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Insights

Strong demand for talent shows communications is the key to recovery

The past year has created significant personal and professional challenges for communications and corporate affairs leaders, with ongoing change in a global pandemic, economic volatility and organisational uncertainty, together with the demands of families at home and relocated teams.

For many, it has prompted a moment of pause to reflect on our personal journey and sense of purpose and, as a result, we have become more vulnerable, open and honest. For some that has meant a change of professional direction or stepping out of a comfort zone into a new and challenging environment.

So what is the outlook for communications professionals as the world looks to a future beyond the pandemic?

As an Advisor, I engage daily with industry professionals and perhaps the most common question they ask me is: “What is the market like for our profession?”

A year ago that was a very difficult question to answer, in the face of the first recession in almost three decades. While the demand for employee engagement and internal communications specialists had escalated like never before, many companies had implemented a hiring freeze or been forced to reduce their headcount in order to remain competitive.

However, fast forward to today and as we sit on the cusp of economic recovery we can feel more optimistic. Not only has the shared humanity of COVID-19 caused companies to think more carefully before letting go of skilled people, but fundamental changes to the corporate and global political environment have sparked an overdue recognition of the function’s increasing value.

In fact, I would say that the role of communications and corporate affairs leaders is central to our future recovery.

AWPeople works across the globe to provide executive search and strategy advisory services. Over the past three months we have observed an increase in market activity at the tier one level and there’s a few insights from our work I’d like to highlight:

In the past year over 50 per cent of our placements were executive leadership roles and nearly 50 per cent of our clients were multinational companies. Over 80 per cent of our placements were based in Australia, with the balance in Singapore and Hong Kong.

The majority of our placements were in the financial services, resources, metals and mining sectors, with nearly 50 per cent of our placements in the financial services sector. We also worked with a number of global conglomerates.

So what other trends did we see, and what skills are companies looking for?

We witnessed a decrease in demand for roles with “Communications” in the title this year, more specifically, over the past two years 20 per cent of our placements had a primary “External” (media, government, industry) focus.

We continued to see an increasing number of placements in highly regulated industries, where there is strong desire for corporate affairs professionals to navigate the complexities of the regulatory environment and influence a diverse range of stakeholders.

But most notably, we saw boards increasingly appreciating the need for leaders who understand social impact and community expectations and ways that corporations can thrive. Over 20 per cent of the roles we placed were social performance and or sustainability focused.

Further, soft skills such as leadership, ability to navigate complex environments, judgement, high emotional and culture intelligence, flexibility and resilience were prominent in the key selection criteria, which continues to highlight the expectations C-suite leaders have on the person charged with protecting and enhancing a company’s reputation and its license to operate.

A recent Harvard Business Review article said, “When companies are surprised by activist shareholders it’s often because management and the board don’t have a good idea of what investors are thinking and what their hot-buttons issues are.

“Today’s CEOs need a new breed of skilled investor relations officer (IRO) to bridge the gap. This person must be a proactive leader, building constructive relationships throughout the shareholder base to help the company mitigate various risks.”

Unsurprisingly, we have continued to witness an evolution in investor relations, with the placement of senior investor relations roles within the Group Corporate Affairs function.

I am also pleased to report that 2019 marked the largest increase in the proportion of women we placed in executive roles globally and that 60 per cent of our placements in the past year were female candidates.

Looking through our trends made one thing very clear to me: the communications and corporate affairs function is becoming more crucial than ever to company success.

As we look with hope towards a brighter 2022, it will be our ability to make sense of complexity, identify and invest in our skills, build resilience through personal growth and develop purposeful relationships that will be key to whether we capitalise on that opportunity and make a positive impact for all stakeholders.

Kate Bell
Senior Associate, AWPeople

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