In the week that fuel stations across the country ran dry due a lack of HGV drivers, it seems fair to say that Britain prepared for a jobs crisis, just not the one it got.
Instead of the expected surge in unemployment as a result of the pandemic, businesses from all sectors are struggling to fill positions. Last summer, Britain prepared for a different kind of jobs crisis, with widespread unemployment forecast as the government began an initial phasing out of the furlough scheme. Instead it faces a recruitment crisis, with 1.66 million job vacancies needing filling, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). A British Chambers of Commerce study found that 38% of businesses expect to take on more workers in the next three months, and that 70% of businesses are facing difficulties in hiring staff.
A number of contributing factors have led to the crisis: 1.3 million non-UK workers left the UK during the pandemic due to Brexit, and because of post-Brexit immigration rules there has been a sharp drop in the number of overseas workers coming into the UK. Additionally, many people found work in a different sector during the pandemic, a factor that has hit the hospitality industry especially hard, as has the fact that some workers are avoiding jobs in consumer-facing sectors due to Covid concerns. Add to all this the on-going furlough scheme, along with the hiring-bottleneck created in the rush to reopen after Covid restrictions lifting, and you have a perfect storm.
But the UK is not only facing a shortage of lorry drivers, care workers and hospitality staff: it’s emerging that digital marketing agencies have also been hit by a recruitment crisis, with over half struggling to find candidates with the right expertise.
A study conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 60% of the marketing and media firms who took part claimed they were struggling to recruit. Furthermore, the REC listed programmers and software development professionals in their top 10 list of occupations where worker shortages are the most acute, with 68,929 active vacancies.
The annual digital agency survey by content creation specialist Verblio reveals that, despite the pandemic, the vast majority of agencies surveyed said their agency had seen an increase in business over the past 12 months. It seems that while the digital industry was (like every other sector) braced for a rough ride during the pandemic, instead many businesses increased their online presence to combat the effects of lockdowns, which appears to have benefited the digital marketing industry. In fact, the Verbilo report found that the average digital agency gained over nine new clients during the past 12 months, and lost fewer than four.
In a quote for Decision Marketing, Verblio CEO Steve Pockross said: “Despite a crazy year like 2020, agencies continue to see the value in content marketing and it’s encouraging to learn that so many hired during the pandemic, with SEO coming in as the most desirable skill.”
It’s no surprise to find that search engine optimisation (SEO) specialists are in high demand. At the height of the pandemic, it seemed that brands were leaning towards SEO as their preferred form of marketing as a way to not look ‘pushy’ or profiteering off the back of a crisis. For example, Vistaprint launched a new line of face masks, but rather than launch the masks via PPC, re-marketing, or Google Shopping, Vistaprint focused all their efforts on organic search.
Emily Shirly, GM at Vistaprint UK and Ireland said: “We very specifically decided not to be pushy about it… we didn’t think it was appropriate to be pushy.” Of course, SEO is also viewed as the ‘free’ side of digital marketing: it doesn’t require an ad spend budget in the same way as Adwords and paid social media does, so may appeal to businesses on a budget, or those new to digital marketing.
When it comes to the most sought-after skills, Verblio found that SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) ranked at the top, followed by creative thinking and ideation, copywriting, data analysis, social media and paid social media advertising. However, 51% of the agencies who took part in the study said that they have had difficulty finding candidates with the right skills, and 52% said they have even struggled to bring in contractors.
As in many other sectors, the issue seems to be finding people with the right skills for the job.
Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Whether people have found work in a different sector, changed their working patterns, or left the UK during the recession, firms are now struggling to find the people they need. It’s vital that business, government and the skills system work together to find solutions.
“Adopting more remote and flexible working patterns will help firms attract skills from a wider talent pool.
But we also need access to rapid and agile training and re-skilling opportunities for adults in the workforce, alongside a flexible and cost-effective immigration system that ensures fast access to skills when these can’t be recruited locally.”
What is clear is that more needs to be done to upskill teams and attract more talented individuals to the digital marketing industry.