The Impact so Far
Ann Swain, CEO of APSCo looks at how the industry has been hit over the last two months
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the entire economy, with the recruitment sector one of the hardest hit. During the crisis, APSCo has taken every step possible to engage closely with its members, conduct research to understand the situation on the ground, and engage the Government to raise awareness about the condition of the hiring market and, crucially, what support and protection needs to be put in place for the economy. We are now in a much different place compared to just two months ago when the initial lockdown began. But there’s much we can learn from recent weeks as the industry begins preparing for the future.
Learning from history: the takeaways from protection mode
When lockdown was first announced recruitment businesses went in to protection mode for understandable reasons. The uncertainty regarding the future of the jobs market was a significant burden to bear and many firms started scrambling to apply for business loans to keep their company afloat. As employers shut down hiring across almost every sector, staffing companies began furloughing staff too.
In the first week of lockdown, our members reported a significant decline in recruitment. Two thirds (67%) of recruitment firms we surveyed told us that permanent hiring within their sector was on hold by the third week of March. A further 90% reported up to half of their contractors had been terminated as projects ground to a halt and businesses sought ways to cut costs. Naturally, employment in the recruitment arena also suffered, with 83% of our members reporting that they were considering redundancy for their own staff during this same time.
Uncertainty remained rife in the weeks that followed the Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement and we’ve closely monitored the trends across hiring throughout. The signs have been negative, but certainly not unexpected. However, as always, recruitment has remained resilient in some areas. While data provided by growth analytics platform cube19 showed a real dip in hiring throughout March and April – with job advertisements from direct employers’ career portals dropping by over two thirds (67%) in April compared with the beginning of the year – it has also highlighted pockets of hiring since the lockdown as the UK adapted to the ‘new normal’.
We saw recruitment remain active for some obvious sectors – healthcare, IT and pharmaceutical, for example. And while the number of interviews being carried out halved as some areas saw work drop significantly, there were still some taking place, demonstrating that hiring managers were utilising technology platforms for video interviewing.
Moving on from the doom and gloom
I’ve seen first-hand the impact the current economic climate and on-going uncertainty is having on recruitment. I’m in regular contact with our members as is the rest of the APSCo team and we know it’s tough to say the least. And while the crisis is by no means over, we have, in my view, reached a pivotal point where we can start planning for the future – and many are. The phased re-opening of some sectors is promising and it will certainly continue provided cases of the virus don’t spike in coming weeks.
For recruitment, we’ll certainly see contract hiring return much quicker than permanent as organisations look at creating more agile workforces. What will certainly be of note, though, will be the change to what we saw as ‘business as normal’ activities. With more employers embracing both remote or flexible working and video interviews, how recruitment adds value and works with businesses will change. While no one could have predicted the current crisis and how the country and the world would adapt, forward thinking recruitment businesses had already embraced video tools – and clients need access to this insight and knowledge now, more than ever.
Recruiters are also the most experienced when it comes to hiring flexible workforces – after all, it’s what our candidates have long called for. As a result, staffing companies will find their expertise will certainly be needed once the bounce back begins – particularly as officials at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department are said to be considering allowing staff to operate remotely after restrictions are lifted. This will, however, present an opportunity for recruiters to better guide what hiring and recruitment will look like in the future. We are in a crisis like we’ve never before seen, but with uncertainty comes opportunity, and recruitment will be ready to drive the new normal as we emerge from this situation.