The pandemic has hit hard, and the UK government’s response to protect the population has put the economy in a downturn we’ve not seen in generations. Measures to help protect businesses, from furlough options to loan schemes, have been rushed into place to give companies, and workers, a chance to find a way through.
For the recruitment sector, like so many others, the past couple of months have been tough, having to deal both with dramatic downturns in demand as some businesses contract to survive, and surges in other sectors as the emergency creates a new set of demands. Our Life Sciences team has seen a significant increase in business while elsewhere we’re having to work harder to achieve the same results as before. As ever, the key to survival and success is agility and resilience.
How has recruitment been affected? Unlike the 2008 recession, recruitment is not being slowed down or halted as a result of a lack of funds but because the businesses themselves are paralyzed until some of the uncertainty about the future is lifted. Many organizations are seeking to downsize, furlough or lay people off, very few are looking to increase the size of their workforce. Some recruitment agencies saw as much as a 70% drop in new permanent jobs being briefed.
Where recruitment is still taking place, the rules on social distancing have made it incredibly tough and those businesses handling this process have had to be resourceful and swift. Interviewing via Skype, Zoom, or other video conferencing facility, once a growing but still minority option, is now the only way to do business and we’re unlikely to go back.
Demand in some areas has increased. Short-term demand for temporary workers has grown significantly — by around 15 percentage points between February and March according to a recent survey. While roles in hospitality, leisure and some types of retail were lost almost over-night, there has also been significant demand in food production, supermarkets, cleaning and delivery. Other areas of the economy have also seen an increase in the need for employees, including FinTech, logistics, business restructuring and those enterprises that are able to provide support for home schooling and remote working.
Resilience in the Long Term. Many in recruitment expect businesses to bounce back fairly quickly as long as lockdown is brought to an end in mid-June/July — whether or not this is realistic remains to be seen. If steps that the government has taken to support businesses prove successful, then it will be much easier for most to get up and running again and to move on to essential expansion via recruitment.
The changes that Covid-19 has forced into business practices in the recruitment sector itself could have many benefits in the long run. For example, technology has had to play a much larger role in recruiting processes. This could be further integrated in future to allow for greater operational efficiency and establish a new tech-driven normal that is more productive too. Technology has impacted in many areas, from contract review to interviews, to allowing firms to take a more open minded approach to flexible working — this is not only enabling the sector to be more resilient but could lay the groundwork for a more innovative approach to working practices and recruitment in the future too.
Recruitment is a sector that has been badly hit by Covid-19 but it remains resilient. In fact, it may emerge from the crisis to a much brighter future.