Outlook - Growing talent pools, cost-cutting and fewer jobs

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 12 December 2023

A weak economy, causing a conservative stance to hiring and a talent-heavy market, will continue to be the biggest hurdle in 2024, according to marketing, advertising and digital recruiters.

As opposed to the hiring boom of 2021 and 2022, cost-cutting, hiring freezes and redundancies are predicted to remain on the horizon for as long as high interest rates, cost of living pressures and the geopolitical instability of war continue.

However, there is relief, as contract jobs will increase, Australians can continue to jump overseas and workplace flexibility is here to stay. 

Other predictions from recruiters include branding and social media skills will be in-demand, we'll also see a continuation of agency talent moving to specialist indies and in-house agencies.

2023 in review: Redundancies and record-breaking applications

Advertising recruitment in 2023 did a total flip - with the start being role plenty and candidate short to now role short with an excess of highly skilled talent.

The cause? Poor economic conditions caused clients and marketing departments to reduce their spend and scope of work.

As a result, adland saw wide-spread redundancies and restructuring which saw more candidates floating around and less permanent opportunities offered, creating a very competitive market.

Recruitment agency iknowho saw more applicants per job ad in its 15-year history, with some roles receiving over 200 external applicants in the first 48 hours of posting.

2023 has seen a real changing of the guard, according to Sheryn Small, lead talent consultant at iknowho.

“The tightening economy has seen a much more conservative market creep in over the past six months,” Small said.

“Opportunities agency-side have tapered, but we have seen a resurgence of freelance roles. 

“In the month of July, we saw our freelance hires spike to 86%, which is the first time we have seen freelance hires exceed permanent since prior to Covid.”

At present the most in-demand roles are specialists with a focus on niche areas of expertise, says Lisa Tahu, talent agent, design, at Aquent. 

“For example, in the past, we may have sourced a senior UX designer, now the market is leaning into the niche skills focus; which could be experience in chatbot design, AI, digital payment systems or native app experience,” Tahu said.

2023 also saw, for the first time in four years, marketers move overseas, according to Dene Gambotto, managing director and founder at iknowho.

“We saw solid numbers of Aussie marketers leaving home bound for the US or UK to further their careers,” Gambotto said.

“Sadly, we’re not seeing pre-pandemic working holiday visas here yet, but the new arrivals are increasing each month which is promising. Fingers crossed it continues.”

Economic stress and talent pools will continue to overfill

As 2024’s economic outlook is predicted to remain soft, recruiters also see a sluggish start to the year in terms of permanent job opportunities with most businesses taking a conservative stance to hiring and positions taking longer to fill.

In particular, the jobs on the chopping block are account managers and senior level roles.

Agencies will be spoilt for choice with far more candidates in the market than there was 12 months ago, says Heidi Bennett, talent consultant agency at iknowho.

“I predict a slow increase for recruitment activity to pick back up, but we won’t see the level activity we saw back in 21/22 post covid,” Bennett said.

“Next year, agency’s will struggle to get sign off on permanent new hires and will face lean account management teams due to hiring budget cuts/freezes.

“This will ultimately put pressure on teams to deliver on projects and campaigns on tighter budgets than we’ve seen before which if not managed appropriately could result in seeing candidates look for new opportunities with better work life balance.”

Senior level titles will continue to see reductions, Zena Nicolson, practice manager, marketing, at Aquent, said.

“The big hurdle I am observing is the changing and streamlining at the senior executive level with an inevitable financial tightening of the reins; middle management expectations to perform; and delivering results with fewer resources,” Nicolson said.

“This creates opportunities for talent who bring hybrid skill sets, analytical mindsets and the ability to hone in on driving performance.”

While the economy will remain the biggest hurdle for recruitment, at the same time, this could be an opportunity for businesses to harness AI and data-driven technology to work smarter and grow their businesses, Annie Sharrock, talent agent, marketing, Aquent, said. 

“As more companies recognise its benefits and harness the technology for routine work, people can spend more time in creative and collaborative idea generation style of work,” Sharrock said.

“There are some industries that thrive in a global downturn like healthcare and low-cost retailers, so these will be the ones to watch.”

Contract roles will provide relief, but international talent will put up a fight

With less permanent jobs, recruiters predict contract roles will continue to rise as employers take a more conservative stance on hiring.

Therefore, those caught under a redundancy wave can find relief in freelancing, until agencies bounce back from reduced marketing spend/scope of work and potentially have a contract role turn permanent. 

Contractors will be particularly in demand within the creative space, says Teegan Elliot, design and creative recruiter at Creative Natives.

“Clients across the board are investing less in creative which means agencies need to find the balance of running a cost effective business and producing great work,” Elliot said.

However, as next year will see more international talent wanting a foot in the door, even the contracting market will be competitive.

“With recent changes to visa legislation, we are likely to see increasing numbers of Working Holiday candidates, which will be a huge positive for industry as numbers have been modest at best since Covid,” Small, at iknowho, said.

And the pressure has already started with freelancers and contractors already lowering their rates, according to Luis Diaz, talent agent, technology, Aquent Australia.

Particularly in tech areas, says Keren Selvam, talent agent, technology, at Aquent Australia.

“Although the market has slowed down as we approach Christmas and the New Year, the current market is filled with highly skilled tech candidates looking for their next opportunity in a competitive market, forcing them to lower their rates which then gives employers the advantage of having a larger pool of candidates to choose from,” Selvam said.

Workplace flexibility is here to stay

Despite the competitive recruitment market, recruiters predict workplace flexibility and company culture will continue as a cornerstone of the modern work environment. 

While some organisations are starting to mandate a more traditional ‘onsite’ model Rebecca Godkin, senior talent consultant marketing at iknowho, said recent salary survey findings indicate that 87% of marketers would decline a role that didn’t accommodate hybrid working options. 

“A sustained work-life balance has become a central point of focus for marketers, they’re seeking the sweet spot where productivity and wellbeing can coexist,” Godkin said.

Jobseekers will continue to align their values with their career choices, so to attract top talent companies need to identify and actively promote their value proposition. 

“Candidates are increasingly delving into a company's ethics, diversity, equity and inclusion policies as well as social and environmental initiatives before making a move,” Godkin said.

In fact, Dene Gambotto, at iknowho, said company culture is more important than salary when it comes to a marketer’s job search.

“Companies need to be investing in building and promoting their culture to retain and attract the very best marketers,” Gambotto said.

“However, in 2024 we’ll see more organisations push for a return to the office to boost collaboration, improve mental health and let’s be honest make sense of their rent expenditure.”

Juniors attracted to indies and seniors to client-side

2023 saw the rise of independent agencies, with the likes of Howatson & Co, Sunday Gravy and Thinkerbell plastered at top of candidates' wish lists and disrupting the big players.

Steph Graham, senior consultant at Creative Natives, says this attraction, particularly junior to mid level talent, will continue and specialist agencies will continue to move towards the full-service offering as new competitor indie agencies arise.

Similarly, inhouse agencies will continue to gain momentum predicts Teegan Elliot, at Creative Natives.

“We will see a number of creative teams setting up their micro- agencies creating another option for clients,” Elliot said.

But to retain talent training is one answer, says Riza Karis, talent consultant agency at iknowho.

“There’s a big opportunity for agencies to retain their junior talent with better training and development and attracting top talent through graduate programs or internships,” Karis said.

Candidates should focus on branding and social media skills

The skills predicted to be most in-demand next year are branding and social media skills.

Brands will continue to increase their focus on brand and customer experience in 2024, says Cameron Mckay, senior consultant at Creative Natives.

“The most in demand agencies will be the ones that demonstrate they're in the crosshairs of design, brand and creative. These guys think big and pitch transformations focused on establishing their client's position in the market for the next decade,” Mckay said.

Demand will surge for suits with blended branding and strategy coupled with social and content expertise, Lilian Yessayan, senior consultant at Creative Natives, said.

“With the likes of TikTok gaining more traditional ad spend and becoming the leading search tool of Gen Z social leads and creator teams will have more influence than ever,” Yessayan said.

“Experiential activation space has seen a huge revitalisation, and this will only get stronger.” 

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