Coronavirus will have ‘significant consequences’ for recruitment industry

Many employers are pausing hiring plans and recruiters must consider how fair and inclusive virtual assessment and selection methods are, say experts

Coronavirus is already having a significant impact on the jobs market, employers plans to hire and the recruitment industry as a whole, experts have warned.

Employment in Britain hit a record high in January before the outbreak of the virus, according to official figures, but the country is bracing for a wave of job losses and hiring freezes amid the crisis.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics – which cover November 2019 to January 2020 – showed the number of people in work increased by 184,000 in the three months to January, reaching a record high of 33 million. The employment rate rose to a joint-record high of 76.5 per cent. 

Lee Biggins, CEO and founder of CV-Library, told People Management there was “no doubt that the coronavirus outbreak will have significant consequences for the recruitment industry as a whole”.

Many employers were worried about the virus’s impact on their hiring efforts, Biggins said, which placed recruiters in a precarious position. “This, combined with the fact that most UK businesses will incur serious costs from the outbreak and the recent volatility in the markets, means recruiters should expect business to slow in the coming months​,” he said.

“We're already hearing feedback that employers​ are pausing their hiring plans while they wait for the worst to pass.”

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Claire McCartney, resources and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said many employers were facing the decision of whether to stop hiring alongside making possible reductions in staff. This would likely have a knock-on effect for recruiters, she warned: “Depending on the sector, it’s likely that many organisations will, as a minimum, put a freeze on non-essential role hiring. Others will face the difficult situation of a complete hiring freeze and staff reductions.”

For those continuing to recruit, McCartney expected an increase in the use of virtual methods for the assessment and selection of candidates. But while digital-only recruitment methods could help reduce time to hire, they must be used in the right way so applicants weren’t put at a disadvantage, she said: “Recruiters and hiring managers need to ask if the method they are using is inclusive, fair and relevant to the role.”

But experts said there was still hope for the recruitment industry, as many employers would continue to hire for essential roles, and some sectors – such as health and social care and logistics – were already recruiting more workers.

The global pandemic could also change the way employers hire for the better, Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at Indeed, told People Management. The move from in-person to virtual recruitment, and the widespread use of home working during the outbreak, could be a positive step-change for some, he said. 

“We know from our own research that jobseekers are increasingly looking for flexible work, including the option to work from home, and even before the outbreak employers were increasingly offering flexible-working options,” he said. “With people across the world being advised or required to work from home, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues after the pandemic is quelled.”

Adapting to new ways of working as a result of Covid-19 was critical, agreed Biggins. “It's abundantly clear that hiring professionals will have to think outside of the box to keep the industry moving,” he said. “The key to weathering this storm is to keep calm and focus on finding alternative ways of working to ensure business continuity throughout the coming months.”