Today we circle back to the state of the compliance job market now that the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic is receding in the United States. Our post today includes an interview with one of more notable compliance recruiters out there, who says that hiring these days has never been higher.
That recruiter is Steve Harrison, a partner and head of compliance recruiting at Conselium Compliance Search. I last talked with Harrison in May 2020, when he described the compliance job market as frozen, but not collapsed. Apparently that deep freeze has thawed, because Harrison is now reporting more business than he’s ever seen.
You can hear my full conversation with Harrison (13 minutes long) at the top of this post. Meanwhile, below are my own thoughts about the job market based on Harrison’s observations and everything else I’ve seen or heard from compliance professionals over the last few months.
The Job Market Is Going Strong
First, the market for compliance professionals has recovered and then some. Harrison described today’s scene as “the busiest and best” that he’s ever seen — essentially, a typical year’s demand for compliance placements, plus all the placements that would have happened in 2020 except for the pandemic putting those req orders on hold.
Now, I understand that as a recruiter Harrison has an incentive to paint a rosy picture. But from a macro-economic perspective, what he’s describing makes sense. We’ve seen pent-up demand for vacations, flights, meals at restaurants, home renovation projects, and many other goods and services suddenly revive this spring. Why wouldn’t the demand for compliance manpower follow that same pattern?
Consider all changes that businesses have endured in the last 18 months: the move to remote work due to covid, demands for more racial equity sparked by the George Floyd protests, an epidemic of ransomware attacks that underlined the importance cybersecurity, new whistleblower protection directives coming into force in Europe, an imminent push into ESG issues by U.S. regulators, and more.
Any one of those issues would have meant more work for compliance teams. Corporate America has had all of them arrive at once; and businesses had stalled on hiring decisions for most of 2020; and now the U.S. economy is going strong. So it should be no surprise that we are playing a game of catch-up for compliance hiring.
Sure, some compliance officers might be in difficult employment situations at the moment. But as I’ve long said, the need for compliance capabilities is going nowhere but up — so even if your personal circumstances are difficult right now, this profession is still a great place to be.
How Much Longer Will Remote Work Last?
Harrison and I also chatted about remote-work job postings, and what effect remote-only jobs might have on the compliance job market overall. Both of us were skeptical that remote work will become an enduring feature of the employment landscape.
Harrison estimates that less than 10 percent of the req orders running across his desk are for permanent, full-time remote jobs — and he expects that number to trend even lower as more organizations return to “normal” business operations. Compliance professionals hoping for fully remote positions should adjust their expectations accordingly.
“There’s a perception that there are a lot more opportunities for candidates who want remote work than there actually are,” he said.
On the other hand, companies offering flexible work arrangements where the candidate can work from home several days a week — those are plentiful, and probably will be for at least several years to come. But you’ll still need to come into the office for at least some portion of time, which means you’ll need to live within commuting distance.
What the compliance community doesn’t yet know is (1) how remote-work jobs might affect salary levels for the profession overall; and (2) how remote work might affect your ability to move up the career ladder at your company.
On the first point, you could argue several ideas. Maybe employers would try to push down salaries for a compliance officer working in a low-cost market; then again, maybe remote workers could pitch their services to a much larger pool of companies, and push their market value up. Maybe we’ll see so few permanent remote-work jobs they’ll have no appreciable effect on overall salary trends.
On the second point, it seems obvious to me that those people who spend more time physically present and working in the office will stand a better chance at career advancement. They’ll have more chance to seize random opportunities or to develop friendships and bonds with other executives also in the office.
Is that all right? Will it leave female employees at a disadvantage, if they’re stuck watching children at home because schools aren’t open? Should companies invest in some sort of “remote equity” program to assure fair opportunity? What would such a program look like? (I’d welcome your thoughts; email me at mkel[email protected].)
What’s in Demand Right Now
That’s easy: privacy and data security expertise; or experience building compliance programs. Global businesses, Harrison says, are looking for both.
Again, that makes sense. Privacy laws are proliferating across the United States and across the world. Businesses need to navigate those laws somehow, so anyone who understands how to square business operations with privacy compliance obligations will be in high demand. If you can analyze new privacy laws, perform privacy risk assessments, and work your way through privacy frameworks to develop one control that fulfills multiple privacy requirements, you’ll be in fine shape.
As to the demand for program building experience — lots of businesses, Harrison says, are looking for their first-ever compliance officer; hence the need for someone who knows how to get started, or how to take a weak program and make it better.
That tells you something about both the enforcement appetite rising among regulators around the world, and companies’ response to that appetite. Good conduct is something regulators will now expect, so compliance capability is something companies now need.
Which, for those of us in the compliance profession, is good news.