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Recruitive looks at how recruitment and recruitment advertising has changed through the centuries

It is known that the Egyptians used papyrus posters on walls for announcements. One can easily imagine one such poster written in hieroglyphics reading “Wanted: Stonemasons and rope pullers required for pyramid construction – food & lodging supplied, good rates of pay and limited flogging…no time-wasters please!”

Both the Greeks and Romans used similar posters for public announcements and political notices. After the Romans departed Britain suddenly in 410AD, the literacy rates in this country dropped until only members of the church could read and write; even the kings of the seven kingdoms were illiterate and needed churchmen to act as scribes for their charters that still exist in museums to this day.

Back then the workforce was not particularly mobile. Sons were expected to continue in their father’s trade, and everyone had a job to do within their community. People might be born, live and die within a very small area and may only leave their village boundary for markets or when the fighting season came around – between sowing and harvest when every able-bodied man capable of standing in a shield wall would be expected to turn up for the battles between the kingdoms, or for raids against the Picts and the Welsh.

The villagers would send representatives to a meeting or assembly at some recognisable point, such as a large tree or hilltop; this was variously known as the Thing, Folkmoot or Hundredmoot. This was where any business for the area, or Hundred, was discussed along with laws and proclamations from the King and his Witan (council of nobles and senior churchmen). It is reasonable to surmise that if there was any skill shortage in a village then recruitment would take place at the meeting.

Skipping forward a few centuries and we find not much has changed. The population following the English Civil War is still mostly illiterate and working for the lords of their manor. Things were not to change much until The Industrial Revolution saw a mass exodus from the countryside to the fast-growing cities with their promise of a better standard of living and regular wages, as traditional farming and artisan manufacturing methods were overtaken by new industrial processes.

Military Recruitment

The recruitment for military service in the army was called “Taking the King’s Shilling”. The recruiting sergeant would come into the village resplendent in uniform and glinting medals. He might very well buy the local lads a few beers and regale them with glorious war stories and tales of adventure in foreign lands. Starry-eyed, and probably half-drunk, they would accept the King’s Shilling as a sign of volunteering before swearing their oath before a magistrate and being marched off to basic training. Whatever money was given them was soon taken back because they hadn’t been told they had to pay for their own uniform and equipment – and probably their food and lodging -leaving them with next to nothing.

If you think that was harsh, The Royal Navy took it to the next level! In those days Britannia ruled the waves and they needed plenty of recruits to fill the fleets protecting British interests around the world. If you volunteered then you were treated with a modicum more respect on board than if you didn’t because even if you didn’t volunteer that didn’t mean you weren’t going to end up in the navy. In the days of sail Impressment was legal. Also known as The Press, groups of men known as a Press Gang would waylay the unwary, often with the use of brutal force, “eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 55 years”. Merchant seaman, fisherman and even occasionally those with no experience of seafaring whatsoever but were in the wrong place at the wrong time, awoke in a Royal Navy ship’s hold with a lump on the head and a bill for their hammock!

Situations Vacant

By the 16th and 17th centuries literacy rates were on the rise. With the invention of the printing press people had more access to information than ever before, as books began to circulate and knowledge was no longer restricted to the clergy. The first newspapers and magazines started appearing on a weekly and monthly basis and gained a growing audience. The first daily newspaper was The Daily Courant published on 11th March 1702. It contained a single page of news and advertising on the back. How soon would it be before some of those advertisements in the newspapers that followed began with the word “Vacancy”?

Up until very recently, when the new forms of media took over from the old, newspapers have always been responsible for a great proportion of the employment being offered by businesses of all sizes. Traditionally the vacancies would appear on the Situations Vacant pages on a Thursday and, on that day, all around the country people would sit eagerly, pen in hand, circling what they hoped would be their next employment opportunity. With the newspaper’s demise in the wake of the internet, Thursday is no longer the day of the jobseeker.

The Labour Exchange

Back in 1650 a merchant called Henry Robinson made a proposal for a public employment agency which he called an “Office of Addresses and Encounters to link employers to workers.” The government of the day rejected his proposal, so he opened one himself, although the venture was short-lived.

The social reformer and champion of the poor, Alsager Hay Hill, opened a labour exchange in London in 1871 but the first publicly funding came with the Labour Bureaux (London) Act 1902 which meant labour bureaux were opened by every London Borough and paid for out of general rates. This was soon followed by the Labour Exchanges Act 1909 which set up state funded labour exchanges across the country to help the unemployed find work and create a more mobile workforce.

The Labour Exchange was replaced by the Job Centre in 1973, which itself became Jobcentre Plus with the amalgamation of the Job Centre and the Unemployment Benefit offices in 2001.

Today and Tomorrow

As we have witnessed, the rise of New Media has seen the demise, to some of extent, of Old Media: radio, television and newspapers. Information and entertainment are there on demand for us at any time and we choose what we want to see and when we want to see it. Employers are taking advantage of new media in their search for new recruits. Having an online presence is the bare minimum you need to attract the people you require; you need to be where they visit.

Recruitive has all the tools you need to create and maintain an appealing online presence and handle your recruitment process. We offer state of the art recruitment websites individually designed and built for your company, including industry-leading software that creates a pathway from attraction, to applicant tracking, through to onboarding, for a seamless recruitment campaign enabling your organisation to recruit the very best in your industry.

As for the future of recruitment? Who knows? Whatever direction it takes you can be sure of one thing: Recruitive will be leading the way.


Contact us for a detailed discussion of your current recruitment processes and see how we can help you out.



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