Among job seekers, everybody we talk to these days is juggling two, three, sometimes four different opportunities. And they can be really picky about what they want. It’s not like they’re looking for foosball or cold beer on Friday. They’re looking for meaningful work. It’s more a matter of asking, “Are these the type of companies I want to work with?”

“I’m encouraging companies to look at the future of work and how the digitization of our world is rapidly changing the way we work.” — Rachelle Davis

How can companies change their hiring strategies in this environment?

Carrie: In the central part of the US, we tend to have manufacturing, which lends itself more to onsite work. We also have more clients in this region with more traditional perspectives where they want direct collaboration with people onsite. And they’re not super flexible about that. But it’s going to be important for these companies to think more progressively about how they get work done in order to compete in this changing landscape. They need to focus on ensuring they have the infrastructure to support some remote work, as well as address the cultural and mindset changes.

Next, you have candidates who have five or six employment choices. We’re losing talent that sits in the central part of the US to the coasts, because they’re no longer limited by area codes, or time zones. We’re working to help our clients understand that landscape as well as the benefits of a more flexible approach.

Rachelle: The companies who are going to end up winners are the ones rethinking how they engage their workforce in areas like employee brand and employee experience: offering radical flexibility combined with a strong culture. So too are those companies that are modernizing their systems and training their people on how to collaborate productively regardless of the employees being onsite, hybrid or remote. There are some employees who want to come back and be in the office. That works for them. At the same time, there are those who are thriving by working from home. That works for them, too.

It’s not a right or wrong answer. It’s this plus that. Be open to letting all of it happen.

In the context of this new reality, what does it mean to be a “next-gen human capital partner”?

Rachelle: Working with a human capital partner like RGP helps clients create agility in their workforce by quickly finding talented resources. Clients need a firm who understands their business issues as well as global workplace trends and best practices. We’re passionate about partnering with our clients to fully understand their business strategies and providing experienced, high-value and well-supported consultants who bring a growth mindset and strong collaboration skills to bear for clients.

Carrie: For me, next-gen human capital partner means we’re helping clients think about a different way of getting work done, solving their problems and moving their organizations forward. Considering contract labor or consulting solutions gives you access to better talent that you may not need all the time. Offering remote opportunities gives you a chance to find the best talent, right? It opens the aperture of potential solutions to your unique problem.

Anthony: Right now, in this borderless world, we’re unlocking the potential of our entire breadth and depth of our consultants’ intellectual capital, versus being limited only to those people in your city willing to commute to your office. We have a group of like-minded people doing work they’re passionate about and who have the drive to roll up their sleeves and bring innovative solutions. I honestly think that’s the spirit and the driving force behind our approach.

1 McKinsey survey, 2021

2 Envoy Return to the Workplace Report, 2021

Meet The Team

Anthony Roman Portrait

Anthony Roman

Carrie Robertson Portrait

Carrie Robertson

Rachelle Davis Portrait

Rachelle Davis

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