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What will the recruitment industry look like in the next 20 years with Graham Palfery-Smith

What will the recruitment industry look like in the next 20 years with Graham Palfery-Smith

Written by James Osborne

Last edited May 3, 2023

What will the recruitment industry look like in the next 20 years with Graham Palfery-Smith

Door 14 of our #TRN Advent Calendar. TRN Chairman Graham Palfery-Smith gives his creative vision of what the far future of recruitment will look like.‘I never make predictions, especially about the future”- Nils Bohr

When we look forward, to predict what might occur in the future, we have the distinct advantage that nobody can say we are wrong.

People can take issue with ideas and argue that they are based on false assumptions but they cannot be wrong because they only exist in my head.

That said, talking about the future is both scary and exciting. You can let your imagination run wild and imagine both dystopic and utopic eventualities but, almost inevitably, the reality is somewhere between the two, with a sprinkling of ‘I never saw that comings’ thrown in.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” – Peter Drucker

Drucker’s quote most accurately exemplifies my attitude to business. We cannot change history but, we can change the future. We shouldn’t try to predict what others will do but instead influence them to create the vision we desire. Most importantly we shouldn’t bemoan where we are now, that is a matter of fact and wasting energy on wishing we weren’t is, well……. a waste of energy!

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” – Lao Tzu

So, allow me a few musings to envision a future for our industry, say 20 years from now, and then all you young and energetic business leaders can go and make a version of it happen.

Recruitment industry 2037

Although our industry remains relatively lightly regulated (excluding those countries like North Korea & Venezuela where it remains illegal) the use of personal data is not, and successive governments have clamped down on data ‘misuse’, or non-compliance, to the extent that this, including the tech infrastructure around it, is the biggest area of expense for recruitment companies after their staff.

Also, the ‘socialist slippage’ of the early 2020’s, across the UK and Europe, meant many tech and social media companies effectively went borderless and many of the smartest recruitment firms followed them.

The anticipated drift towards commoditisation of lower wage work, due to technology, became a landslide as Artificial Intelligence (AI) hit home. The spread of cheap smart phones and worker/work aggregation (web)sites, aggressively utilising AI, saw to this.

This left only highly robust international operators and localised specialists in the frame. The international tax and compliance regime hasn’t gone away and the high-profile jailing, in The Hague, of the entire main board of RanPower in 2022 for consistent tax abuses in 17 major economies still resonates 15 years later. Effective contractor compliance is a massive issue and the recent $15bn flotation of 6CATS in New York & Shanghai (remember that Comrade Corbyn effectively shut the UK capital markets in 2028) demonstrated that more than adequately.In the free-trade areas of the UK, the boutiques (specialist niche recruitment companies offering bespoke services) are staffed by relatively small numbers of highly skilled recruitment consultants. The role of these consultants is more akin to what, in the early part of the century, we’d like to call ‘Search’ consultants. Far more time spent talking & meeting with clients and utilising highly specific digital personal assistants (DPA’s). Contract work has spread across the world offering opportunities for those boutiques willing to invest in the best tech and compliance infrastructure; here as well the importance of developing and maintaining high-quality client relationships is paramount. So, although the sector employs not many more than it did 20 years ago they operate in a quite different way. Highly specialist, utilising DPA’s extensively and operating ethically and compliantly these consultants are highly regarded and respected in their various communities.

Across the world the US remains the largest single market and the ‘Trump Bump’ of 2016-24 had little appreciable impact. The EU’s inevitable demise has, many feel, been accelerated by their bizarre decision to nationalise, across the bloc, their creative/tech/recruitment industries from 2040. The growth of global business communities based along the free-trade Mediterranean coasts of Spain, Greece and Italy (following Spanxit, Grexit and Exit) seems set to continue.

The really important and successful companies (including Chi-Antal, WaltersPage, S33 and AdHaysEcco) operating in the sector are all based here, primarily on the free-trade islands of Ibiza, Sicily and Crete, as are the up and coming boutiques of the global industry.

The biggest issues the sector faces globally, aside from those mentioned, are the ongoing shortages of suitably qualified candidates and the difficulties of dealing with a market where 80% of the roles (and the skills needed for them) didn’t exist in 2017. The other principal concern is that of geography. Despite transportation becoming so much easier since the perfection of the Hydro-cell in 2025 and fast clean travel now being the norm, the continuing issues with immigration controls make it often difficult to get the right candidates to the right place. Africa’s continuing boom risks stuttering, as happened in South America, as a result of this flaw.

Across Asia, China continues to dominate with Australia and Japan still in senior supporting roles.

Despite the negatives the industry finds itself in rude health generally with the wave of boutique sales and consolidations through the 2020’s generating many extremely wealthy individuals who have continued to reinvest in young entrepreneurs’ start-ups in the sector and the associated software arena.

Globally the ‘neo-tech’ sector is the fastest growing and literally the most dynamic, although some of the ‘old’ areas of Space & Satellite, Pharma, Engineering and Financial Services still matter.

As education is also an international option, people are far more used to moving to where the opportunities, immigration controls allowing, are best rather than being restricted by borders.

The Recruitment Network Club has morphed into TRNC Global and now has 40,000 members across all inhabited continents; sharing knowledge, experience and enjoyment. Sir James Osborne’s recently announced ennoblement has done nothing to stifle his impish enthusiasm for the sector, despite his advancing years, and we look forward to the first semi-submerged TRNC Global Retreat in the Maldives next year.

Graham Palfery-Smith is a director of The Recruitment Network and several other entities in, or allied to, the recruitment sector

+44(0)7595 963932

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