March 2021: The toughest contact centre recruitment market we’ve seen

March 2021: The toughest contact centre recruitment market we’ve seen

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Posted-on March 2021 By James Witcombe


I’ve been recruiting in the contact centre industry for 15+ years now and the market for quality contact centre candidates is the toughest I’ve seen, and by a margin that is growing every day.

This may also be hard for some people to believe, as the storyline and media reporting since the start of COVID-19 creates the impression that there are endless numbers of people looking for work. This is true in part, however job losses due to COVID-19 have occurred more so in certain industries and the contact centre is not one of those.
The escalation in the demand for high quality contact centre agents has been rapid in the first 3 months of 2021. Last year finished strongly, however demand has continued to rise strongly in the first three months of the year and is at a new peak at the moment.

Seek released a report earlier this month looking at the last 12 months (up to Jan 31 2021) and the findings highlight the competitiveness for talent.

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The graph highlights the impact of COVID-19, but also how rapidly the market has swung from what we call “candidate heavy” to “candidate light”. I would suggest that the data for February and March will see a continuance of both lines on their current trajectory and further widening of the gap. It’s important to note that in February 2020 (where the graph starts) we were already in a market of high competition for candidates.

Seek’s report also shows that December and January are typically two of the “quieter” months of recruitment, however Seek reported a 6.5% increase in job ads in January 2021 compared with January 2020. December had a similar result.
Important to note here is that many agencies (including SMAART Recruitment where I am a Director) have significantly reduced their advertising on Seek over the last 12 months in response to Seek's change in their pricing model. Had the pricing model not changed, the number of advertisements on Seek from recruitment agencies would no doubt be higher.

Causes of the increase in demand:
The Working Holiday VISA (WHV) candidate pool has disappeared. Literally. 12 months ago 35% of our temporary workers and contract workers were holding WHVs. This number is below 5%. For us, WHV candidates are often more highly skilled, educated and (dare I say) work harder and are more reliable than Australian temps/contractors. So we’ve not only lost this entire candidate pool, but we’ve lost our highest quality of worker in this category.

Contact centres are playing recruitment catch up. From around November last year, contact centres across the industry came out of a 9 month hiring freeze and have been frantically recruiting ever since. Contact centres that we may recruit for once a quarter have been rolling from one intake straight into the next as they look to replenish their staffing levels.

Job seeker hesitancy. As the The Financial Review reported Job security is suddenly back in vogue. This isn’t surprising given the year we’ve had, however it hits the contact centre industry harder than most because contact centre agents have previously been “trigger happy” and prepared to leave and move to another contact centre. Our Contact Centre Best Practice Report for 2020/21shows that 67% of Australian contact centres experienced lower levels of staff turnover than normal during COVID-19. And while we have now exited the grip of COVID-19, we’ve been left with job security as not only key to our jobs, but key to our lives.

How to be competitive in the war for contact centre talent:
Understand what candidates want in 2021.Sounds simple, but after working from home (WFH) for 12 months, candidates are now clearly asking recruiters and contact centres to spell out what a job looks like, especially with regards to WFH. The majority want a blend of contact centre and WFH, and candidates who get a sense a contact centre won’t offer this into the future (or aren’t sure), will quickly move on.

Salary must be competitive. It’s a buyers market, and the candidates are the buyers who can name their price. Our Contact Centre Best Practice Report for 2020/21reports on salaries across the industry. 12 months ago the average for Customer Service was $53,066 + super, however the top candidates at the moment will often have multiple offers and will often select a role paying $55,000 + super or above.

Lower your expectations when recruiting temporary, casual and contract positions .With the disappearance of the WHV candidates, an abundance of permanent roles and the heightened importance of job security, recruiting for casual, temporary and short term positions is the pointy tip of challenge. Let me be clear: you will not get high quality talent unless you offer something exceptional.

The hourly rate/salary needs to be more than the equivalent of $53,066 + super. You have to entice the candidate to select a shorter term/less stable role by compensating them in an attractive way. Other things to consider include hours, the overall package and opportunity for the role to become permanent (market the role as “try before you buy”). Something here needs to be good enough to convince an in demand job seeker to take this role over the multiple permanent positions they are being offered.

Move quickly. If your recruitment process takes two weeks to run, that’s two weeks that other contact centres are spending trying to beat you to the same candidate. Move quickly (but don’t rush) and show your candidates that you are a responsive contact centre.
Make sure you have your recruitment plan in place and that the process moves smoothly. This includes educating other managers involved in the process around the importance of them being timely with decisions, for example HR taking ten days to prepare a letter of offer.
Prepare your organisation for what is going to happen ahead of time.
How 2021 continues to play out is still up in the air. We may well see a softening of the competition for candidates, or we may see it strengthen. However we must all realise that the balance of power (and choice) sits firmly with the high quality candidates in the current market.

If you would like to discuss your contact centre's recruitment strategy, please get in touch.

Written by James Witcombe