In early 2020, Covid-19 swept the globe and changed all normalcy overnight. With new lockdown regulations and guidelines put into place, industries suffered tremendous losses - with some companies even closing their doors for good. Due to worsening economies and rising unemployment, the recruitment sector was forced to pivot.
The dynamics of the recruitment industry are still changing due to the events in 2020. The year 2021 brings a bit more normalcy than what we previously faced, though recruiters are still adapting to meet the new realities and requirements of both companies and individuals.
So, what was the state of the recruitment sector in 2020, and how will it transform and translate throughout 2021?
COVID-19 Crisis: The Fall
To understand where the recruitment industry is heading, we must first understand the origins of how we got here. The first Covid-19 case was confirmed on December 8th, 2019, in Wuhan, China. With the virus rapidly spreading, Wuhan went into lockdown on January 23rd, 2020. Residents were confined to their homes, and all public transportation shut down. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), (1) the first European Covid-19 case was confirmed in France on January 24, 2020. The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2) declared COVID-19 is a public health emergency of international concern on January 30th, 2020, thereafter declaring it to be a global pandemic on March 11th, 2020. Various European countries started their own lockdown procedures – demanding social distancing rules, stay-at-home procedures, business shutdowns, and travel restrictions.
On March 26th, 2020, Malta issued its first country-wide lockdown for people over 65 and people with pre-existing health conditions. The lockdown included social distancing and limited gatherings (3). These lockdowns were projected to only last a few weeks while we all fought to contain the virus. Lockdowns heavily impacted businesses across many industries, bringing lost business for some, and revenue opportunities to others. Regardless of the soar or decline in service demand, companies had to adapt and innovate – whilst minimising costs to safeguard their business going concern.
COVID-19 Crisis: The Bumpy Road Ahead
The world of recruiting literally changed overnight in March 2020. Almost every prediction industry leaders held for the 2020 recruitment sector became obsolete. Unemployment was rising internationally at alarming rates – the U.S. alone received 30 million (4) unemployment claims from mid-March to early April 2020. With the disruption Covid-19 exerted on the workforce, some industries were forced to cut spending and lose employees (5), whilst others saw a soar in demand for their business (6).
According to S&P Global (7), the industries most affected by the pandemic were Airlines, Leisure Activities, Oil & Gas Drilling, Auto Parts & Equipment and Restaurants. The industries least affected were Specialised REITs, Property & Casualty Insurance, Multi-line Insurance, Life & Health Insurance and Industrial REITs. Throughout the pandemic, there were plenty of sudden shifts that had to happen, with some of these priority shifts expected to continue well after post- pandemic.
Restructuring of employee benefits was a trend that was on the rise throughout the entire pandemic. As the workforce transitioned to remote working, companies had to re-evaluate what they were offering their employees for the year. Promises for gym memberships and catered lunches had to be quickly swapped to flexible remote-working, at-home internet payments and communication tools to ease workflows.
Most corporate businesses who were able to stay afloat shifted their entire workforce to remote working, and hiring managers & human resource professionals had to adapt to a new norm to hold online interviews as opposed to the more traditional face-to-face approaches. Remote working quickly rose to become the top benefit employees look for when searching for their future employer. While the safety measures from the pandemic directly triggered this trend, it has now shifted to become the preferred work structure of employees and companies. Most companies are developing work-from-home policies that will allow employees to continue working remotely post-pandemic, establishing a balanced work schedule with three workdays from the office, and two working days from home, or a combination of both.
With all business aspects moving to the digital space, it has now become easier to apply for job opportunities and pursue recruitment processes than ever before. Just about every company had adapted to online interviews, (8) hiring and onboarding. While this process had a very rocky start, it is now a very practical way to hire the best workforce to propel companies out of the Covid-19 revenue decline.
Malta Economy & Job Market
Malta, like any other world economy was adversely impacted by this pandemic. According to official data published by Malta’s National Statistics Office (NSO), Malta’s economy reported an unemployment rate of 3.4% in Jan 2020, rising to 4.8% in Nov 2020, followed by an averaging of 4.4% in Jan 2021. (9).
Fuelled by a strong service sector, Malta’s economic performance throughout the past decade was benchmarked above average when compared to the EU bloc (10). Thanks to such favourable momentum, it offered the government room to intervene to limit the damage.
Malta was significantly hit because of the international impact on the tourism sector, which coupled to its interdependence on the European and international imports and exports, which led to a swing from growth of 7.3% in 2018 and 4.7% in 2019 to a contraction of 6.0% in 2020.The European Commission reports that in view of the gradual easing in general restrictions Malta is expected to relaunch its domestic demand, pushing its GDP annual growth to 6.25% in 2021. (11)
Malta Government Measures to Curb the Impacts
The Maltese Government announced several mandatory mitigation and fiscal measures to curb the effects of the pandemic, allocating a significant financial package to help the economy cushion the punch.
Operators within the recruitments industry, one of the sectors identified by the authorities as mostly hard hit, received €800 per month for full-time employees to cushion the impact of revenue declines. Other benefits were extended throughout the whole economy including: unemployment benefits; parents & teleworking grants; rent subsidies – amongst others.
The government in consultation with stakeholders has put forward other measures such as: a six-month moratorium on repayment of capital and interest and subsided interest rates on bank loans. Further measures rolled out through a series of partial lockdown announcements, restricting the public human contact to limit the spread of the virus, curtailing mass gatherings; curfews or total closure of restaurants & bars; periodic closure of schools; travel bans; limitations to certain sports and other recreational activities; accommodation establishments and many more measures yet on-going at the time of writing. (12)
Looking ahead: Staffing Firms in 2021
According to the World Employment Confederation, the staffing market is recovering quicker from the pandemic-led economic crash than it did during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. However, the decline was deeper in 2020 than it was in 2009. (13) Staffing firms are responding by adapting; leveraging on technology; readjusting focuses; whilst communicating and engaging more with top talent.
VacancyCentre (VC) understands the importance of focus, cognisant of the fact that increasingly clients want to contract recruiting firms which best understand their business model and requirements. This is why VC has repositioned its approach to service niche disciplines within Finance, Compliance & Technology, thus ensuring best tailored talent solutions for specific job requirements. Finance and Compliance becoming so interdependent and topping firms’ agendas was a natural consideration. Technology, as it becomes ever more intertwined to Finance paves the way to more firms entering the FinTech space, thus the co-existence of both is necessary.
In spite of the past months disruptions, overall, the recruitment industry has observed that competition for top talent remains fiercely contended. The past quarter in particular, has showed encouraging signs with employment gradually picking up. Whilst the market is still buoyant, a faster vaccine roll-out, coupled with a decreasing number of cases, will certainly offer more reassurances towards a return to normality.
The future of recruiting is looking optimistic. While 2020 presented many challenges for the industry, more companies are looking to expand their workforce. By taking a unique approach to curtail extra overheads, sifting through talent pools and closely adhering to a long-term repositioning strategy – recruiters can continue to match companies to the best talent to help them regrow their businesses.