Faced with a major shortage of candidates, the industry must make some radical changes, warns Lynne Griffiths of Sirius Talent Solutions in a Q&A
Now that business travel is resuming, we hear that companies are ramping up their teams again. Which sectors are recruiting most actively?
Most companies and sectors have started to ramp up in the past 10 months. Many of the TMCs have been recruiting travel consultants, as well as building back their sales, account management and technical teams. Those companies that made the most redundancies during the pandemic have been very active building back their teams in order to meet increasing client needs.
Are employers finding it difficult to find the right candidates and, if so, why?
The talent shortage has hit. Many people that were made redundant have secured roles outside of travel and are reluctant to return. Staff that retained their jobs are still risk-averse when it comes to the idea of changing their employer. Many employers have a perception that it is a ‘buyer’s market’ when in fact it is a ‘candidate-driven market’. Employers may think they are offering a competitive package but if it is similar to the candidate’s current package, there is limited appeal in terms of the risk of change without a significant benefit.
Which positions are they finding it most difficult to fill?
Sales roles are particularly challenging as those that were fortunate to be retained through the pandemic are reluctant to move. Many will have an established sales pipeline with a company that they feel secure at and do not want to risk starting from a new baseline. Those that left the travel industry and moved into other sectors, especially technology, have been successful and are earning attractive bonuses. When you consider the travel industry doesn’t yet know what spend volumes will look like post-Covid, a sales role is more challenging and it is ultimately much harder work for lower volumes which would impact on target earnings.
Why else do you think people who have left the industry are reluctant to return?
The reluctance to return is due to a range of reasons. Some may have started their own business or moved into booming sectors like technology, where bonuses are higher than in the travel industry, or it may simply be due to the perceived instability of our sector. Some have found roles that are part-time, offer flexible hours or are home-based, which work better for their family and work-life balance. There was already a predicted talent shortage looming and Covid has accelerated this. Those close to retirement age who were made redundant may have been influenced to retire early – once they were off the hamster wheel, the prospect of getting back on it might not have appealed. The result is almost a lost generation of expertise, so it is vital that new people are encouraged into the industry to learn from the remaining workforce.
In your opinion, what must employers and the wider industry do to tempt people back to business travel?
Offering home-based, part-time and flexi hours will tempt many people back into business travel, especially women. Many have a wealth of experience but no longer want to commit to a 9-5, Monday-Friday job. Over the last two years, childcare arrangements have changed and have impacted how much time parents wish to work and rely on childcare support. The private sector looks at the public sector, where they have flexible hours and improved family balance, and wants the same.
We also believe that to tempt people back into the work – regardless of whether it’s full-time or hybrid working– employers need to make the office environment an attractive environment with social activities and a friendly, inviting vibe. Hybrid or home working will help significantly as this is becoming the norm in other sectors and corresponds with an increased focus on health and wellbeing along with a work-life balance. Finally, improved benefits working such as pensions, annual leave and flexible benefit packages will help.
So, the move to remote working has made it easier for employers to attract, train and retain staff?
Yes. Many middle to senior management positions have historically always had the flexibility for remote working but it is true that more remote working is making it easier to attract and retain staff. Many companies no longer have office space to accommodate their full workforce so it is inevitable that remote working is increasingly popular. It has meant that employers have had to enhance their training programmes to ensure personnel are onboarded and trained efficiently.
Longer term, what else must be done to retain talent and attract new people into the industry?
For some companies, overhauling their compensation packages will be necessary to retain existing and attract new talent. Implementing flexible working along with improved employee training and development is key. Everyone’s job plateaus at some point and career progression is by far the biggest reason why people change jobs. People need to know that they are valued so investment in career progression is one of the biggest contributors to retention. Talented employees should not be taken for granted as they are amongst any organisation’s most valuable assets and investing in those assets will pay long-term dividends. So talent development is crucial to retaining staff. The industry also needs to welcome non-travel talent into the industry and be prepared to train them. Not only will this expand the talent pool in our industry but it brings new ideas and enthusiasm too.
Are suppliers also experiencing the same recruitment problems?
Most business travel suppliers are facing the same recruitment challenges; not enough qualified/experienced candidates for their vacancies. In fact, a recent recruitment trend report showed that Travel, Leisure & Tourism received an average of just four applications per job in December. That was amongst the lowest three industries reported. The question that must be asked is how many in the business travel sector have now permanently switched careers in the face of the perceived continued uncertainty in the industry and how will the industry respond?
What about travel manager roles? Are you seeing the same issues/trends?
No, the situation with travel manager roles has not been significantly affected by the pandemic. Most organisations have retained their travel managers or even created new roles. Travel manager roles are always in demand and there appears no less appetite for business travel personnel to transition from supplier to buyer side.
What other recruitment challenges are employers facing?
Employers with long, drawn out recruitment processes are losing out on candidates so they need to be nimble and decisive. We’ve had instances where recruitment processes have spanned months so employers have missed out on candidates who need to secure employment and have taken other roles. Whilst employers may have their own time challenges, making the recruitment process as efficient and responsive as possible will secure candidates and not put barriers in their way to choosing to work for them.
What do you expect to happen to salary levels in the short and longer term?
Salary levels have already increased and we see them increasing further. Employers need to ask themselves what would the incentive be for a candidate to leave a secure role for a new role for what is perceived to be ‘market conditions’? Unless it is a definitive step up the career ladder for the candidate or a much improved package the appetite to move is low. We have seen an increase in counter-offers but on many occasions the employee has felt under-valued and the counter-offer unsuccessful.
What impact will the shortage of TMC and supplier talent have on travel buyers and arrangers?
Really, the question is: what impact will the shortage of talent and the increasing costs relating to talent have on travel buyers and arrangers? I think that the financial models are being revisited with the value of the TMC and their staff re-evaluated. Ultimately, more needs to be done to bring new talent into the industry as the talent pool has reduced due to the pandemic.
Lynne Griffiths is Founder and CEO of Sirius Talent Solutions