The impact of Coronavirus on the recruitment industry

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is affecting the majority of the world in some form and the situation changes at an hourly rate. At the time of publishing, the confirmed cases around the world had hit 96,268 and total deaths had reached 3,304. The recruitment industry is certainly not immune to the impact the virus is having on businesses right now and it is very possible that the legacy of COVID-19 may forever change the nature of recruitment and the workplace landscape.

Travel industry hit hard

Those recruiting for the travel sector will perhaps be hardest hit in the short term. As I write, TUI have announced a recruitment freeze due to a steep reduction in bookings, following a similar announcement by Virgin Atlantic and Whizz Air yesterday and EasyJet last week. Like the German airline Lufthansa (who too have affected a recruitment freeze), many UK-based carriers are also offering employees unpaid leave in an attempt to mitigate a financial downturn caused by COVID-19. Today we have heard that Flybe has folded, blaming Coronavirus for being the last straw in an already ‘difficult situation.’ The IATA has this morning warned that the revenue cost to the global aviation industry will be up to $113bn in 2020.

Digital tools to aid online recruitment 

Of course, the very fact that recruitment is an industry that often necessitates face-to-face contact is also something to consider given the push to contain the virus and people’s own fears. Data uncovered by our multi-poster WaveTrackR reveals that there was a 19% dip in applications in January as compared to January 2019 and a massive 47% reduction in applications in February compared with February 2019. This certainly seems to indicate that jobseekers are hesitant to enter the process, perhaps due to a combination of a desire to stay in the security of their current job and concerns over the face-to-face nature of the recruiting process. 

WaveTrackR reveals a 19% dip in applications in January as compared to January 2019 and a massive 47% reduction in applications in February compared with February 2019

While the former issue is harder to tackle, the latter is something recruiters can do something about. Recruiters in areas that have so far been hardest hit by COVID-19 have increasingly turned to online communication tools to avoid face-to-face meetings where possible. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are being used both to communicate with clients and to interview and ‘meet’ with candidates. This is something we may see more and more in the UK as a way to continue to safely recruit as the situation develops. 

A change in workplace practice

Currently, great swathes of the streets and workplaces in China, Japan, South Korea and northern Italy are empty and silent as companies have shut down and schools have been closed. It is unsurprising that such organisations are doing everything they can to contain Coronavirus and lessen the impact on their workforce. Whichever way this virus progresses and whatever the outcome, it may have a lasting effect on workplace practices. Employers are currently being forced to think outside the box to manage a rapidly evolving crisis. 

Currently, business are increasingly reducing business travel, encouraging remote working and having to be fluid as they keep up to date with public health advice. The Financial Times reported that international banks based in Japan have brought in split teams to prevent a situation where whole departments could be incapacitated. This has been effected largely because Japan has only recently come onboard with remote working (due mainly to cultural ethos) and so many businesses don’t have the framework in place to allow for it. 

Remote working and a reduction in business travel

Unlike Japan, many UK businesses already allow for remote working in some form. Online communication and file-sharing tools could help businesses continue to operate if a prolonged period of home working is necessitated. Many companies have imposed a ban on non-essential business travel, nationally as well as internationally, and such online tools will provide ways to communicate with clients without travelling to them. Given the increasing desire felt by many for flexible working opportunities and the ecological impact of travel by air and car, the adjustments made in response to Coronavirus could very well change the way we work in the long term.    

What can we take from all this and how do we progress forwards? COVID-19 is a global issue and as such is likely to affect the recruitment industry. Our data indicates a reduction of applications on average across all industries and no-one knows how this will play out. However, there are ways we can mitigate the impact, such as utilising online communication tools in the recruitment process and encouraging employers to emphasise the benefits of working for their organisation, including, where possible, flexible working. The recruiters that weather the Coronavirus storm will be those that adapt as the situation unfolds. 

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