Special feature

What can movers do about the employee shortage?

Increasing numbers of movers are reporting difficulties in finding and retaining the calibre of staff they need – at all levels. Dominic Weaver speaks to some of the mobility industry’s leading recruiters about the impact this is having on the industry and how firms can tackle the problem

Movers across the world are struggling to fill critical job positions in their companies.

Widespread shortages of staff across a range of roles are reportedly causing intense competition for an apparently shrinking pool of talent, pushing salaries up and setting many businesses on a continuous hunt for employees.

While individual firms in different regions of the world will tell you about a range of staffing difficulties, speaking to those who deal with sourcing and placing staff on a day-to-day basis really uncovers the scale of this issue.

Jeanette Parradine, ‘chief talent alchemist’ at international recruitment specialist Alchemy Recruitment, sets the scene with some eyewatering recent figures: ‘Currently in the US, there are nearly 11 million job vacancies, but only 6.5 million workers listed as unemployed, while Europe employers are struggling to fill more than 1.2 million job roles,’ she says. ‘In Australia, there are more than 400,000 listed vacant positions, and, in Singapore, it is reported that nearly 50 per cent of vacancies go unfilled.’

Regions of the world where there is an ageing population – such as the US (where approximately 10,000 people turn 65 years old every day), Europe, and northeast Asia – have faced recruitment challenges for some time. However, the depth and geographical breadth of the shortage was intensified by the arrival of COVID, which changed the way people look at their careers, triggering ‘The Great Resignation’. This has seen staff leaving their positions for diverse reasons, from inflexible working policies and lack of career development to the impact of the rising cost of living and a desire to prioritise work/life balance or simply to ‘try something different’.

Simon Rogers, Managing Partner at Talent Mobility Search (TMS), says at the start of the pandemic, when employers put recruitment on hold, there was a surplus of candidates, but the story changed dramatically a few months later. ‘When we started to come out of lockdowns, this completely flipped on its head,’ he says. ‘Suddenly, there were too many roles and not enough people.’ With the World Health Organization reporting more than six million deaths around the world and millions more still unable to work because of the long-term effects of COVID, the legacy of the pandemic on jobs will last for many years.

Enduring travel restrictions in some parts of the world will have an ongoing impact, too. Parradine says migrant workers traditionally make up five per cent of the global workforce, and that stricter travel policies have stemmed a previously abundant flow of labour. ‘Most countries are now loosening their immigration restrictions to allow these workers to return, but this will take time,’ she says.

In the UK, the situation has been worsened by Brexit, which has restricted free movement of potential employees and made the country less attractive for migrant workers. Here, says Parradine: ‘International moving and relocation companies are crying out for staff with European language skills.

Unfortunately, many of the European staff who used to fulfil the roles have returned to their home countries.’

Wages rise, skills fall

As staff availability has plummeted and international inflation continues to push prices up for everyone, salaries have risen to attract the right staff – while a recent Randstad report found that 62 per cent of workers will change job to increase their wages.

Parradine says we now have ‘a candidate-driven market… and companies are having to increase salary levels in order to recruit staff’. These increases are expected to base salaries, not merely to potential bonuses, says Rogers, adding: ‘It’s a difficult position but, ultimately, if you want to find the right person you’ve got to get there.’

Parradine warns: ‘In some countries, wage increases will still not cover the cost of inflation.’

There is now a widening skills gap – acknowledged by 87 per cent of employers in a recent study – that demands businesses retrain, educate and upskill their staff. However, as existing employees are often overloaded with the additional tasks created for them by the shortage, many firms simply don’t have the capacity to do this.

This conundrum is notably evident in the uptake of tech solutions. ‘Implementing advanced technology helps streamline processes and drive efficiency,’ says Parradine, ‘but you need specialised staff with the skills to operate it – and there is a global shortage of these.’

Impact on moving

Overall, the shortages are causing companies to suffer a triple whammy of self-reinforcing challenges to service quality, staff morale and business growth.

Parradine says: ‘With fewer employees available to serve clients and handle operations, service quality becomes poor, which diminishes a company’s reputation.

‘Where there is a shortage of staff, existing employees also become responsible for more work – increased workload adds stress, which lowers morale and job satisfaction, and employees’ mental and physical health deteriorates,’ says Parradine. Inevitable time off for under-pressure staff or employees leaving puts further strain on already understaffed businesses.

Shortages of staff can impact on the workload of existing employees

Scott Cook, Managing Director of niche international mobility recruiter RELOcruitment, says with most relocations time critical – meaning they cannot be postponed – and requiring skilled removals personnel, short-staffed movers have little option but to use costly alternatives ‘sub-contracting work to ensure the move is carried out… this in turn squeezes margins even tighter, at a time when costs for businesses are spiralling’.

Ultimately, some companies are having to turn down work or are unable to bid for new contracts, restricting their revenue flow and business growth.

At Movers Search Group, owner Mark Gray says: ‘The increasing difficulty of recruiting for virtually all household goods agency positions has prevented movers from realising their profit potential due to the inability to service the demand. Post-COVID, there is a pent-up demand for quality moving and storage services, that the HHG industry just can’t accommodate given the employee shortage.’

Sector-wide shortages

The industry shortages are evident across a wide range of mobility jobs. Cook says, globally, vacancies have reached a 15-year high and that moving firms are particularly struggling to fill ‘coalface’ operational roles. ‘Finding dedicated drivers with removals experience has always been difficult, but more now than ever before,’ he says.

Gray agrees: ‘With companies like Amazon and other “no-touch” freight companies, it has become harder and harder for the moving and storage industry to attract quality drivers… especially when those drivers have the extra burden of having to load/unload the shipper’s household goods.’

Cook says movers are finding similar difficulties recruiting porters, packers, foremen and warehouse staff. Recruiters are citing significant scarcity in other areas, too, from mid-management and coordinator roles to business development and consultancy positions. Gray says he is finding that people going for operations managers’ and general managers’ positions have, for unknown reasons, ‘become more particular as to their preferred locations for relocation, not to mention their increased expectations as to compensation and benefits’.

Job vacancy numbers around the world will inevitably fluctuate with the economy, and a descending recession may provide a serious curb in many markets. However, most recruiters agree that the current shortages have been produced not by the usual ebbs and flows, but rather by a paradigm shift in what employees want from their careers, and how employers must respond to this.

What workers want

With salaries on the up, candidates are increasingly confident about their value to their prospective employer. Many people have seen companies adapt their working conditions radically during the pandemic and accordingly are more willing to ask for the terms they really want from a job.

Rogers says: ‘The first question you used to get from a candidate was: “What are the opportunities and the pay?” Now it’s: “What flexibility does your company offer?”’

This flexibility isn’t just about remote work, says Cook, who points out that for many cornerstone moving roles such as drivers, packers, and porters, working from home is simply not an option. However, with a reminder that these operational and crew members are the face of a moving business, he adds that employers must recognise that the pandemic has changed their expectations significantly, too. This might mean more flexibility in working hours or time off, improved benefits, training and added job security – and higher salaries.

Parradine says that, in general, ‘candidates are demanding remote or hybrid working structures, flexible work hours, increased holiday entitlements, and strong benefits packages, training, added job security – and more’. And, says Rogers, these benefits are expected up front: ‘It is less about what you can promise me tomorrow,’ he says, ‘it is more “What can you promise me today?”’

Think differently

In the face of these more radical demands from employees, movers have been challenged to think differently about the packages they offer staff.

‘Moving firms, when hiring move managers for example, have overcome some of the candidate shortage issues by removing geographical barriers,’ says Cook. ‘Those open to hiring fully remote-based staff tend to have the pick of the best talent available.’

Indeed, the remote working option demanded by today’s candidates has an attractive flipside for businesses, allowing them to cast their nets wider, with the potential even to ‘offshore’, by recruiting outside of their own country. With so many of the people-related and other skills required in mobility highly transferable, movers are being encouraged to look beyond their traditional avenues for employees to allow them to maintain – and grow – quality services into the future.

‘I think it is important that companies continue to work on their learning and development offerings, hire candidates outside of our industry and offer training,’ says Cook. ‘The moving market needs fresh blood and what happens now will have a huge impact on the industry moving forward.’

Searching more widely will also enable movers to create more diverse workforces, crucial for the benefits they bring to a business and because the next generation of employees take DE&I issues seriously – and expect companies to do the same.

‘Jobseekers want organisational values to align with their personal ones,’ says Cook. ‘Younger and more socially aware candidates in the workforce now place far more emphasis on a company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and statistics than ever before. It’s now an essential part of a firm’s brand, and candidates will decide whether to apply or not based on how a business performs in this area.’

Recruiters also agree that providing candidates with a clearly defined path for career and personal development is now a must. ‘Self-improvement is a huge factor now,’ says Cook. ‘This includes learning and development, training, upskilling – a route to progression.’

Rogers says that successful companies are offering employees opportunities to contribute time to their own personal development as well as directly to the company – allowing them to get involved in charity ventures and other areas about which they are passionate.

‘More than ever, job candidates today will evaluate potential places of work based on the benefits that a company can offer and how happy existing employees seem – people are looking beyond pure financial incentives when it comes to new jobs,’ says Cook, who highlights the importance of conveying as much about your workplace to potential recruits and the wider market. ‘When advertising a role, detail your company’s mission, culture and sustainability practices,’ he says. ‘This is your brand.’

Rapid action

Once you have identified candidates, says Rogers, it is more vital than ever that businesses move quickly to secure them as an employee. If not, it is incredibly easy for someone to slip though the net.

He says: ‘We have had clients who have had someone in for a first interview and then thought “we should organise a second interview”. But by the time they’ve done that, a very fast-moving company has come in, managed to do all their interviewing in a day, got an offer out and the person has accepted. I’ve seen really good candidates drop out of the process for the same reason – it was taking too long, and they said they didn’t want to work for a company like that.

Recruiters recommend streamlining the interview process

‘Unless it is for something like a C-suite role, I would challenge anyone who thinks they need to do more than a handful of interviews. How much information do you really need to make sure a candidate is right?’

He advises getting everyone in the company who wants to meet potential employees ready on a single day, even carrying out interviews with multiple candidates – and communicating a clear timeline for interview, feedback, and the final decision, so everyone knows what to expect.

Faster and more fulfilling

In the same way COVID forced movers to make their operations more agile, efficient and financially sound, today’s staffing issues are challenging them to create companies that candidates really want to work for,

to fulfil heightened expectations on culture, benefits and remuneration, and to streamline their recruiting processes. This will require movers to invest both their time to think innovatively about the packages they offer to potential recruits and their money to fund the salary levels and other financial perks demanded.

While this may cause short-term commercial pain, Gray says the pandemic renewed the supply chain’s understanding that, far from being an afterthought, quality movers do, in fact, sit at the centre of a high-quality relocation. He believes the industry must leverage this to produce a long-overdue rise in their prices.

‘As with candidates, movers themselves are in demand,’ he says. ‘As such, it is time for them to raise their rates and be fairly compensated for their exceptional performance in one of society’s toughest jobs – looking after a family’s personal belongings. Higher rates of compensation will allow the industry to pay and more easily attract candidates they need, including those who previously might not have considered a career in the industry.’

How to find staff – quick tips from recruiters

Jeanette Parradine, ‘chief talent alchemist’ at international recruitment specialist Alchemy Recruitment

  • Be competitive with salary and benefits packages – and innovative with career path offerings
  • Candidates want higher wages, strong benefits packages and remote/hybrid working – but they also want to see what future they will have with the business
  • Having clearly defined career paths detailing future potential is key to attracting talent of all levels – as is upskilling, mentoring, offering specialist training and qualifications
  • Movers must move away from rigid, traditional working processes and structures. They need to adapt their business models, creating an agile working environment, utilising technology and linking people by processes.

Simon Rogers, Managing Partner at Talent Mobility Search

  • If you are doing well on recruiting, it’s really important to remember why you’re being successful. Social media is a great way to celebrate those successes – so they’re not forgotten the next time you need to hire
  • On the flip side, if you’re struggling to hire, be willing to listen and invest in changing the way you work and the way you do things for employees.

Scott Cook, Managing Director of niche international mobility recruiter RELOcruitment

  • Wherever possible, adopt flexible, hybrid working options to attract candidates
  • Improve the attractiveness of roles by promoting extras, such as development and training opportunities, benefits, and bonuses
  • State your willingness to consider transferable skills in job advertisements and assess candidates for these
  • Broaden recruitment strategies to target wider geographical locations while highlighting higher pay and increased workplace flexibility
  • Act fast. Do not complicate the interviewing process – candidates who are made to wait often end up working for your competitors
  • Give your recruiter as much information as possible. You really can’t overdo this – give us everything we need to engage top people for you. Invest time into your recruitment processes and it will pay off.
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