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Human Resources Jobs Market Insights

24 Nov 2020

Mark Byrne, Commercial Director of Brightwater who oversees the HR division is in conversation with Gordon D’Arcy, Commercial Director of the Group.

Thank you very much for having a chat with me today, Mark. As well as sales & marketing, your remit includes HR. 

Can you give us a brief overview of that vertical?


When we speak to candidates and clients within HR, they’ve never worked as hard as they have in recent months– they’re dealing with so much change, not only in their own positions but dealing with organisational change, people in the office if they’re non-essential workers moving to work from home and ensuring essential workers have the proper social distance. You’re dealing with human emotions so HR professionals still have the objective of getting their own job done but that of their staff. It has completely changed.

What does HR cover?

The HR function has expanded. Human Resources is perhaps pigeon holed as simply hiring and firing. But that’s not the case, it covers a lot of functions.

HR has completely changed. The types of roles we were recruiting for in 2018 /2019 were predominantly niche roles that were recruited on a permanent basis; recruitment itself, learning & development, compensation & benefits, employee engagement. Salaries at the time were being offered at the upper end of salary bracket because the market was so buoyant. Companies really had to go out there and make themselves attractive to people joining them. At the start of the year we were even talking about sign-on bonuses. That has completely changed in 2020. Those niche skills are still required even more but they’re being doubled up or tripled up in each position in some cases. Niche roles are becoming far more generalist.

If we look at recruitment, employers want the new entrants to have Employee Relations or Employee Engagement skills. From a Compensation & Benefits perspective, this may well be coupled with Learning & Development. The levels and titles remain the same but ultimately there’s more required from each position. From a recruitment perspective, it’s a good time to hire.

They’ve also all had to become a Master of Zoom or MS Teams in that period. In terms of the HR profession itself, what are the types of qualifications that are required in the industry?

What qualifications are needed to work in HR?

Generally, people in HR would have a degree or a Masters in HR. They definitely need to be CIPD qualified (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development). Particularly now over last 2/3 years, additional learnings on top of that are important especially Employee Relations which is crucial at the current time. Experience in HRM systems and rolling that out is also key. Having the CIPD qualification is simply not enough any longer. It’s continuous learning.

HR was a buoyant market at the start of this year.

How did the pandemic affect HR?

Individuals in HR are working really hard particularly on niche skills.

Employee Relations is crucial as they have had to cope with issues such as COVID payments, TLOs (temporary layoffs), potential redundancies, union negotiations, restructuring within own organisation, rewriting rule books on what peoples’ careers are going to be and potentially coupling up on  those skillsets from 2 people into one. They have to concentrate on still being on top of productivity not only in HR but in other departments because in essence, that’s where their main focus is. 

From a Learning & Development perspective, they’ve had to step up their skills in this area. Non-essential workers were sent home in  mid March, potentially with a  laptop or PC but maybe never having used Teams Zoom or Webex so they would have had to cope with that environment. When we polled individuals, they’re missing the office environment, the camaraderie of their colleagues, the interaction and the learnings of what’s going on. It’s fallen back on HR to create that virtual office for them where individuals are feeling safe, productive and motivated.

From a Health & Safety perspective, they’ve written, rewritten and rewritten COVID policies as we go from Level 2, 3, 4, 5 and back again. What does that mean from a productivity or a motivational perspective? That all has had to change. HR professionals are very much focusing on the strategies of the company so they’re looking at how well they did in 2019, how they’ve coped in 2020 as well as looking forward to 2021 and 2022 and figuring out how they’re going to enable growth from a company perspective focusing on staff management and motivation. Some of their staff members have, in essence stood still in their careers. Employers are expecting more from their staff but ultimately may not be able to offer more in salary or package simply because it’s not there to offer yet. It’s that constant employee engagement area. When we look at companies that have coped best, they are the companies that have shown adaptability. From a HR professional perspective, they’ve actually championed that adaptability, it could be from systems, from apps, that their employees are being mentored / trained. In essence, they are bringing back that office environment.

Is HR still hiring?

From a hiring perspective, how has the pandemic affected HR? The importance of the incumbents has been highlighted but have they still been hiring in HR?

Ultimately yes. A lot of it is virtual. Individuals joining a HR dept may well have interviewed via Zoom and may never physically have been on site. Once they do join, their on-boarding process is virtual. They haven’t seen their colleagues. They’re not fully getting the company culture and from a HR perspective, they really need to get the culture very early in the process. That has been quite tricky and hiring managers within HR have really looked at how they’re going to get that right. That’s something that will be considered over the next few months because companies are coming out of this. They have policies, they have strategies and they want to progress. It’s now down to HR departments to not only recruit their own staff in HR but also for other divisions. Getting that right is key.  It is about attracting good staff and new members of staff to their business but it’s also about maintaining their existing staff members and keeping them motivated. That remit spans checking that they have the hiring budgets to hire that individual and what other niche skills that they’re looking to develop in that individual, eg. taking on other people’s positions or learning to upskill.

Are there more contract / temporary roles in HR than permanent?

Companies are still hiring during the pandemic which is great to see. Has it been mostly in permanent roles or contract?  We’ve seen other industries pivot towards contract roles to complete on-going work and avoid headcount freezes. Has that been the same in HR?

I think temporary & contract positions in HR have definitely exploded. It is a way for companies to attract new skills. If they are lacking a particular skill set such as Compensation & Benefits or Employee Relations that they need now but may not be able to afford in the long term, hiring in on a contract basis is the ideal solution. This is what we’ve been working on, particularly at a mid to senior tier level. It’s beginning to turn now though. The temporary & contracts market in HR is still quite buoyant but we’re now looking at roles on a permanent basis where employers have realised that this is a really important skill that they require. Companies are evolving and adapting, hence the skillsets in HR are doing the same thing. My prediction for 2021 is that we will be looking at an even split between contract and permanent roles.


Will temporary HR positions become permanent?

The great thing about being a consultant is that you deal with candidates and clients. With news of a potential vaccine and the environment shifting again, are clients (employers) who are taking on T&C positions considering making their temporary & contract positions permanent?  

This is what employers will ask prior to taking on the temp in the first place. They are hopeful things will improve, hopeful that this temporary position of a few weeks will roll into a few months’ duration and then into a permanent position. That’s the evolution of companies that are trying to grow and gain that skillset particularly within HR. HR is hugely important for the proper running of an organisation and getting that proper structure in place. Getting the HR department correct will roll out along the rest of the organisation.

We’ve seen how important the HR department has been in this environment to companies. Whether it’s one that has thrived or one that has been hit hard, the role of the HR department has been incredibly valuable.


What are salaries / benefits like in HR this year?

How have HR salaries held up during this pandemic and what are the benefits typically associated with these roles?

When we look at the analysis of salaries in HR, they’ve dropped slightly but only by one or two levels on the actual salary scale. In 2018/2019 when we were looking at the upper end of the salary brackets being offered, now it’s around the mid-level of those brackets. That’s down to supply of candidates who may not be working. It can go either way from a contract basis, it may be possible to get higher rates but sometimes you get reduced.

Thank you very much for chatting with me, Mark – it’s been very interesting. You’ve talked so eloquently about HR and its value to an organisation and how there’s a renewed focus on that as they’re the drivers of culture within an organisation and the foray into remote working has put a spotlight on that.

Brightwater’s HR division and recruits HR professionals of all levels across a range of industries. For a confidential conversation contact Contact Mark Byrne on [email protected] or call 01 662 1000