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Recruitment professionals facing ‘unprecedented’ challenges in tight market

Getting clear, creative and connected can help employers address resource needs
Human resources professional Naz Kullar says B.C. recruiters are facing tough challenges in a tight labour market where employees are considering affordability and flexibility

Search firm executive Ashleigh Brown says she remembers the days when she would put up a post for a position, screen applications, follow a process and select the best candidates. 

These days are long gone. 

Now, she and her team at Robert Half are consistently coming up with creative ideas for finding potential candidates, and taking a proactive approach for almost every empty position out there.

“It almost needs to be more of, ‘Okay, let's put our thinking caps on, where would individuals like them currently be? How can we partner with XY association or ABC school?” said Brown, the Vancouver-based group managing director of Western Canada for human resource consulting firm Robert Half.

Brown is not alone. 

Robert Half’s hiring and employment trends report for 2023 shows that 90 per cent of hiring managers say they face tough challenges in landing new talent, and that recruitment has been very or extremely challenging for nearly three in five human resources professionals in B.C. in 2022, according to a Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) survey.

“From what we're seeing and hearing from our members, it's still proving extremely challenging for us in the world of talent acquisition,” said Naz Kullar, board chair of CPHR BC & Yukon and a human resources director with The Trotman Auto Group.

“We are still seeing a lack of qualified applicants, applicants not really quite having the right requisite skills and experience that they need for the position coupled with the new world of [remote] work,” she said. 

Meanwhile, skilled candidates are typically courted by multiple companies. Some don’t show up to the interview, or they decline a job offer, or leave shortly after they join a company for another job. All of this is occurring to an extent Kullar has never seen before, she said.

“It's very competitive.… You hear about all these layoffs and you think, there must be a pool of candidates to draw from, but it's definitely an employee's market from a recruitment perspective, not an employer’s market,” says Kullar.

“It’s in every profession, every industry … it isn't easy to hire HR professionals, either.”

Cheryl Nakamoto, managing partner for McNeill Nakamoto Recruitment Group, says the current employment environment is one of the hardest for recruiters. 

“Because of this lack of talent on the market, it’s very hard.… We have so many positions open but little talent to fill those roles.”

High cost of living driving talent away

One of the biggest challenges facing B.C. recruiters is the rising cost of living in the Greater Vancouver region, which has been exacerbated by successive interest rate increases.

“Cost of living has risen considerably. Gas prices are still around the $2 [per litre] mark, housing, rental [costs] or trying to buy a house seems to still remain out of reach for many people in B.C.,” says Kullar.

So, recruiters find themselves caught in a dilemma. Candidates from elsewhere who are willing to take a job in B.C. expect higher pay – at least 20 per cent more – to compensate them for a higher cost of living, but employers , who are also struggling to manage surging interest rate and operational costs, can’t afford the premium.

“Bringing someone from Edmonton, Alta. to Vancouver, unless it’s such an increase in compensation, it’s really quite prohibitive, unless someone has family here, has someone they know or have, years ago, bought a condo here and just kept it while working elsewhere,” said Brown.

“It is getting harder and harder to relocate, I would say specifically to the Lower Mainland and Victoria, but even some of the outlying smaller centres in B.C. also have a very high cost of living.”

Meanwhile, many B.C. workers are looking to other provinces or countries where it may be more affordable to raise a family or live a more financially comfortable life. Brown herself has had two team members relocate to Robert Half’s Calgary office because the city is more affordable.

An uncertain economy can also contribute to an employee’s hesitancy to change jobs, a factor that further limits the candidate pool.

“More candidates now are quite sensitive to movement, so they're holding on to their roles … and delaying on considering a new job because of the sense of economic instability,” said Nakamoto.

Navigating a new reality 

The pandemic, the higher rate environment, escalating affordability issues and lingering economic uncertainty are all contributing to a new labour-market reality – one that B.C. recruiters are trying to navigate.

Those who spoke to BIV say a sticking point are hybrid-work arrangements that meet both the expectations of employers – many of whom want to see more staff back in the office more regularly – and the flexible work expectations of employees.

“I think a reset is what some people are doing, where they're going back to the drawing board – let's look at the basics, let’s look at flexible work options, let’s look at the employee compensation, philosophy, wellness initiatives,” said Kullar.

“Right now, employees are really big on the flexible work arrangement. Pay transparency is coming, people are looking for some pay equity as well. And health and wellness is huge – people want to be supportive. So there are a couple of big-ticket items that every employer is looking at.”

While waiting for more policy-level changes to take place, recruiters are also thinking outside of the box to find candidates in B.C.’s tight labour market. 

Brown recommends clear and concise job postings that lay out an employer’s expectations. Networking can also help connect those looking to hire with those looking for new employment. 

Some recruiters are also seeking talent internationally or using artificial intelligence tools such as applicant tracking software to increase recruitment efficiency, said Brown.

“You have to diversify your recruitment strategies. Use social media to post all your jobs or promote your company, showcase your culture, employee stories.… I would also be going to more job fairs. We have the mandate that every month, we're out at association events. It's called passive recruiting,” she said.

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