Today’s job market looks increasingly pessimistic day by day, as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on the economy. Consumer demand has plunged, hitting business revenues and margins. Supply chains have been disrupted, leaving retail shelves empty and production lines out of material. Stock markets are tumbling, and companies fear they will not be able to get investor funding. Business expansion plans have been replaced by business continuity plans, or simply by panic. The worst affected industries, travel and tourism and their related sectors, are freezing pay and hiring, or carrying out massive layoffs.
Some industries remain stable or are even seeing growth
Even as some businesses slash headcount, others are sticking to their hiring plans or even stepping up recruitment. E-commerce, logistics, and e-services companies find themselves in particularly urgent need of manpower, as people take their shopping and other activities online to preserve social distancing: Amazon, for example, is increasing its US workforce by 25 percent and wants to absorb the laid-off workers from other sectors.
Recruitment firm Robert Walters, which specializes in professional disciplines, told People Matters that despite the impact on industries such as aviation and hospitality, hiring activity for HR, finance, and other specialist fields has remained stable. Furthermore, according to Robert Walters Singapore director Dominic Salomoni, the technology sector is still buoyant. “Technology hiring continues to demonstrate high levels of demand and a shortage of good quality talent in the market,” he said.
Randstad Managing Director of search and selection for Greater China, Natellie Sun, also commented that hiring activities in her region have continued to be vigorous in high-growth sectors such as technology, life sciences and functions within banking. “Many employers would have planned their hiring activities for the first quarter as they know that’s when job seekers are open to new opportunities after bonus season. Given this trend, it’s business as usual for many organizations that still have vacant roles to fill and targets to hit,” she explained.
Those who have staying power are planning for the future
Some companies have also taken a more future-oriented stance to their hiring, and are planning for an eventual upswing and a job market that may be wildly different from today’s landscape.
Tamara Sigerhall, market leader for Korn Ferry’s professional search division across ASEAN, observed that a portion of companies are now investing in keeping talents in their pipelines. “This includes reassessing roles that can be filled by contract workers, prioritizing most critical roles to hire, rethinking of the current talent management strategy and looking at alternative methods to recruitment practices,” she said. “We have observed forward-looking organizations balancing immediate crisis management with talent strategies that will position them well for the future.”
There is also a good deal of caution from both employers and job seekers, which manifests in both a reluctance to take risks and an urgency to find stability. On the one hand, employers are taking advantage of the crisis to overhaul their entire hiring and retention strategy. On the other hand, constrained by uncertainty, they are holding back, a caution that Salomoni predicted will be particularly great over the next two to three months.
Job seekers, meanwhile, are understandably open to opportunities but remain prudent about moving roles, taking an approach that Salomoni described as “better the devil you know” and Sigerhall called “a flight to quality”. “Many are asking questions around financial stability, and focusing on innovation and social responsibility when evaluating opportunities,” she observed.
Recruitment processes are adapting to social distancing
Downturns and upswings in the job market are an unfortunate fact of life and the economy, but with this pandemic, one of the biggest changes in recruitment is likely to be how the hiring process itself is conducted. With in-person meetings off the table, job interviews now have to be conducted remotely, by phone or videoconferencing. Many tech companies have already been doing this for some time: large ones such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and smaller companies that are far enough ahead on the curve to have adopted video calls as a common form of communication.
“We have seen a far higher utilization of teleconferencing technologies such as Skype and Zoom for interviews,” Salomoni observed. “Some parts of the hiring process have taken longer to complete as clients are prioritizing their measures to manage the COVID-19 situation. HR professionals are also heavily involved in managing business continuity plans. As a result, some interview processes have slowed down or been put on hold for now.”
On the bright side, he added, many key decision makers are now more readily available, partly because of travel restrictions that have cleared their schedules, and that speeds up the processes which do continue.
Onboarding is another area of recruitment which has now gone virtual. Mike Pritchett, CEO of cloud video tech firm Shootsta, told People Matters that he is seeing more enterprises looking for ways to communicate across their organizations in the absence of face-to-face meetings. “There is a real risk that reduced engagement and communication between employees will dramatically impact company performance,” he said, pointing out that technology now offers alternatives such as animated explainer videos, interactive webinars, and podcasts to improve the onboarding process.
Employers need to really think ahead to stay on top of the curve
The companies whose large-scale job cuts make headlines around the world inevitably say they are doing it for survival: that they need to slash costs to make it past the crisis. But experts think otherwise.
“Although it may seem sensible to focus on labour cost efficiencies if revenue takes a hit, short-term reactions may leave organizations vulnerable and business continuity disrupted,” Sigerhall told People Matters. “HR leaders will need to ensure that whatever adjustment they make to their approaches and policies now, does not stifle their organizations’ growth in the future.”
She suggested a couple of practices that may help employers balance present and future needs: firstly, recruiting for resilience. “Recruitment is essentially a way to build new capabilities and enable strategic changes to business models and culture,” she said. “Take the current downtime and consider how this shapes the talent you need now, and in the longer term. For example, if banks want to develop virtual capabilities, they will need to get that in place now— before the market comes back and everyone is after the same talents.”
Secondly, employers need to re-evaluate what they consider to be “ideal” candidates. The top qualities to look for in candidates at all levels, she suggested, are high learning agility and the ability to work and communicate effectively across digital channels.