Navigating the pandemic

Ann Swain, global CEO APSCo, gives an insight into how recruitment has weathered the storms.

When the news of Covid-19 first broke, few of us could have imagined that we would still be in the midst of a pandemic a year later. I won’t reflect on how tough the last year has been, after all, we’ve all been through this together. However, if we take a look at the recruitment profession, a lot has changed. But not all change is bad.



A more flexible sector


With the shift to remote working being forced upon businesses worldwide, recruitment has become borderless. And this is true not just of the staffing solutions firms delivery to end clients, but also for the businesses themselves. Recruitment owners have now been presented with the evidence to show that they don’t need to have all consultants in the office during set hours or able to travel to a specific destination. Quality staffing solutions can be delivered in a remote world and more recruitment companies are shifting their focus to attracting the best skills to their business without geographical limitations – a move that will only help nurture a stronger profession for the future.



Commitment to a professional standard


The pandemic has also presented an opportunity for the sector to rethink its offering and ‘rebrand’ its image. While APSCo has driven professional standards across the sector since ATSCo became APSCo in 2009, never before has there been such a broad recognition that recruitment firms can add value beyond putting bums on seats. Recruiters have been able to show their strategic value in the last year, providing greater guidance around attracting and engaging the best people in a remote environment. As we begin to plan our way out of the pandemic, this opportunity must be firmly grasped to help the sector grow back stronger in the short and long term.


We’ve also witnessed an increased focus on further driving professional standards across the sector, with a number of firms investing in training and development for their recruiters while work remained quiet. Members have been using the wealth of training on offer from APSCo to keep furloughed recruiters engaged and develop their skills so they are ready to deliver their best once back at work.



Technology leads the way


The value of technology has also become more apparent over the last year to help keep hiring firms operational where their specialist markets remained active. Video, for example, has become a part of our day-to-day now and while this hold will lessen once a wider return to the office is a viable option, it will never return to pre-pandemic levels as it is such a valuable tool. If we look back at the data APSCo and growth analytics platform, cube19, shared during the height of the pandemic, technology was keeping hiring afloat for some areas. During March and April 2020, interview numbers had halved, which was no surprise given the fact that the UK was experiencing the first national lockdown on a scale that had never before been seen. However, interviews were still taking place. They hadn’t dropped off a cliff. And technology had a big part to play in this survival during this time.



Strategic partnerships


At APSCo, we have also evolved in this environment and have adapted our support throughout the pandemic. Our training programmes and members’ meetings, for example, have been re-designed to suit a remote world. With recruiters facing great uncertainty, we increased the number of information sharing sessions we would usually deliver to provide every opportunity to support our members. In a normal year, APSCo would host around 140 events, but last year we delivered over 200.


And with strategic staffing solutions quite clearly the way forward for the sector, APSCo recognised a need to support and drive high standards across the entire remit of the talent management ecosystem. That’s why we launched APSCo Outsource – a trade body for the outsourcing market – to represent the interests of MSP, RPO and recruitment outsource providers.


The future: data and immigration challenges

If we take a look at what lies ahead, further changes are in store for the recruitment arena. The end of the Brexit transition period may have come and gone, but the impact of the deal will be felt for some time yet. There are elements still to be agreed, with the exchange of personal information from the UK to the EU and vice versa a key focus at the moment.

At the time of writing there has yet to be any movement on an agreement across the two jurisdictions regarding the legal exchange of this data. While we have already witnessed a number of staffing companies creating or utilising EU entities to manage the flow of information, data management will once again become a driver of change later in 2021.

Of course, it’s not just the exchange of data that was of concern when the transition period ended. Access to the highly skilled self-employed market was set to be challenging through the sponsored visa route that had been outlined. However, APSCo has been lobbying government on this issue and we were pleased to see in the Chancellor’s Budget announcement in March that an unsponsored visa route for the highly skilled will be rolled out.


Bolstering the contingent workforce

The immigration challenges highlighted above will have the greatest impact on the flexible segment of our workforces. With few incentives and a wealth of red tape presented to European contract professionals, work in the UK is less appealing to this group. While APSCo continues to lobby government to address this issue, we are also looking within the country’s existing contract workforce to ensure it has the support and opportunity to grow to the degree that’s needed in a post-Covid world.

At the time of writing, the roll out of Off Payroll into the private sector and the implementation of changes in the public sector is nearing. While there have been no signs that this will be delayed, the announcement of changes to the definition of an intermediary and confirmation as to where the risk lies should a client subcontract an SDS, has provided greater clarity for contractors, employers and recruiters alike.

However, contractor recruitment will be impacted immediately after the roll out. Unfortunately, educating and guiding end-hirers to encourage them to continue to engage with these flexible workers has landed heavily on the shoulders of recruiters and will remain there for the immediate future. But APSCo continues to push for greater support for the contingent market. Flexibility is the new normal and contractors will have a vital role to play in post-pandemic economic growth. As such, we are pleased that APSCo’s feedback regarding flexible apprenticeships has been taken on board, meaning that the flexible and contract workforce can now carry this training across placements and we are keen to work with the government and our members to make the most of this opportunity.


Maintaining business support

There may be a feeling in the air that we are nearing the end of the pandemic, but there are still hurdles yet to be cleared. The Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown and the Chancellor’s commitment to extending furlough and business support schemes certainly provide a level of greater clarity for staffing companies.

However, as we’ve witnessed over the course of the last year, circumstances can change rapidly and APSCo will continue to lobby the government to ensure that the relevant financial aid is available for recruitment firms for as long as is necessary.

The staffing sector has shown its resilience over the course of the last year, and with an end in sight, we will do everything we can to help our members fight back from the impact of Covid-19.

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