The EWS View: Top Talent Trends For 2024

It’s a challenging time to be a recruiter. 2023 has seen the post-pandemic landscape continue to shift, with macroeconomic pressures mounting, new trends emerging and an increasingly precarious relationship between talent supply and demand. 

The only absolute certainty is that there is no going back to the way things were pre-pandemic. The old normal is gone, even if there are no definitive indications yet of what the new normal will be. 

Not an easy time, you might think, to be making predictions for the next 12 months. But there is sense to be made in all this uncertainty. Armed with our hard-won talent market intel and on-the-ground observations from our seasoned consultants, we have some valuable insights to share.

Here’s the EWS view on where the talent market is heading in 2024… and what smart recruiters need to do to be prepared.

The global economy in 2024

Macroeconomic forecasting has become something of a fool’s errand in recent years. The world economy has been disrupted by an unprecedented sequence of black swan events, all while the climate emergency makes ever-more-urgent demands for new economic thinking. However, optimism is now coalescing around core factors like growth, inflation and employment. 

Goldman Sachs Research, which predicted the global economy’s outperformance against expectations in 2023, is even more positive about the prospects for 2024. Income growth, cooling inflation, a robust job market, room for Central Banks to reduce interest rates – it’s not for nothing that their report is titled The Hard Part Is Over

The OECD predicts more uneven growth but a similar picture around interest rates and continuing low unemployment rates. 

Specifically in the talent space, Recruitics forecasts cooling labour markets, although cautions of a persisting gap between supply and demand. 

So where does this leave recruiters? We’re viewing the answer as a shift from wait-and-see mode to planning mode. Irrespective of the precise trajectory of the market in 2024, it’s highly likely that growth is stabilising and an uptick in investment is on the horizon. 

That gap between supply and demand won’t be closing any time soon. So when the time does come to start hiring again, the successful recruiters will be the best prepared. 

“This isn’t the time to be reactive. We know a fundamental change is coming and there will be a point relatively soon when you will be hiring more than you have been. The best way to be ahead of that is to start early. Invest in talent pipelining, invest in talent mapping. Ultimately, the busier you are now, the better positioned you’ll be when the boom does come.”

Darren Hornigold, EWS Director

Emerging talent trends for 2024

We’re seeing some significant new trends emerging, with other recent trends solidifying, falling back or balancing out. These are converging to reshape the talent landscape for 2024 – and every one of them should be on your strategic radar right now.

1. The end of The Great Resignation? 

As our Global Delivery Leader Ken Craig notes, all signs are that The Great Resignation is itself quietly quitting. 

“Workers quitting or job-hopping spiked in 2021-22 but post-pandemic, this looks to have peaked. Through 2023, we’ve seen ever-stronger emphasis on candidates who haven’t jumped from job to job. And this dampening in demand has also seen wages start to balance out after a period of inflated growth. Things are looking a lot more sustainable on that front now.”

This is one big relief for talent teams, but no reason yet to take your eye off the retention ball. 

Ken cautions that “employees want evidence they’re in a company that wants them long term. Many of our clients are investing heavily in learning & development – both upskilling and reskilling – to design career progression paths to retain top talent. This is a key employer brand pillar and one that vastly improves employee engagement.”

2. The Great Retirement gathers pace

As Strategic Dimensions puts it, “the 2020s is the decade during which the challenge of an ageing population shifts from being tomorrow’s problem to today’s.” Almost half-way through, with the Covid-accelerated rise in workers retiring early, this is a workforce trend that cannot be ignored.

There is vast intellectual capital locked up in all those Baby Boomers, and increasingly Gen X executives, on the verge of retirement. Without a clear view of where to find the next generation of exec-level talent, The Great Retirement will be anything but great for organisational futures.

EWS Director Darren Hornigold proposes a clear strategic solution. “The more people analytics you use, the more you understand the ebb and flow of your workforce and the wider talent market. So you know you’re going to have a 10% loss of ‘grey’ intellectual capital over the next five years. How are you going to manage that effectively without a talent pipeline?” 

3. The Great Reprioritisation: Rise of the selective candidate

We are seeing an intrinsic shift in what candidates are prioritising in their career decision-making. So fundamental is this shift, we’ve coined an entirely new category of candidates. Where we previously demarcated active and passive candidates, we now speak more and more of selective candidates.

These are candidates who are only open to exploring new opportunities if they fit certain criteria, typically around working pattern, culture and non-compensatory benefits. Crucially, even for roles where there’s a good competency fit, if these criteria aren’t met, selective candidates are saying ‘no’ far sooner.

Darren explains: “Traditionally, our model was to target passive candidates. But now we’re having a completely different type of engagement. Candidates can be active for two or three conversations, and then very quickly they’re turned off because it doesn’t quite fit with what they want in their life. For selective candidates, what matters to you is a holistic thing rather than a job title”.

This poses a major new challenge for recruiters, one that will only grow with the rise of the selective candidate. It’s no longer enough to have a big name, an attractive role and a great compensation package. 

As Darren puts it, “now you need to factor in all kinds of intangible variables. Can they work from home? What are their long-term incentives? What are you doing about wellbeing? What’s in the office fridge? Do you have a ping pong table? It’s a different landscape with a far greater need for more nuanced qualification.”

Navigating that landscape, then, requires an equally nuanced mindset. This is partly an employer branding challenge. Ken is finding that “an organisation’s perception in the market is becoming increasingly important, with green and sustainable practices particularly high on candidate agendas. You can no longer rely on the company name. It’s about changing the go-to-market narrative.”

Another crucial mindset shift for talent acquisition teams is from prioritising identification to focusing resources on candidate engagement. Which leads us neatly on to our final trend…

4. The sweet spot between AI and HI

The exponential growth of AI recruitment tools continues apace, particularly in managing job applicants. We’re going to see more and more ChatGPT-written job descriptions, chatbot-answered application questions and interview questions generated by AI tech analysing job descriptions and applications.

Yet with the rise of the selective candidate, the demand for human intelligence at the front end of the recruitment process will become greater than ever. AI tech undoubtedly has the potential to 10x our work in candidate identification. But in the increasingly critical engagement phase, it’s another story altogether, as Darren explains.

“With selective candidates, it’s no longer binary qualification. Say you’re looking for a Marketing Director on the U.S. West Coast with a B2B background, some B2C and 8+ years’ experience. You have three key essentials and there’s a good chance AI will improve our ability to map out that market. What it can’t do is ask the question about the grey areas, the intangibles. It can’t engage on a human level. And unless you’re willing to risk the quality of your candidate experience, that person-to-person element is essential.”

How talent acquisition teams are preparing for 2024

Hiring is going to be back on the agenda in 2024, even if our crystal ball doesn’t allow us to put an exact timeline on it. But when investment starts flowing again and the new war for talent does break out, you’ll win by having put in the groundwork early.  

We know that in-demand skills are already scarce and competition for that talent is only set to rise more sharply. Factor in the advent of the selective candidate and the pressures of the Great Retirement, and the smart money is on the horizon-scanners, not the shoegazers.

As ever, EWS is here to help you take a more strategic view of talent acquisition. We’re experts in talent mapping, so we can apply a laser focus to the talent markets you want to understand. And our pipelining prowess will help you build proactive talent pools, ready to be dipped into when the time is right. 

When that moment comes, you can rely on us to seamlessly search for and engage the best candidates, attending to their deeper priorities as well as their career aspirations and salary expectations. 

With that in mind, perhaps we have one final recommendation for the year ahead. In 2024, choose a talent partner that’s in it for the long term.

“The talent landscape is changing and hiring priorities are in flux. In this market, a true partner is one that can adapt easily to map out the road ahead. They will know your business, your competitors and your market. They’ll understand your culture and the types of people you want to attract. And crucially, they can give you the insights and intel to shape your hiring around your strategy.”

Emma Watson, EWS Managing Director