RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

Stepping Up

RPO partners have helped develop business continuity plans and implement the technology needed to recruit and onboard virtually during COVID-19.

By Nikki Edwards

So much for 20/20 vision! The world at large didn’t understand the potential impact of COVID-19 until it was too late, and many thought it would be over within a matter of months. And while most are glad to see the back of 2020, the reality is that organizations will have to work around COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

Organizations have long recognized the changing world of work and the interplay of political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental (PESTLE) factors, notably:

  • Economic: global skills shortages and a subdued economy
  • Social: a multigenerational workforce comprising digital natives who want choice over permanent and freelance/gig work
  • Technological: the personalization/consumerization of tech

However, organizations have been slow to embrace change, holding onto the old ways of working where the gap between RPO partners’ pace of change versus organizations’ willingness to change was widening.

The COVID-19 lockdown instantaneously added a new layer of complexity to the mix, requiring organizations to pivot to remote working, to leverage technology to support the new way of working, and to enable overall business continuity. For organizations that needed support during this difficult time, many looked to their RPO partners to aid with business continuity plans and implement the technology to recruit and onboard online while advising on remote working strategy. This took many qualities that are critical for business agility, including adaptability, flexibility, creativity, innovation, resilience, and balance.


In response to economic market forces, RPO solutions have become modular in structure, giving organizations the choice to blend models, services, technology, and delivery to suit their changing business challenges. It is standard practice for RPO partners to provide a journey of talent acquisition (TA) transformation, driving process efficiencies and cost savings through to program optimization. This recognizes that TA does not stand still and that organizations want ongoing improvements.

With the demographic transition of workers being open to permanent and contingent opportunities, a total talent approach to hiring has become more acceptable to organizations. Similarly, where skills shortages abound, building skills has become a growing area of focus for RPO partners. With relentless adaptation to market forces, RPO partners are ready to support organizations for the foreseeable future as they consider temporary over permanent resources to get work done while minimizing the risk of long-term labor costs. Organizations will likely also seek support for reskilling and upskilling those employees whose roles have changed.


Flexibility is crucial to RPO, with partners having flexible resources, such as part-time remote workers and dedicated ramp-up teams, including COVID-19 taskforces, ready to scale within 24 hours. These resources are regularly upskilled to maintain flexibility to be deployed across different clients or business areas on an as-needed basis. When the pandemic struck six months ago, RPO partners immediately engaged organizations around budget concerns and the likely implications on hiring, and were prepared for a spike in renegotiations of terms while planning what the long-term economic situation would be.

RPO partners use robust hiring data to scenario plan. With today’s sophistication in data and associated analytics, data accumulated from the second quarter of 2020 will be insightful to plan for similar causal dips in hiring activity in the future. Advising organizations on how to leverage and interpret data and analytics for better business insights is part of the standard offering of RPO, which can be applied to the wider business.


Being creative is essential in hiring, especially in the case of seeking hard-to-find talent with niche skills. RPO partners did not disappoint in the COVID-19 aftermath, as they thought about how they could adapt and extend services in creative ways to add value for organizations. As hiring slowed, employer branding and recruitment marketing efforts pivoted to focus on building a compelling employee value proposition that could aid future hiring by showcasing values demonstrated through the pandemic. Career transition schemes, normally used to help candidates learn new skills as automation replaces jobs, helped organizations reskill and temporarily redeploy workers to other roles. The ability to think outside the box is essential for any business to avoid products and services falling by the wayside because they are no longer fit for purpose.


Innovation is par for the course for both services and technology when it comes to RPO. Technological innovation underpins RPO services and operations, enhancing them to a level never seen before. 2020 has been characterized by highly automated TA platforms that can manage overflowing talent funnels due to an abundance of available talent on a 24/7 basis. This encompasses chatbots, AI for resume parsing, candidate matching, and assessments, enabling speedy and cost-effective hiring while driving a top-notch candidate experience. Having already risen to the COVID-19 challenge, advising clients on tech strategies for remote working and hiring, many RPO partners are already advising organizations on broader organizational tech strategy.


Business resilience encompasses crisis management (e.g. COVID-19 lockdown) and business continuity (the immediate aftermath and longer-term adaption to a new stable state). While adapting to a geographically dispersed workforce on an unprecedented scale was a major change for most organizations, for RPO partners, it was merely a tweak to their established blended service delivery set-up. RPO partners demonstrated their resilience by pivoting to 100 percent remote working in 24 hours, without disruption to business operations.

RPO partners can support organizations in considering broader talent pools with more geographically dispersed candidates to find best-fit talent. RPO can help determine essential workers requiring onsite presence, potentially reallocating work to suit workers’ health shielding needs. As an extension of this, RPO can support talent management initiatives to aid employee engagement: internal mobility, upskilling, reskilling, and communications to avoid unnecessary employee loneliness and turnover.


Juggling many balls and keeping them airborne is essential for any organization, especially during a time of economic uncertainty. RPO partners are well-versed in doing this balancing act, maintaining the right amount of flexible talent (who they leverage for client ramp-ups in activity) while avoiding an oversupply of underworked resources.

Working in the COVID-19 era of tight budgets and revenue restrictions needs more dedicated focus in order to carefully balance headcount reduction (whether temporary or permanent) to preserve critical roles, while maintaining enough resources so as not to spread employees too thin. Operational expenditure savings, in some cases, have been easy to make (e.g. employee travel costs and expenses), but it is important to prioritize revenue-generating streams, cutting back on loss-making areas.

Nikki Edwards is principal research analyst for NelsonHall.

Tags: Magazine Article, November 2020, RPO, Talent Acquisition

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