The Impact of Covid-19 on UK Recruitment

The Impact of Covid-19 on UK Recruitment

In this exclusive from the Association of Staffing Professionals, Chief Executive Ann Swain explores the impact of Covid-19 on the UK recruitment sector

By Ann Swain

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world of work as we know it, there’s no doubt of that. Obviously, every market is different, and Covid-19 has hit everyone in a different way. But if we reflect on recent months, so much has changed for our economy, for business plans and for the world of hiring. There was certainly an air of protection mode when lockdown was first announced as every business owner sought to keep their company alive. Recruitment agency owners, for example, were scrambling to apply for business loans, they were furloughing staff as clients did the same and people were simply panicking. Of course, this was an issue that was prevalent across every industry and every organisation, but recruitment in particular was hit hard.

In the first week of lockdown, a survey of APSCo members revealed significant dips in activity. Two thirds (67%) of recruitment firms said that permanent hiring within their sector was on hold in the third week of March, with almost 90% revealing that up to half of their contractors had already been terminated. And with client hiring dropping, recruitment businesses themselves were facing tough decisions, with 83% of respondents reporting that they were considering redundancy for their own staff during this time.

This uncertainty continued to hit hiring activity over the weeks that followed the lockdown announcement. Through our ongoing communication with members and partners in the sector, we have been able to track the trends in recruitment and, while data showed a real dip in hiring throughout March and April, it also highlighted areas of resilience in the recruitment market as we all learnt to adapt to the new world of work as best as we could.

There were pockets of hiring reported by our members in some obvious sectors – healthcare, IT and pharmaceutical, for example. And while the number of interviews being carried out halved as some areas saw work drop significantly, there were still interviews taking place, demonstrating that hiring managers were utilising technology platforms for video interviewing. So, while hiring was down, it certainly wasn’t out.

Recruitment and the economy

It was always going to be inevitable that hiring would be severely impacted during a lockdown scenario and while it has undoubtedly been tough for everyone – businesses and candidates alike – there are some positives that have come out of this.

Recruitment is critical industry for the economy and when we do finally come out of the other side of this crisis, recruiters will be needed to get people back into work very quickly. UK plc will not get back up and running if large numbers of recruitment companies have gone out of business and the Government will not have any chance at all of realising its ambitious programme of infrastructure projects if there are no resources to deliver them. 

Historically we’ve always been seen as a bellwether of the economy, and that’s more prevalent than ever during a crisis. The recruitment market needed to be kept alive to ensure that people can get back to work and projects can be up and running again with as little disruption as is possible in the current environment. 

Looking ahead

While there’s no doubt that we are in the midst of a crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before, I do believe we’re at a stage now where things are starting to calm down. More businesses are beginning to plan for the short and long-term. It’s likely that we’ll continue to see a phased reopening of some sectors, while others will remain on hold for longer in order to keep the spread of the virus from spiking again.

For the recruitment sector, it’s my firm belief that we’ll see contract hiring return much quicker than permanent positions as organisations look at creating more agile workforces. Perhaps more notable, though, will be the change in how businesses hire and manage teams. We’ve already seen Twitter announce that it will allow staff to ‘work from home forever’ if they wish, and officials at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department are said to be considering allowing staff to operate remotely after restrictions are lifted.

And with our data showing that interviews are still taking place as hiring managers utilize video to recruit, it’s likely that we’ll see an uptick in remote interviewing – a process that will certainly broaden the scope of the professional recruitment industry. Going forward, I believe recruiters will be leaned on heavily for guidance from businesses unsure of how best to hire in this new world of work. 

About the Author

Ann Swain is founder and Global CEO of APSCo - an international trade body representing the professional recruitment sector with operations in the UK, Germany, Singapore and Australia.  APSCo is now recognized as a badge of quality for clients and candidates across the world. Ann has over 30 years’ recruitment experience including time as Managing Director of Learning Curve and UK Sales Director at Computer People before establishing APSCo in 1999.