Demand for ‘crisis’ business consultants surged by 103% during pandemic

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| The European | 26 February 2021

Over 16,000 senior consultants (or interim professionals) have been hired in the past year on a fixed-term contract 

As businesses froze headcount, utilised furlough and made redundancies – hiring skyrocketed for specialist consultants to step in on a fixed-term contract to help aid recovery and transition during the pandemic.

According to a new report from leading recruiter Robert Walters and data provider Vacancysoft – Interim Management: Central to Business Survival – a third of board-level consultancy projects in the past year have been around organisational restructuring & crisis management.

Boomerang recovery

An initial recruitment dip in the first half of 2020 was short-lived as interim management vacancies hit record levels in October 2020 – increasing by +103% in Q3 2020 and a further +30% in Q4 2020.

The spike in demand – as of October 2020 – signals the biggest increase in temporary and contract vacancies since 2018.

When looking at levels in 2021 – hiring for interim professionals has increased by 50% compared to the same period last year. According to the report, 59% of consultants expect to find their next interim assignment within 3 months – twice as quickly as they usually would have pre-pandemic.

Daniel O’Leary, Business Director of Interim Management Recruitment at Robert Walters, comments:

“At first we saw a drop in interim hiring as Covid-19 shook up the recruitment landscape, with the knee-jerk reaction of businesses being to justify costs, resulting in hiring freezes and letting go of contract resource.

“However, in the wake of the initial impact of the virus, businesses have sought to strategise plans for recovery – with interim managers a cost-effective solution to help businesses bounce back much faster than permanent hires. As a result, the interim management market quickly picked up speed, with hiring in Q4 to early Q1 2021 surpassing levels we have seen for the past few years.”

Job roles in demand

  • Scientists: Accounting for just 6% of consultancy roles in the past year, the scramble to find a vaccine and understand the virus’s long-term effects have pushed the demand for senior interim scientists up by +17.4%.
  • Technology: Representing almost a quarter of all senior contract hires during the pandemic, professionals within the sector have been able to showcase their resilience and seamless adaptability to remote working – with the need for management positions in this field is up + 9.7% compared to 2019.
  • Legal: Only accounting for 3% of UK vacancies, Covid-19 has seen legal interim vacancies spike by +12%. Interim corporate lawyers have been bought in rapidly to assist businesses during this volatile period – with those having experience of mergers & acquisitions, administration & liquidation, contract negotiations being the most in demand. Experience around compliance continues to be in demand ahead of Brexit-related preparations.
  • Accounting & Finance: Whilst the accounting and finance interim market has dropped by -8% in the past year, it is still one of the professions that has fared better than others. With businesses faced with a decline in trade; specialist finance skills such as cash management, forecasting, and scenario planning, have been invaluable to enable firms to remain financially stable.

Craig Howells – Senior Contract Finance Specialist at Walters People comments:

“The interim accounting and finance market has held strong as firms seek to rationalise costs and maintain financial integrity during this time. This has led to an increase in interim finance talent across a number of areas. For example, companies have looked to bring in senior qualified accountants to perform cost analyses, identify opportunities to recover and/or grow revenue and recover debt.

“Additionally, we saw a number of Interim Payroll Manager positions were created since March 2020 as this department has faced a surge in activity due to the government furlough scheme and increased employee turnover.”

Regional bounceback 

Across the country, interim vacancies illustrate different stages of recovery as some regions take a cautious approach to spending at the top level.

  • London: With almost 5,000 hires in the past year for senior contract management positions, London dominates the national interim hiring landscape – accounting for 42% of interim management positions. Despite a -14.4% year-on-year decrease in vacancies, the jobs impact on the capital is broadly in line with the national average (-13.6% national year-on-year decrease).
  • South East: The UK’s second-largest area – the South East – accounts for 14% of senior management hires in the past year and showed relative resilience with a -10.8% decrease in interim management positions — in part driven by Reading, one of the country’s top-performing economies. Despite the twin threats of Brexit and the coronavirus, Reading – ‘the commercial capital of Thames Valley’ – saw a +25.8% increase in interim management roles. Milton Keynes, however, suffered the most. It proved a counterweight to this regional growth, with interim positions plunging -50.3% year-on-year.
  • North West: Accounting for 8% senior consultant hires, the North West saw numbers almost return to pre-pandemic levels. Its tally of 1,011 vacancies was only -3.6% down on the same period in 2019. The region’s largest city, Manchester, showed resilience with an average drop of only -10.3%, year-on-year. Neighbours Liverpool fared slightly better, seeing -8.67% fewer interim management roles.
  • Struggling regions: The North East and South West had the least appetite, with numbers down -29.4% and -20.2%, respectively, year-on-year. In the latter, Bristol saw a drop of -16.9% in interim management vacancies to the previous year.

Sectors in transition

When looking through an industry lens, interim hiring for management positions in fields related to online & digital working, supply chain & logistics, and legal fared well within industries that experienced the most demand during the pandemic.

  • Telecoms: Put under increased pressure to build its cybersecurity capability, along with delivering remote-working solutions, the telecoms industry had a +48% surge in hires at the senior contract level – with a +76% increase in interim tech roles specifically.
  • Technology: The technology sector has experienced buoyant growth, illustrated by interim vacancies growing by +37% across the board – and most notably for positions within procurement & supply chain (+190%), legal management (+126%), and general tech (+58%).
  • Pharma: The rise in interim management roles for pharma, (+21.6%) as well as healthcare (+9.7%), is comprised by the number of firms in these sectors looking to hire scientists.
  • Financial Services: The data shows a see-saw split between insurance and banking, with the former recording an +8.2% increase in interim positions, in contrast senior contract roles in banking declined by -12.5%. The UK’s biggest insurers are stocking up on actuaries – with +39.5% more interim recruitment processes now open than a year earlier. The need for other insurance specialist roles — such as in underwriting, claims and risk — by contrast, has fallen by -23%.

Impact of IR35 legislation 

HMRC’s introduction of the new off-payroll changes (IR35) will no doubt have an impact on the interim industry – with companies likely to take a more considered and cautious approach to assigning projects to external professionals.

Richard Harris, Chief Legal Officer at Robert Walters Group, comments:

“In the short term there is going to be a little bit of a nuclear winter around contractors and interim managers with the initial transition to new IR35 accountability model – but naturally this will relax as companies begin to see that it’s possible to be a legitimate limited company contractor.

“As a result, the interim and senior contractor market will naturally open up again – similar to the public sector where we’ll see the shutters come down and then an easing up.”

Click here to download – Interim Management: Central to Business Survival.

Further information

www.robertwalters.co.uk

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