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07 Aug 2020 |

By Nick Coleridge-Watts


Just as with Brexit (remember that?), there was a period when the lockdown was seen by many as something they could pause for. And again, just as with Brexit, that time passed. Like a ship’s captain who spots a larger-than-usual wave on the horizon and initially hopes it’s a one-off, but after assessing the accompanying weather realises it’s the first of many, business leaders are increasingly moving from “hold fast” to “steady as she goes”.

Steady As She Goes

What does this mean for recruitment? To start with the roles which were placed on hold back in March are slowly being dethawed. For a while it was sustainable to leave them midway through, especially as one of the quirks of lockdown was that many permanent staff found themselves with less to do and could therefore fill the gaps which normally would go to new hires. However, as lockdown has eased, and businesses have recalibrated, that population with spare time on their hands has seen their capacity for overflow work reduce, forcing the need to resume hiring, be it interim temps or full perm processes.

Part of that initial hold instinct was the inevitable concern with the unknown. Questions around whether you can recruit the right person if their entire hiring procedure is virtual, combined with a wariness of being an industry guinea pig, pushed back any immediate talk of new hiring. Similarly, concerns around remote temping, such as Wi-Fi, proper office space, security and software access etc. all made for a kneejerk “no thank you” response. But these concerns have been revealed to be unfounded. Again, when hands are forced by necessity, experiments with an end-to-end virtual process have proved positive, to the point whereby there’s a genuine question around how much of all this will stay in place once the pandemic is truly over.

The Real New Normal

The expression “new normal” has been thrown around a lot since March, and like all popular phrases it means different things to different people. I don’t think anybody felt the initial, hard lockdown we all faced was indefinite. The real new normal will be forged by the current semi-lockdown, and which of its features will linger culturally in the years to come.

Pre-COVID, firms were often theoretically supportive but practically hesitant regarding homeworking, especially for those employed in support roles. Of course, there will be people who sadly take advantage, and few would suggest purely home-based work is a positive thing, but have we entered an era in which one to two days a week or month will become a reasonable ask? Certainly, in terms of setup, many of the predicted obstacles have been confounded. And firms will have to tread lightly around employees who are reluctant to return to full-time commuting regardless of government guidelines on the matter. Will they revert to old instincts with fresh hires or maintain their nuance?

A Client-driven Market?

These adjustments are as much reflected in the candidates as the clients. Whenever an economy gets into trouble you tend to see jobseekers adjust their priorities. Luxury inevitably gives way to necessity, and securing a position which ticks enough boxes supplants the focus on finding a dream job. VWA has seen this from the beginning. Earlier in lockdown we advertised a position and within the hour over 300 applicants had made inquiries. By the following morning it was in excess of 1000. This phenomenon was powerfully reinforced from July when the market began to see the impact of redundancies, a trend which is set to continue. Unfortunately, with excessive candidate numbers seeking work, clients can afford to be even more particular than usual, especially when they are already struggling with the caution surrounding virtual recruitment hitherto mentioned. Furthermore, distinguishing between contenders who genuinely want the role and those who need filler until the economy corrects, has become a primary concern for employers. It will be interesting to see in the coming months if these currents finally overturn the candidate-driven market which has been in place for the last several years.

Full Steam Ahead

Ships must reach their destinations and waiting out a storm is a time-limited manoeuvre. Of course, responsible captains don’t underestimate the risks, and must deploy their crews accordingly. But holding out for tranquillity to materialise when there’s no end in sight isn’t an option; the only real tranquillity is on the other side and can only be reached with an order of “full steam ahead”.

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