In an uncertain world, recruiters are shifting gears to focus on short-term hiring.
By Simon Kent
From video interviews to remote onboarding, the pandemic has irrecoverably changed the face of recruitment. As offices have closed and social distancing becomes the norm, new techniques and technologies have been deployed and relied upon by recruiters to find, onboard, and retain the talent their clients need.
According to Bullhorn’s COVID-19 Impact Survey, carried out among recruitment agencies, an overwhelming 91% of respondents reported an increase in the use of video interviewing and conferencing. Alongside this, nearly one third (27%) are now using analytics to inform their work whilst 16% report an increase in reliance on artificial intelligence (AI).
Duncan Ward, operations director at Resource Solutions, thinks these and other changes have improved the recruitment function. “Hiring processes have in many cases become more efficient with video interview tools like Zoom, Skype, Teams, and so on, meaning the time investment for hiring managers perhaps is less and processes can move quicker,” he explains.
Ward says the “new normal” has now replaced the early reluctance to hire without meeting someone in person, or for a candidate to see an office or experience a company’s culture in the usual way. “It will be interesting to see how things evolve as we head back to offices in time,” he says.
But some recruitment indicators have been impacted by the effects of the pandemic itself. With limited job opportunities in the marketplace, Ward reports that candidate applications per role have increased significantly, putting pressure on selection choices. At the same time, attrition rates have been significantly lower as uncertainty over future opportunities and nervousness about joining a new company virtually have decreased the amount of people moving on from their current posts. However, this slowdown is generating a pent-up demand which will mean an increased volume of recruitment somewhere down the line: “The key question will be when will this movement kicks off,” notes Ward.
Kay Cooper, managing director of RPO for EMEA at Korn Ferry, has seen the use of AI increase in her business, aiding overall productivity. The technology was around before the pandemic, but its use has accelerated exponentially for sourcing, assessing, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding. “At Korn Ferry, we leverage an AI-enabled sourcing technology that optimises our recruiters’ productivity by sourcing high-quality candidates in seconds and automating manual tasks,” she says.
Unsurprisingly, Cooper also reports the use of video to be much higher than pre-pandemic levels, with site tours now offering candidates a glimpse of what it’s like to work for the business without them having to set foot outside their own homes.
However, she says that the environment around the recruitment function is also having a huge influence over how the function is performing. A Korn Ferry survey among talent acquisition professionals recently found that 68% are now only planning for short-term hiring needs. Diving deeper, 34% say they are forecasting hiring needs at a maximum of six months out, whilst a similar number are only hiring for immediate needs.
The same survey found that nearly a third (30%) of respondents do not have a post-pandemic talent acquisition plan, which could be worrying when it comes to talent management. It also indicates the uncertainty that remains over how businesses will fare over the next few months.
What’s causing this lack of foresight? Two main reasons were noted: there’s no clear picture of what the business will be like post-pandemic (41%) and leadership is only focusing on short-term needs (35%).
Currently, the recruitment function is becoming more short-term focused, demanding a faster flow of talent to reflect the immediate needs of the business. Craig Sweeney, senior vice president of global strategic solutions at WilsonHCG, says the speed and effectiveness of recruitment is further influenced by the impact of the virus on particular industry sectors and geographies. The pandemic has undoubtedly affected the size and availability of the talent pool, but in some cases, recruiters are dealing with underlying talent shortages that existed before COVID struck.
“Many organisations had to make layoffs in 2020, so there are a lot of available people but not necessarily aligned to the talent needs,” says Sweeney. “Companies are still suffering from the global skills shortages that were in place pre-pandemic, one driver of which was under investment in growth and development through the last two recessions. Adding to that, the skills required for a modern workplace are evolving rapidly, so employers need access to different skill sets to meet their future business objectives.”
Flexibility and agility are no longer must-haves for businesses within their general strategy—they are required in the race for talent as well. Sweeney says businesses have had to reduce and rebuild their workforces quickly over the past year to reflect changing demand, but many simply don’t have the infrastructure to do it. “That led to many considering a partnership with talent providers,” he says. “This is not just because of the expertise that RPOs have in scaling up, but also because of the ability RPOs have to scale down if the economy dips again.”
Workforce planning in EMEA has always been challenging, says Rebecca Bowser, senior manager for client services for Sevenstep, and it’s only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unpredictable sales revenue combined with large swings in hiring and erratic sick leave patterns have left many talent leaders scrambling to prioritise workloads and staff their teams accordingly. Each day seems like a new challenge,” she says.
Two areas of the business that can help make the uncertain more certain are data analytics and supply chain diversity. By analysing past and current data trends, organisations will have a better understanding of anticipated head count during certain peaks and valleys. Supply chain diversity allows TA leaders to act on those trends.
“Achieving supply chain diversity is accomplished by adding additional contingent workforce vendors for key positions in preparation for potential surges, evaluating competitors who might be struggling and targeting their employees more directly, and finally, hiring contract recruiters, or utilising a RPO vendor for strategic hiring projects instead of adding additional fixed costs to their talent acquisition budget.”
Sweeney says there are a number of practices that recruiters should concentrate on during this time in order to be effective, including attention to internal mobility plans, pipelining talent, and securing access to diverse candidates. “Workforce planning is more critical than it’s ever been,” he says. “Skills inventories should be carried out regularly so employers can determine the current capabilities in their workforce and what they’re going to need to meet future business objectives. Organisations can then buy, build, borrow, or automate the skills they need.”
The recruitment function is therefore trying to square a circle—delivering on the short-term agenda whist also trying to take a long-term view, but a view which is itself uncertain. Despite these complex influences, the function continues to invest in the technology and techniques required to fulfil the demand and continues to improve the effectiveness of recruitment at a challenging time.