The History of Recruitment: What's Changed and What's Next?

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The History of Recruitment: What's Changed and What's Next?
Shen Mawani

3 minutes

The History of Recruitment: What's Changed and What's Next?

Delve into the history of recruitment and look forward into what trends the sector can expect in the future

The recruitment industry has come a long way from the days of paper CVs and fax machines, as it continues to accelerate alongside expanding businesses in an increasingly global, and interconnected world.

Today, nearly three quarters of CEOs say that labour, and skills shortages pose the greatest disruption to business strategy over the next 12 months. The ‘Great Resignation’ of 2021 saw 47.4 employees in the U.S alone leave their organisations for new roles, while in the U.K 85% of senior leaders reported significant business disruption. 

In the STEM sector specifically, our global survey reveals that the after-effects of the great resignation continue to echo, as 35% of UK and US STEM employees, and 39% of Europe STEM employees say they plan to leave their organisations this year.  

In this article, I reflect back on the history and evolution of the recruitment market and look ahead to the priorities leaders should consider to futureproof their talent pipelines.

Read on to explore:

  • Key drivers of change in the history of recruitment
  • How the COVID-19 pandemic catalysed tech in recruitment
  • What is next for the recruitment industry


Key drivers of change in the history of recruitment

From recruiters working for candidates, to recruiters working for clients

The late 1970s saw a shift away from recruiters working directly for, and receiving payments from candidates, to working and receiving payments from the client. 

From being approached by recruitment agencies to harnessing them for selective requirements, organisations were able to expand their workforces at pace and fuel economic growth. 
Recruitment organisations now had to approach candidates directly, and ‘sell’ their client’s roles. At this time, this was largely achieved by salary rate, as well as the company’s general reputation. Roles were mainly advertised in newspapers, and recruitment consultants relied on telephone consultations and in-person interviews to filter candidates. 

The history of online recruitment

While the internet was initially invented in 1983, it wasn’t until 1995 that it became well established in wider society, and business. Netscape Navigator, the most popular internet browser at the time, marked a 10 million global user base in 1995, making it a rich source for an accessible network of talent. 

The late 1990s consequently saw the first online jobs being posted, marking the beginnings of e-recruitment, which has since become essential to modern-day recruitment

Evolution of diversity and inclusion

When considering the history of the UK, the essential role diverse groups have played over the course of the UK industrial history is irrefutable.

While the world wars notoriously accelerated the number of women in industry, factory, pastoral and agricultural work has always had a core reliance on female labour, and international trade and businesses have long been inherent to the British economy. 

It wasn’t until 1975 however that the sex discrimination act was passed, while ethnic groups had to wait another year; until 1976, before the race relations act was passed – both acts protected the groups from unfair treatment in the workplace.

Despite these advances, it wasn’t until 1995 that the disability discrimination act was passed, and it was only recently, in 2010, that the equality act was passed, making it officially illegal to discriminate against employees in the workplace based on their:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex/Gender
  • Sexual orientation.

The rise of employee value propositions

Employee value propositions or EVPs have been steadily growing in importance alongside expanding skills gaps.

Whereas in the past organisations could rely on the reputation of their brand name, or for newer companies, advertise confidential opportunities, rising competition in the talent market has increased the importance of a strong EVP

In a business climate where companies are now investing in their own people, and actively discussing payrises, career development and actualising their culture, people aren’t always as open to leaving their current positions as they once were, clients face a growing need to focus on EVP to attract passive candidates.

According to our 2022 Global Science Employment Report, just under a third of STEM employees prioritise roles that offer a good work-life balance, while over half of respondents would also find employees appealing if they offered an attractive salary and benefits alongside stimulating and challenging work. 

Key elements of a strong EVP include:

  • Work-life balance
  • Representative and actionable DE&I strategies
  • Fair pay structures and reviews
  • Career development paths
  • A strong company culture and purpose

The convenience of recruitment platforms

While e-recruitment initially surged in the 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s, 2008 to be precise, that the LinkedIn Recruiter tool was launched. 

The convenience of the platform, in tandem with its accessibility to global candidate pools has led to a surge in stand-alone recruiters with little experience in the market. 

While online recruitment platforms are often harnessed by organisations, and other stand-alone recruitment entrepreneurs in a more nuanced way, ‘head-hunters’ who used LinkedIn to spam candidates and clients alike are a modern issue that can reduce people’s confidence in the effectiveness of the modern recruitment market.

When used by a seasoned recruitment professional, e-recruitment platforms like LinkedIn Recruiter can activate access to diverse talent pools, and exceptional expertise across the world, while enhancing client reputation.

How the COVID-19 pandemic catalysed tech in recruitment

The events of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of lock-down reverberated across the world of business, while some organisations shrank, others rapidly expanded, incentivising recruitment organisations to find new, more digitally enabled ways to access talent and connect them to the right organisations fast.

In the world of STEM, where COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics were key to unravelling the trials of the pandemic, digital recruitment was essential to hire the right candidates at volume. Today, in an increasingly candidate-led and fast-paced market, the digital recruitment trend seems here to stay.

At SRG, we’ve harnessed digital recruitment with many of our global pharmaceutical and diagnostic clients, for whom we have utilised digital tools like video-interview technology to effectively hire at pace while preserving organisational culture and driving diversity. 

The wider impact of the digitalisation trend in recruitment continues to shape the market today, and has resulted in the following fundamental shifts:

  1. Improved access to diverse talent: Disabled, socio-economically disadvantaged, and other diverse groups are less likely to have the means to travel to multiple interviews. Digital interviews offer a way to connect with and hire diverse talent in a realistic, and effective way.
  2. Location has no limits: Candidates can interview easily before they re-locate for positions requiring in-office or laboratory work. Meanwhile for remote, or global organisations seeking talent in a new country, scouting and hiring talent has become far easier.
  3. The pace of recruitment has accelerated: Candidates can complete multiple interviews in one day, accelerating the pace at which companies must structure their own interview process, and react to ensure the best talent is hired.

What is next for the recruitment industry?

The recruitment industry has undergone several transformations over the last half century, evolving from what was once a manual and in-person led field, to a dynamic, digital and fast-paced industry. 

Successfully building a talent strategy for tomorrow relies on ensuring that your recruitment partner can effectively engage with you as a client, and that candidates are effectively committed to your organisation throughout the recruitment process.

Today, and in the future of the recruitment, the onus will be on so much more than the job alone, people want to know about the benefits, the culture, career development, diversity and inclusion rather than just a job description and salary.

It’s important to recognise that the shift towards a candidate led market has been largely unprecedented. Organisations need to move past the mind-set of merely increasing salaries, and broaden their perspective to actionably consider how they can create the right working environment for employees, and the right candidate process for their prospective new hires.

Looking for expert recruitment support?

SRG have over 30 years of experience in supporting recruitment in organisations across STEM. Our talented consultants are on hand to help you with any of your recruitment challenges.

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