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Resilience in the UK Recruitment Industry during COVID-19

Operationally Resilient

by Charlotte Gurney

The UK government has put in place a number of measures to protect businesses, from furlough options to loan schemes, and so organisations across the economy are starting to see that there might be a way through. For the recruitment sector the past month or so has been tough but it has proven that the industry is resilient and has the potential to thrive again when the crisis has started to recede.

How has recruitment been affected?

As many organisations seek to downsize, furlough or lay people off most are just not 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. Unlike the 2008 recession, recruitment is often not being halted as a result of a lack of funds but just because businesses are paralysed until some of the uncertainty about the future is lifted.

Demand in some areas has increased

For example, 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 overnight 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.

What does resilience in the industry look like over the long term?

Many in recruitment expect businesses to bounce back fairly quickly as long as lockdown is brought to an end in mid May – 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 and 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.

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