Recruitment opportunities in our post-COVID economy

Nick Stanley
by, Nick Stanley

It’s no revelation to say that COVID-19 has rewritten the script. In the space of a few months, our economic and social worlds have been altered, in some areas, radically so.

While New Zealand has done better than lots of countries in managing the impacts of the virus, no one would be willing to swear they know exactly what’s around the corner. Uncertainty still abounds and some industries and regions have been very badly affected.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many businesses have emerged from the lockdown period to a rush of activity and revenue. Others are busy revising their operations to take advantage of the opportunities that such a large-scale upheaval presents.

There are big changes in the job market, too. Prior to COVID, unemployment was around 4 percent, there were serious skills shortages, and, in many industries, it was hard to find and keep good people. Economists now predict the unemployment rate could double by year’s end. It could be a tough time for people without jobs and there’s likely to be many highly-skilled people out there looking for work.

So looking at this tricky landscape, one positive is there are plenty of recruitment opportunities for businesses and job-hunters who are willing to be flexible. Conditions may not be certain enough to take on a bunch of permanent new employees, but there are plenty of good options for building a positive future. It’s all about getting the right talent on terms that suit both parties. Let’s take a deeper look.

Opportunities that can add value

As we’ve emerged from the lockdown period, all eyes have been on getting back to business. Companies have been busy assessing what their immediate and longer-term prospects are and what size and shape their workforce needs to be.

Not everyone is in the same boat, as the pandemic has had a very uneven impact across industries and regions. Sectors like tourism, hospitality, and media have been especially hard hit. Others like food production (especially horticulture and dairy), distribution, services, and digital technology should stay buoyant.

So while some companies are hunkering down and consolidating their team, others need help to meet the upswing in demand for their goods or services. What we’ve been hearing from businesses that are recruiting, is there are lots of really good, experienced candidates - many from large corporates - applying for their vacancies. If you can, the current environment presents a really good opportunity to stack your organisation with great people.

But not all companies are feeling confident about expenditure; we’re still very much in uncharted territory. So while there are experienced people whose work in one industry may have dried up, it doesn’t mean companies can meet their previous level of income.

This is where getting creative with your employment arrangements can really help. A former marketing manager may be willing to lend their expertise for a few days a week to your business. You get their considerable skills and knowledge and they get some steady income. Win-win.

Casual, part-time or contract workers?

There are many questions about the shape of the employment relationship. Is there enough work (now and in the pipeline) to warrant hiring full-time employees or would other arrangements work better? What would those arrangements look like? Are part-time or casual staff better or are independent contractors and temps the right option? What about job sharing?

There are pros and cons here. Contractors are their own business, invoice you for work and may have other clients. Casuals are your own employees, working on “as required” employment agreements. Temps are employees of an agency and come in on a flexible basis, like casuals.

Contractors (or freelancers) are often skilled, specialised workers and could give your company high-level expertise without you having to commit to a large salary, and recruitment and training costs.

There is the common perception that casual workers or temps are lower-skilled, but in some areas they can function much like a contractor who comes onboard to help with a spike of work or work on a specific project, e.g. IT or software development to increase your business’ digitisation or improve your e-commerce platform.

Benefits for employees

In such a bumpy labour market, job-seekers are going to have to be adaptable, too. Obviously, contracting your skills and expertise part-time is a good option to maintain income and stay active while the economy settles and things recover.

There are also many opportunities to learn new skills or a new trade. Jumping into a temp agency is a great way to dip your toe into different industries and try out new roles.

The government is also offering training assistance, such as the fees-free Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund. Programmes funded so far include primary industries, construction, community support and counselling, manufacturing, mechanical engineering and technology, electrical engineering, and road transport.

Casual can be too casual

There are definitely a lot of advantages to temporary or casual arrangements, but keep in mind there are longer-term implications for both the health of your business and the wellbeing of your workers.

Finding people and building a strong, cohesive team takes time and energy. Short-term workers may bring considerable skills, but any institutional knowledge and intellectual capital they develop over the course of their tenure will leave when they do.

Your existing people may also find it disrupting if the team is in a continual state of flux.

If you are taking on contractors, make sure it truly fits the nature of the employment relationship, as many employers get tripped up when what they think is a contracting situation is actually regular employment (with all the lawful rights and entitlements that come with it). The Employment Relations Authority takes an especially dim view of any disingenuous contracting arrangements, which could prove really damaging and expensive if you're in the wrong.

Find out more about the difference between contractors and employees.

Also be aware that the new Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Bill comes into force on 27 June, which gives people employed by one employer but working in another business, e.g. temps or employees on secondment, the right to include the third party in a personal grievance claim.

Define what you need now and in the future

Obviously, what the business needs will be defined by your situation. Approaching your planning like a restructuring situation is our recommendation: first define your organisation’s goals and aspirations, both short- and long-term, then use that strategy to determine if you have any gaps in your current workforce or whether you are going to need more people going forward.

This will then inform the types of candidates you’re looking for, what skills you need etc., which will help you find the people and type of employment relationship that best fits the role and your business.

This reflection and redefining work is probably already happening. The long-term picture may be unclear right now, but as COVID-19 has proven, any work you do on business continuity planning is time well spent. Don’t be too wedded to plans you made before the pandemic; stay as flexible as possible.

Also, don’t forget to reevaluate your business processes and how effective any past recruitment efforts have been, and look for ways to improve.

Always keep on eye out for talent

Developing a deep pool of talent is a key part of what we call the “recruitment mindset”.

There is likely to be a surplus of high-calibre candidates in the job market, more than you can employ, so keep in touch with the talented people you come across (both in business and outside it).

When you need to hire you could get a great person without having to wade through a pile of CVs and interviews.

Technology will also help you keep in touch with people, follow what they are doing, and know when they might be ready to join you.

Understand the job market

Just as we’ll all be training our eye on the economic conditions to see what’s up ahead, staying on top of market developments and trends will help predict how your workforce and recruiting efforts may need to change.

There could be significant numbers of people switching industries or trades, so you’ll need to pay attention to transferable skills when considering them for roles.

Many people have also become accustomed to working from home and this trend is only likely to accelerate from here. So including some flexibility in your working arrangements, wherever possible, will increase your company's attractiveness to talented people.

Other options: outsourcing and tech solutions

Aside from having expertise in-house, think about things that other dedicated companies could offer. Are there non-core business activities they can take care of instead of you taking on new people?

There are many benefits: you reduce costs, entrust the work to committed experts, gain flexibility, and avoid needing to recruit new people, which saves time (and more money).

Recruitment and HR technology can also help streamline the hiring process. Look for tools that are agile so they’ll adapt with your business and market changes.

Utilising technology means more than just placing job ads on social media, as it can help with applicant tracking, pre-employment assessments, and remote interviewing. Good tech is also a big win for onboarding and managing the ongoing employment relationship and individual performance.

Keep being a good employer

Just because we’re facing a recession, it doesn’t mean you can overlook your obligations as an employer. We keep stressing this. All employment laws about acting in good faith and being fair and reasonable still apply. All employees, whether they are full-time or casual, must have an employment agreement.

Beyond that, try to offer as much job security as you can. It’s been a tough time for everyone, lots of people are under financial pressure, and we are no means out of the woods yet.

Be honest and treat people well. Your business recovery and future growth is still reliant on your team’s performance, which boils down to individuals and having a motivated, loyal workforce.

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