Could ‘the great return’ cause a mass exodus and skills shortages?

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Retaining workers is now emerging as the main challenge for employers across the world, according to the director of Irish recruitment company Sigmar.

Robert Mac Giolla Phádraig said that while there was still huge demand for talent and skilled workers, the impending return to workplaces this month could result in mass resignations.

“Demand for talent has remained at an all-time high for the second quarter in our 20-year history. It was somewhat unusual not to see demand abate over the summer months. Indeed, demand continued to increase over the summer, resulting in September’s record results. September also saw a rate of job requests up by a multiple of three, a trend that has continued for the first two weeks of October, indicating more growth again in Q4.”

Mac Giolla Phádraig’s comments followed the release of Sigmar’s Q3 report, which showed a record high number of job placements for July, August, September 2021. Postings for this period were up 20pc on the same period this time last year.

September alone saw an average of three months’ new job orders in one single month, the highest of any month recorded in Sigmar’s 20-year history.

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However, Mac Giolla Phádraig warned that the talent shortage could be exacerbated further as companies return to the workplace due to the recent cultural changes in attitudes towards remote and hybrid working. He said that employees, particularly those working in sectors where flexible working methods have proven possible during the past few months, could be reluctant to reengage with companies in-house.

Now that many workers in these “low-touch” sectors such as IT, financial services and life sciences have seen the alternative to the office, they may refuse to return.

As Mac Giolla Phádraig put it: “The great return is causing a mass exodus.”

“The reopening of offices in September has prompted a new surge in resignations as Ireland now faces a talent crisis. Employers are increasingly requesting in-office presence and employees are voting with their feet,” he said.

He also warned that the more “high-touch” sectors, such as manufacturing, sales, construction and logistics could face very similar problems. The disruption to international talent supply chains have caused “significant bottlenecks to the supply of labour”, particularly affecting on-site, lower skilled jobs, he said.

“The pandemic was not just a disruptor, but a vector of permanent change in work practices in Ireland and further afield,” according to Mac Giolla Phádraig.

He also added that Ireland’s status as an island nation meant immigrant workers found it harder to come here to fill the demand.

So, does that mean that remote roles will be filled faster than in-house roles? Not necessarily, Mac Giolla Phádraig said. He said that the “mass exodus” could extend to remote workers, too. People are re-evaluating their working relationships across the board, he explained. He compared remote working to a long-distance romantic relationship, adding that the absence of a physical workplace could cause workers to lessen their commitment to their employers.

“This last 18 months has seen employees demand greater flexibility. The request to return to the office by employers in September has prompted employees to reconsider whether they recommit or resign. Many are resigning.”

“Employee loyalty has [therefore] become increasingly under question with many workers now committed to the experience of work over the employer, adding further to the current levels of churn,” he said.

A Sigmar survey from March of this year revealed that around a third of workers were considering going back to the office. Almost half (44pc) of the 253 companies polled said they would work between home and the office. An overwhelming majority of 92pc said they would work three days or less in-house. This prompted Mac Giolla Phádraig to comment: “According to this survey the future is hybrid.”

All this points to a candidate-led jobs market for the next few months, with companies playing catch-up to appease employees. Cybersecurity skills, software engineers, IT workers and digital-first workers will experience huge demand in particular as these industries cope with their own demand for services generated by the pandemic.

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