Executive Outlook: Executive Career Transition Market Trends in Q4 2021

Executive Outlook: Executive Career Transition Market Trends in Q4 2021

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Leadership Capability

In the blink of an eye, we’ve arrived at Q4 of 2021. As we begin looking forward to the festive season and all it brings, now is also the time for reflection and planning for the New Year.

If you have your sights set on a career move in 2022, here are factors you need to consider about the Executive market as it stands as of November 2021.


Executive Job Market Snapshot

A fair amount has changed since our previous market update in early Q2. The government’s popular furlough scheme has come to its official end, and back in April, only a quarter of UK adults had been vaccinated against coronavirus. Today[1], that number is much higher, with 87% of the UK population aged 12 or over having received a first dose and nearly 80% fully vaccinated with both doses. A new development is that over 8 million people have had a third ‘booster’ dose. While this is excellent news for the state of public health in the UK, it also comes as great news for the recovery of the professional market.

The statistics reflect this as well. Currently, the UK unemployment rate stands at around 4.5%, which is a decrease from the 4.9% rate we saw at our last update but still higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 4%. However, these figures are met with vast opportunity with the number of vacancies available in the market hitting an all-time high of 1.1 million between July and September of this year. The number of employees on payroll has also broken records, rising 207,000 to 29.2 million in September 2021.[2]  However, at senior levels within the professional and executive market place, the numbers employed are 600,000 less today than pre Covid-19.

But with the unemployment rate higher than it was pre-COVID, why so many unfilled roles? We’re experiencing what has been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation,’ wherein professionals are leaving their roles or considering leaving their roles without having another opportunity lined up. This is creating even more vacancies in the marketplace rather than creating one-for-one swaps. What is driving these executives to take the leap? If you are one of them, what do you need to consider? The following trends may shed some light and help you better plan for your own executive career transition.


Key Market Trends

The Future is Flexible

One of the biggest changes to the professional world over the past 18 months has been our idea of what ‘work’ and the workday need to look like. Now that staff know they can work from anywhere, many are disinterested in returning to the office full time. Remote work provided greater autonomy and freed up more time for family, exploring interests and hobbies, focussing on wellbeing, and pursing more continuous learning and upskilling opportunities. Whilst some employers are calling their staff back into more traditional 9-5 workdays in the office, many executives are unwilling to sacrifice their improved work-life balance now that they have it. Hybrid and flexible working models seem to be the solution many organisations have turned to. Currently, an average of 44% of staff are back in the workplace at least some of the time and that number is predicted to rise to 56% by the end of the year.[3]

If you are considering an executive transition in the new year, your stance on flexibility will be important to determine ahead of time. If you are looking to work remote or hybrid, prioritise this as part of your search. Filter your search with this criterion and understand opportunities and potential barriers of compromises. Be up front with potential employers or any contacts who may be putting feelers out for you. Let it be known that this is what you are looking for in your next role. That way, you end up in an organisation that shares your views and will be much happier in the long run.


The Skills Divide

The number of vacancies and the unemployment figures demonstrate that the issue is not with the number of roles or candidates available in the marketplace. Rather, it’s a skills issue. The jobs available simply don’t match the people. At the executive level, this looks a bit different. Rather than having an overabundance of skilled staff and too many roles that they are overqualified for (or in some cases, that individuals no longer have the relevant skills for), the problem is that there are very few opportunities available at this level and a highly competitive market of executives to fill them.

At this level, the skills focus needs to be about differentiation. The candidates who stand out will be those who possess the in-demand, future-focused skills that will help the organisation progress and futureproof. Executives who show a clear understanding of the direction their industry is heading and who demonstrate the ability to meet the evolving needs of the organisation are those who will stand out from the pack. Let’s look at what those skills might be.


Sought-After Skills

In our previous update, we listed four skills that will be crucial for anyone looking to make an executive career transition. These are still the main areas to focus on, but it is worth reiterating and expanding on these given the current trends.

  • Technological capabilities: We have undoubtedly become much more digitally-oriented during the pandemic, and that will continue and expand to include more advanced tools. A PwC survey found that 52% of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the Covid crisis, close to the results of a similar survey conducted by Harris Poll and Appen at 55%. Executives are beginning to invest in upskilling to respond to this change rather than resisting it. A survey by The AI Journal found that most executives (74%) anticipate that AI will deliver more efficient business processes, help to create new business models (55%), and enable the creation of new products and services (54%).[4] The task at hand for executives is to get up to speed with the tools available, understand their potential impacts and benefits, and begin thinking critically about how these capabilities can be leveraged in their desired role, industry, or organisation. Understanding these impacts may highlight other areas for improvement that can help the executive get ahead of the curve. For example, most professional roles will be done in partnership with AI, wherein the technology will do the more mundane, time consuming, or routinised tasks and the human will take on the more strategic and creative roles. With that in mind, the executive may choose to focus their attention on improving in these areas or other human-specific capabilities that technology cannot fulfil.
  • Communication: Now that hybrid working is taking off and becoming more widely practiced, it is essential to develop the right skills for staying connected with colleagues across locations. You might be really excellent at delivering your thoughts in person, but not as great at presenting virtually. Or maybe you are a strong verbal communicator, but not as skilled at putting your thoughts into written word. Hybrid models combine all forms of communication, and therefore you should strive to strengthen your capabilities in the formats that may not be your current strong suit. The success of these working models hinges on teams’ ability to stay aligned and leaders’ ability to keep everyone on track and on the same page. Focusing your attention on this specific soft skill will prove incredibly valuable in any role you are looking to pursue.
  • Collaboration: Our changed relationship to the office has carried over into how we conduct our workday, with much more emphasis on project-based work. It is essential for executives to have strong collaborative capabilities to help lead and execute projects. It is more likely that the executive will be managing and overseeing, so the focus needs to be on delegation. In a hybrid model, it can be challenging to fairly distribute work and monitor individual contribution and impact. It falls on leadership to keep their finger on the pulse of the project to ensure things are running smoothly and each member of the team is successful. Assessing your own management style and making changes as needed is crucial for navigating the next chapter of the working world.

The climate for a New Year career move is looking much more promising than it did this time last year, but still requires focus and determination from the candidate. If you are serious about advancing your career in 2022, it’s best to begin now. Set your objectives, determine your goals, begin plotting your strategy, and do the necessary legwork that you have to do to fill gaps in your knowledge or capabilities. That way, once the holiday break is over, you’ll be able to hit the ground running and be seen as a leader of the future that organisations want to invest in.

[1] https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/vaccinations

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-58881124

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/e0c6e4f7-4d5d-477d-9ac7-fc74e8391075

[4] https://hbr.org/2021/09/ai-adoption-skyrocketed-over-the-last-18-months

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