This guest blog is a précis of a seminar delivered on 24th October at a SE Scotland CIPD recruitment group in Edinburgh (picture below). 

We know that skill shortages mean that finding the talent needed to grow and develop a business, whether a university such as RGU or an oil or IT company, requires real recruitment expertise and experience. However, irrespective of whether you have access to this, recruitment is likely to get more difficult in the next few years.

There are several, interrelated factors which are likely to have an impact on future recruitment markets. These are: demographics; flexible working; millennials; Brexit; technology and the next recession.  Let’s look at these in a little more detail.


Put simply, there will be fewer people available to work in the near future, despite the fact that more, older people will work beyond the ever-advancing pension age.  Recruiters and employers have traditionally looked to the younger generation. Years ago, I recall a recruitment manager at a major oil company telling me, “We don’t want to hire any of those old people at Shell.”  This engrained ageism will have to change.


On the other side of the generation divide, millennials are already creating problems for recruiters.  They don’t want to work for companies they perceive are tax avoiders or behaving “unethically.” Seemingly, it’s not all about money, so if you want to employ them you’ll need to demonstrate that you share their ethics and approach to life.  However, some 83% of them have an ambition to be an entrepreneur, so clearly money is still some sort of motivation – but of course this means that they’re not going to be available to become a ‘normal’ employee. Moreover, if they don’t get to a job in two clicks they’ll give up on their application, and if you don’t respond equally quickly to them then they’ll go elsewhere.

Flexible working

At present, some five million people are self-employed.  Businesses like to be able to hire self-employed people on short-term/part-time contracts, using flexible/agile working to fulfil projects while reducing costs. The demand for interim workers is also increasing across the economy as a whole.

Another reason for the rise of self-employed is that people are fed up with ‘normal’ hours and are seeking to improve their work-life balance. However, our ageing population increasingly requires their (working) offspring to take time off to care for them, further reducing the hours spent in traditional business structures. As a result, mid-career professionals are opting out, frequently discovering they can earn enough to live comfortably but without all the hassle of commuting, office politics, etc. All this further reduces the pool of candidates for ‘normal’ jobs.


Does anyone really know what’s going to happen? No, thought not. It could all go wrong.  It might be more successful than most envisage.  For some sectors (education, IT, medicine), the shape of our post-Brexit immigration policy will be vital.  In my view, this ought to have been outlined a long time before now, especially the reciprocal arrangements for UK and EU citizens.


All the above assumes that algorithms and robots don’t take people’s jobs first. I foresee a big debate very soon about the nature and times of work, not only in relation to flexible working but also the recent focus on the potential benefits of adopting a four-day working week.

The threat of AI (artificial intelligence) and the possibility that some 10 million jobs are at risk is real, but what matters for recruiters is the speed at which this plays out over the next few years.


It’s overdue.  Most current “experts” (the same people who missed the last recession) think it’s probably going to be in 2020.  If they are correct, then the employment market will, of course, be considerably affected, but how is hard to say. In 2009, unlike in the 1990s recession, government and business did what they could to keep people in work.  That was good for those who stayed in work,  but it also contributed to the low productivity we’re seeing today: this time it may be that all our defensive ammunition has been used up and the market suffers accordingly.

You might think that “we’re all doomed.”  In fact, I’d say to recruiters “don’t panic!”  Clearly, the macro-economic/social factors outlined above means that recruitment in general is going to become more difficult over the next few years, for all the reasons given above.  However, quality recruiters can still thrive if they can demonstrate that not only do they understand the background to the market but they also know how best to respond to it and continue to deliver the candidates their employers need.

Alastair Blair, thePotentMix