External factors result in severe hiring slowdown across Strategy, Projects and Change

Mark Astbury 08.07.2019

An unprecedented level of uncertainty caused by external occurrences has resulted in firms not committing to multi-year programmes. Subsequently, recruitment has largely reduced.

How has the Strategy, Projects & Change Management hiring landscape been over the first half of 2019?

The first six months of 2019 have presented a tricky job market in the financial services sector, with things not really picking up after the slow Christmas period. Many external factors have contributed to unprecedented levels of uncertainty, resulting in firms holding fire from investing in big multi-year programmes. We’ll probably never see a time like this in our lives again where we aren’t sure who our next Prime Minister will be (although there is a clear favourite), whether there will be a general election in the next six months or if we are going to leave the EU this year - or at all. All those issues combined with the Trump vs China trade war and the potential changes to IR35 have led to a severe slowdown in hiring from many. 

A recent report we conducted shows that the number of Strategy, Projects and Change jobs available last month dropped by nearly a third year-on-year, while those seeking jobs tumbled by 35%. With people adopting a ‘last in, first out’ mentality, there hasn’t been an abundance of professionals moving on their own accord, which in turn has had a knock on effect on the number of new roles available.

Hiring for projects and change over recent years has been predominantly driven by regulations, with banks and asset managers having to invest and adapt to deliver these large-scale programmes. Looking ahead, other than SFTR and LIBOR, little seems to be on the regulatory horizon, which is certainly playing its part in the current recruitment landscape. There is however IFRS17 in the insurance sector, where a lot of consultancies are focusing their efforts and looking to bolster their workforce.

Recruitment volumes have not been comparable to the last ten years, meaning places are refraining from embarking on non-mandatory initiatives. LIBOR is also being replaced, however we are yet to see too much movement in this space; we can assume vacancies are being filled internally. We've seen specific hiring within XVA change across a number of banks and improvements to how credit products are being traded, suggesting that structured credit trading could be on the rise. Another key focus includes the internal improvements some banks are looking to change (i.e. moving to Agile, improving stress testing processes, cost reduction/process improvement).

The market appears to be improving

The positive news is there was a slight increase in job opportunities throughout the first quarter compared to the end of last year, and this has continued into May and June since the extension of the EU deadline. There is a greater appetite to hire permanent staff as well as contractors in the projects and change space, and this is probably due to the new IR35 legislation coming in and firms trying to redress their balance of temporary and FTEs. Most in demand are business analysts with around 3-5 years experience who will drive the success of the business for years to come. We have seen a strong desire for digital expertise, but other than that, there isn’t any one particular skill set that is highly sought after. 

Given the lack of investment in new projects over the past twelve months, we should see a significant increase in hiring once the debacle in Westminster has been resolved. Unfortunately, as this doesn’t look iminent, it might not be until early next year before we see any real positive change in market conditions.

How to keep the workforce motivated and attract new employees

Flexibility is high on the agenda for most candidates when they are looking for a new role and many will pick one position over another if it offers the opportunity to work from home. 

Diversity and how to promote it internally is a hot topic more than ever across financial services. Some firms have established support functions in an attempt to make their environment more appealing, which will in turn help with retention in the long run. Other businesses have introduced focus groups that are avenues for employees to voice opinions on what they think works and what doesn’t in an attempt to improve overall happiness in the workplace.

SPC opportunities

What has made a Strategy, Projects & Change Management CV stand out? 

Having longevity in each role makes your CV stand out, whether you are going for a contract or permanent position. Projects are rarely quick fixes these days and hiring managers want to employ people who will see things through the full lifecycle. Being flexible on job type is also important as there are a lot more FTE opportunities in the change management world compared to a few years ago. 

In a tight market with lots of prospective candidates, demonstrating a specialism or particular domain knowledge will give you the edge. You need to give yourself the best possible chance by making your CV as specific as possible for each application you make, as it’s difficult to get all relevant experience in a generic version without it being too long.

Something consistently sought after is Agile experience. This seems to be the methodology most places are working with as it makes everyone more accountable on the project.

How can Strategy, Projects & Change job seekers stay motivated over the slower summer months?

Be as flexible as possible when looking for a new role - around the job type, desired salary or location. Even if it’s not the perfect position, you might learn new skills which could help you when things do pick up in the future. It’s also good to explore as many avenues as possible by speaking to your recruitment consultant and keeping in contact with your network; positions could come from a variety of avenues. 

Mark Astbury's picture
Associate Director
mastbury@morganmckinley.co.uk

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