The Future of Recruitment Post-COVID 19

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With COVID-19 wreaking havoc across countries, there has been a paradigm shift in people's lives, not just personally but also professionally. Companies are diligently working towards reforming workforce strategies along with workplace dynamics to adapt to the 'new normal'.

Part 1: Recruitment in the New Normal

How Has Recruitment Changed in the Past Eight Months?

At the onset of 2020, when most companies were looking forward to adopting digitalisation in the coming years, COVID-19 acted as a catalyst in this movement. There's no denying that this crisis caught everyone off guard, but the companies that have been quick to adapt to the changing dynamics will be the ones to best weather its effects and come out stronger on the other side.

From remote working to virtually-enabled digital mediums of operation, the past months of the pandemic have seen various changes in companies' processes. For most companies, it was an ongoing process of trial and error as there was no clear blueprint to prepare anyone for such a scenario. Undoubtedly, one of the departments that has been hit the hardest is Human Resources. The major shift in recruitment has been the fact that most companies have either halted or slowed down hiring, with many even laying off some percentage of their workforce. It has primarily impacted companies that were already short of the creative pool and were looking forward to a talent hiring plan this year. HR teams are now faced with the challenge of finding the right talent for the organization, but within strict budget constraints.

Of course, not all companies have been hit by the pandemic equally. The travel and the hospitality industry has been affected the most, with most of these services coming to a complete standstill. However, industries like healthcare, e-commerce, and logistics have seen an upward surge in their workforce requirements as people are ready to increase their medical and online demands. The US e-commerce giant, Amazon, for instance, increased its hiring efforts in the last months and now hopes to absorb laid-off employees from other sectors. Despite an uptick in revenue for these companies, however, there appears to be a general sentiment of caution among management teams about hiring full-time talent by the droves.

Amid all the hiring and dehiring practices happening in organisations, HR managers are concentrating on prioritising critical roles to hire and revising their ongoing talent management strategy.

What Are the Latest Trends in Recruitment?

The COVID-19 outbreak has seen many trends emerging in the recruitment processes of companies. The hiring process is currently undergoing a reform that is influenced by technology and automation.

• With the rise of leaner teams and a larger backlog of candidate applications post-COVID-19, companies are actively using artificial intelligence to make the task of candidate screening faster.
• The candidate assessment process has shifted entirely online and has become more objective and consistent, along with automated scoring and reporting.
• In a bid to avoid the inconvenience of scheduling interviews physically, now being avoided by many organisations, interviews are now happening online through video conferencing apps.

New Recruitment Strategies Used by Companies

While some companies have happily embraced virtual hiring platforms as their new recruiting strategy, others are still sceptical about conducting such a crucial function online. A few of the companies have even postponed their hiring plans and are instead only recruiting for very critical roles.

As per a report in Financial Express, Krishna Prasad, head HR – APAC – Skillsoft, a global leader in corporate learning, says,

"Amidst the COVID-19 situation, Skillsoft's talent acquisition function has decided to conduct all interviews via WebEx and avoid in-person interviews for the safety of both candidates and our team members. It helps the candidates attend interviews from their home or any remote location."

The Adecco Group India Country Manager and MD Marco Valsecchi said, "By leveraging technology, using the web and video conferencing, telecommunication applications like Skype and WhatsApp, we have been successful in maintaining an agile, modern and cautious approach to recruiting, which is now imperative during these unprecedented times".

India's Recruitment Trends in Numbers

• India is currently facing one of the weakest hiring trends in the last fifteen years, with only 3% of companies planning to add staff in the final quarter of 2020.
• Candidates with 1-5 years of experience are in maximum demand (over 40%) while freshers make up for only 15% of the overall talent demand.

Part 2: The Emergence of a Liquid Workforce

A workforce that is flexible and can fast adapt to the rapidly changing and demanding markets is a 'liquid workforce'.

During these unprecedented times, when a crisis of such magnitude has changed the way we live, and also the way companies work, change is inevitable in organisations. Only the companies whose employees and organizational structures are the most flexible and adaptive will be the ones that will succeed in the long run.

Having a liquid workforce gives companies a competitive advantage and makes them change-ready. Employers can immediately reap the benefits of their skills without investing time and effort in training the workforce, thereby fortifying themselves for any upcoming turbulence.

A shift from full-time to freelance

COVID-19 hasn't just changed how organizations operate, but has also led to a shift in expectations from employees themselves. The most significant workplace cultural shift that COVID-19 has brought in the corporate sector is the remote working model. For companies, it was the only way forward to continue their operations without compromising the social distancing norm. One of the possibly unintended consequences of this was that both companies and employees began to see the multiple advantages of such a model. While companies began to become more comfortable and accepting of remote teams, employees began to appreciate the greater flexibility and work-life balance that remote work provided.

Added to this was the massive job insecurity triggered by the huge lay-offs which were becoming an almost daily news feature. People were soon learning that no matter where they stood on the corporate ladder, they could not take their job for granted. 'Putting all their eggs in one basket' so to speak, was an extremely risky move. This led to employees seeking an income from sources outside their full-time job.

Apart from this, there were many individuals who were forced to look for part-time or freelance opportunities after losing their job. With the hiring market shut, the chances of finding full-time employment at a competitive salary in another organization were bleak. The only option was to find freelance gigs from multiple different clients.

People are moving towards freelancing due to the many benefits it offers in the long run, not just to the employers but freelancers as well.

• The flexible nature of gig work allows freelancers to enjoy a more consistent work-life balance than regular employees as they can control their workload and schedules.
• Freelancers get to work with different kinds of clients, which gives them a lot of exposure and necessary enthusiasm to work. They are more inclined towards taking up bigger and challenging projects than full-time employees.
• Freelancing gives employees independence; taking up temporary positions and projects frees them from a fixed 9 to 5 job, a confined place of work, and constant monitoring from superiors.

As a result of these developments, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new work environment which includes freelancers, temporary or project-based hires, part-time employees, and individual contractors that comprise the gig economy of our country.

The State of the Gig Workforce

• Freelance job openings surged over 25% during the April to June quarter of the year in comparison to the first three months of 2020, Freelancer's "Fast 50" report found.
• India owns a massive potential in terms of supply of freelancers, ranging from software developers and data entry operators to creative professionals such as marketers, writers and translators. It owns a 24% share of the total online labour market.
• With 60% of the global community of freelancers comprising of women, freelancing holds bright prospects for Indian women who can now work without any restrictions regarding their proximity to the workplace.

Part 3: Challenges Businesses Face While Recruiting

Recruitment is one of the most crucial functions of any organisation. Over time, the scope of recruitment has widened and is not just limited to 'the right person at the right place'.

The future progress of the company depends on how well its hiring practices and decisions have adapted, as even one move in the wrong direction has the potential to set a company back a thousand steps.

In fact, as per a recent survey in which most respondents were from small to medium-sized businesses, 59.4% of business owners said they found it challenging to recruit staff.

There are many challenges businesses face when it comes to making the right hiring decisions.

Lack of Required Skills and Experience

Recruiting a person with the right talent at the right place is critical to any function. However, most companies find a skills gap while hiring workforce.

Employers primarily look for highly-skilled individuals with rich experience when it comes to hiring for roles that involve hard technical tasks and soft-skills. Some candidates have one or the other skill set, but the major challenge today is finding someone who offers the perfect blend of both.

Staffing Costs

Recruitment comes with its fair share of costs. Moreover, keeping up with the high salary expectations of skilled professionals is a significant challenge for small and medium enterprises. However, putting a good hiring strategy into effect could prove to be the most fruitful investment any company can make.

Challenges of Virtual Recruitment

As COVID-19 has pushed us into the virtual hiring space, businesses have no choice but to gear up for a digital transformation. However, this transition brings its own set of challenges to the table. Managing remote candidates, especially if your company lacks the required tools and technology, can become a setback in the hiring process.

In addition, choosing the right candidate virtually rather than a face-to-face interview is a hard thing to achieve and may cost the company dearly in future.

Aside from the above challenges, companies are facing other pressing issues, including slow hiring processes, limitations in reaching out to maximum candidates for applications, and struggles with attracting the right talent.

Why Are More and More Companies Moving Towards Recruiting Freelancers?

In contrast to hiring permanent employees, hiring project-based freelancers is the most well-suited option in the current scenario.

Before the pandemic, the gig space was mainly thriving in the semi-skilled category of work like Urban co., Uber etc. However, with companies resorting to laying off employees, the white-collar category stands to benefit from freelance workers and contractual employees, too.

The rising need for a digital on-demand workforce can be attributed to the many advantages that freelancing offers to companies.

Lowers the Economic Burden

Since companies have incurred tremendous losses during COVID-19, they are desperately looking to overturn the economic impact of the pandemic. By hiring freelancers that work on a per-project basis, companies have a unique opportunity to lower the costs of hiring a permanent workforce.

Saves Recruitment Time

The task of onboarding permanent employees includes time-consuming operations such as candidate screening, scheduling interviews, candidate assessment and onboarding.

This stands in contrast to hiring freelance team members which can be outsourced to credible platforms. Plus, with everything being digital, organisations can narrow down their search and quickly find verified individuals that match their business and skill requirements.

Offers Flexibility and Ensures Timely Work

Where a standard employee only works within the office work timings, a freelancer chooses to work regardless of any timeframe. This flexibility benefits employers in times of hard and sudden deadlines.

Moreover, freelancers are more motivated towards the projects they take up, thereby guaranteeing companies quality work within a stipulated time limit.

Benefits of Skill and Expertise

Working with freelance talents gives companies access to a wider and more diverse set of skills across different sectors. Many freelancers are also highly skilled in their area of expertise, which can elevate the quality of work in a particular project.

In other words, not only does freelancing help in cutting company costs, but it also has the potential to provide employers with skilled, professional work away from the office space.

Does Freelance Work Reduce the Cost of Recruitment and Meet Business Needs?

Through the gig economy, companies can seamlessly find talent with the required skill set without having to invest in onboarding and training the employee. They can access on-demand talent without having to worry about compromising on the quality of the work.

Although pro-rata costs may be higher in the case of some freelancers, hiring a gig workforce is the more financially viable option in the long run.

• Companies have to pay freelance workers on a per-project basis, saving them a great deal of money.
• Freelancers tend to be more productive as they want to deliver their best work in order to keep getting new projects.
• Companies can get the exact set of skills they're looking for, thereby avoiding any overhead cost that comes with employee training.

Is This Trend Here to Stay?

Although companies have recently started showing a heightened interest in hiring freelancers out of necessity posed by COVID-19, they've also realised the benefits freelancers can provide to the company. Previously, the major roadblock to engaging with freelancers was that companies believed remote teams could not be as efficient as teams under a single roof. The lockdown, however, has proved this perception to be a myth. In addition, companies are beginning to realize that the gig economy can help them access a wider pool of talent, while previously they might have been restricted by their immediate geographic location.

As companies are slowly transitioning from their traditional work culture and welcoming changes in the way they work, freelancers can be sure of finding work even in a post-COVID world.

Part 4: Top Permanent Recruitment Trends

What Do CHROs Recommend as New Recruitment Trends?

With various changes in the recruitment processes due to the pandemic, some latest trends are likely to stay.

1. Virtual Hiring

For an uninterrupted recruitment process amid COVID-19, companies are resorting to virtual methods of interviewing and onboarding. Though the initial phone screening remains the same, in-person interviews have been replaced by video interviews.

It is evident that the usage of teleconferencing technologies like Zoom and Skype has highly increased in the pandemic. Google, for instance, has also started using Google Hangouts for its video interview process.

Virtual platforms also allow managers to stay connected with the candidates throughout the recruitment process, starting from candidate applications to finally landing the role - all without the hassle of having to meet them physically.

2. Gearing up for Remote Work

Given the need for intensive social distancing and the surge in people's concerns of being infected, it was only a matter of time before companies fully embraced a remote working model amid the pandemic.

Though work from home already existed in some sectors, COVID-19 forced all companies to think of ways to make this working model possible and successful.

If you go by the figures, this trend is likely to remain even after it's safe for people to return to the office, thanks to the convenience and benefits of remote work for both employees and employers. As a result, it's time for companies to actively start building processes to fast adapt to this working style.

3. Hiring a Blended and Liquid Workforce

The impact of COVID-19 was so sudden that companies had no time to prepare or anticipate the challenges. In these testing times, companies not only realised the importance of having a flexible workforce but also one that is a mix of permanent, contractual and freelancing employees.

Such a decision will help organisations in times of crisis and put off any unnecessary monetary strain without impacting productivity at the same time.

4. Integrating AI Into HR

With rapid technological advancements, companies are now presented with the golden opportunity to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into their hiring strategy.

Since the rate of unemployment is sure to increase more in the coming months, the number of applications will also be on the rise. To deal with this sudden demand for employment, employers can make the most of AI-enabled platforms for managing bulk data and various other HR processes with ease.

Plus, with the help of AI, companies can coordinate better with their remote worker team no matter where they are in the world.

5. Prioritising Employee Welfare

All employee policies related to health, safety and welfare need a complete overhaul when countries are dealing with a deadly health crisis. Various state and local authorities have instructed organisations to include paid sick leaves for all employees during the outbreak.

Not just physical health, employers are also increasingly focussing on the mental well-being of their employees. Organisations are moving towards safeguarding the workforce with frequent welfare programs. Moreover, the already existing employee benefits package is being modified and improved to suit the current demand.

Hopefully, businesses will continue this course even after the pandemic to assure employees of the value they hold. Indeed, the empathy shown by employers at this challenging time will go a long way in deciding the company's culture and ethics that it stands by.

6. Focus on Building Brand Value

Brand management has never been more crucial in recruitment than in these times. Due to working and staying at home, more and more employees are increasingly critical of the brand when applying to work at a reputable company.

Checking the company's reviews online before seeking to work with the company is commonplace these days. As a result, companies must have a brand management strategy in place to ensure positive company reviews online.

In other words, the company's online presence and reputation are gradually becoming a necessity to attract potential talent. Steps like optimising the company's website and keeping the careers page updated can go a long way in building your online reputation.

Part 5: How Companies Can Adapt to This New Normal

How Does Workforce Planning Identify Skill Gaps?

Deficiencies in work performance caused by a lack of adequate skills are what companies refer to as 'skill gaps'. It is also often defined as the great divide between the ideal and actual performance, or a gap between the staff currently employed and the workforce required for the future.

Experts consider skill gaps to be the leading hindrance in achieving business goals, making it vital for businesses to address them at the earliest. Even if a company decides to spend a considerable amount on training and development of its employees, correctly identifying skill gaps is what requires the most attention.

An ideal workforce plan will ensure proper alignment of workforce requirements to the company's strategic goals and objectives. For this, accurate analysis of the organisation's training needs is needed.

The steps involved are as follows:

1. Making a list of competencies required for each job role
2. Assessing the current workforce
3. Evaluating the skill gap that is present

This process will allow hiring managers to bridge the skill gap so that employees can better adapt to the changing work environment brought-in by the pandemic. The required training plans can be prepared for the current workforce to mitigate the impact in the short term, and skills required for future hirings can be planned accordingly in the long run.

Why Should Some Skills Be Outsourced?

As mentioned earlier, even if a company hires the best of teams to work for it, they tend to fall short of certain skills. When a company hires another company or individual that specialises in a particular task to perform that function for it, it is called outsourcing.

Outsourcing, especially in the new normal, holds various benefits for companies. The advantages include:

• Hiring a third party for a particular task, say, for instance, training, can cut down additional hiring costs for the company.
• Outsourcing also saves employers time and effort, enabling them to focus on the core areas of their company and bring in more business.
• With a specialised organisation doing the task, employers reap the benefits of their expertise in that area, along with the latest technology. This way, they stand to enjoy a competitive advantage.

As per a recent report, one in two Fortune 500 companies outsourced software development to Indian firms. The key here is to hire a third-party firm that is not only reputed in its particular field but also one that's reliable and trustworthy. It is vital to have all determinants in place while selecting who you hand-over the function to.

The Growing Role of L&D Functions to Leverage a Blended Workforce

As organisations are moving towards embracing a blended workforce, leaders must provide a supportive learning ecosystem. A learning structure that can adapt to this new employment model of gig workers and freelancers will enable companies to attract and retain talent.

It is, therefore, imperative to plan inclusive strategies in the L&D model to achieve large scale learning. Moreover, a sense of belongingness to the company, which is significant for its growth but often missing in freelancers, can be achieved by an efficient L&D strategy.

• Similar to company employees, gig workers can share the same orientation process, giving them an insight into the internal processes and overall culture of the company.
• Allowing access to company-owned informative platforms like the company's newsfeed will add to the sense of belongingness in gig workers.
• Inviting them to company events where knowledge sharing can take place between permanent employees and gig workers is another step organisations can take.
• Skill-based training and workshops can also be arranged for gig workers to create a sense of team spirit in them.

Conclusion

Indeed, COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the economy, but on the flip-side, it has helped many companies modernise and innovate their hiring process. With the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown period limiting operations, the corporate world is blessed with vital lessons for its survival during this crisis.

Companies have come out of their comfort zones, ready to give up their traditional ideas and styles of working, and have embraced change like never before. COVID-19 has successfully paved the way for a remote-working model, freelancing, integration of AI into HR, outsourcing, and more.

After all, it's all about surviving the ripple effects of the deadly pandemic in a way that companies can continue their operations and be successful in the long run.

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