Looking to the Past for Insights into What’s Next for the World of Work

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“What will the world of work look like post COVID-19?” That is the question on most, if not all, of our minds.

The impact of COVID on the world of work has been uneven; it’s required a more segmented look at each sector to examine the impact one level deeper — brick and mortar vs. non-store retail. And spikes in new cases have resulted in halted or scaled back reemergence plans, further challenging workforce planning by region, state and even city. All in all, answering the question, “what’s next?” feels more like shaking a magic eight ball than looking into a crystal ball. 

The COVID Recession

In June, in the midst of planning for the post-COVID world of work, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the U.S. had officially slid into a pandemic-driven recession. While the current situation is unlike what we’ve seen in the past, examining previous recessions to understand the impact on business and hiring decisions, and the candidate mindset during this current situation, provides useful insights to start to shape a way forward.

Recessions, Restructuring and Recasting Talent Needs

Whether the Great Recession or the economic downturn brought on by the oil crisis, research by the NBER highlights that during previous downturns companies have restructured operations — reorganizing production and investing in areas such information processing equipment, software and R&D. Changes that require recasting current roles and determining skills necessary to meet future customer (patient, end-user) demand.

This year, there was increased interest in “Corporate Restructuring” during two critical periods: April, when employment in the U.S. fell by 20.5 million; and July, with the news of surging COVID cases, which aligned with increased search interest in “COVID Spikes.” While we’re still in the early stages of understanding the total widespread impact on all sectors, increased interest in this area is an indication that this recession may hold to similar patterns.

Source: Google Trends

Prior to the current economic and talent-market situation, we were already on a trajectory, albeit it slower, toward reshaping the workforce. Taking a smaller step back in time: over the past few years, the adoption of emerging technologies resulted in the realization of a skills gap that led employers to reevaluate their workforce needs and implement efforts to upskill and reskill their workforce.

Over the past few months, top trending skills align with an accelerated need for tech talent; this will undoubtedly lead to a greater imbalance of talent supply against the coming demand. 

Companies have long employed traditional sourcing strategies to account for this talent shortage. A scroll through online social platforms — Quora, Fishbowl, LinkedIn — and a recent Wall Street Journal article, highlight the unique impact of a recession that has no clear time-marker for recovery on the candidate mindset. Candidates, some with offers in hand, are debating the risk versus reward of making a career move in this current environment.

Looking Forward: Building Relationships… Talent Pools and Pipelines

The time horizon is unknown, and the talent market hasn’t yet properly warmed up, with a job growth rate still well below last year’s levels and compared to the beginning of the year. Partnering with our clients to help strategize a way forward requires attending to the now, while using situational insights to set the groundwork for a future steeped in uncertainty.

Decrease uncertainty for potential hires: There will be increased competition for high-skill talent and a need to understand their mindset shift as a result of the current climate. These candidates need to be reassured that they are making a sound decision, which goes beyond salary and perks. The traditional “Attract, Inform, Convert” candidate decision model may evolve to include two additional steps, “Reassure” and “Close,” post-interview. Leveraging our career site technology, including CRM, our clients can easily activate a post-apply/post-interview marketing campaign, delivering messaging and content to reposition the EVP and give confidence in the job-specific opportunity.

Build a foundation for adjacent-skill-hiring: The change in the workforce based on the decision to restructure operations has been re-ignited and accelerated conversations about reskilling and upskilling. Historically, college enrollment increases during a recession. And with the advent and use of more online educational platforms, there will undoubtedly be an increase of self-upskilled applicants. At the same time, corporate Learning and Development teams are revamping internal skilling programs for their employees. Taken all together, this presents an opportunity to look beyond one-to-one needs for specific skills to adjacent skills that will allow employers to broaden their candidate scope with the foundation of more robust training.

In light of the decreased talent demand, employers have been developing talent pools in advance of future talent needs. Beyond pooling for known future demand, using our unified platform, with skills matching technology, our clients can create segmented pipelines of talent with adjacent skills for future needs. An understanding of the skills-base in their owned talent pipeline provides necessary insight into current and growth skills and how they will need to support the future workforce.  

The next few months should bring greater clarity to the economic situation, moving us from “Cannot predict now” to “Signs point to yes.” In the interim, employers will have to continue to keep their sights on the unique complexities of what may prove to be an adjustment to the talent acquisition model requiring more nuanced relationship building. It is more important than ever before to have the technological foundation to support agile strategies that keep pace with change.

At TMP, we’re committed to delivering the talent acquisition results you deserve. Our unified platform intelligently connects you with the right talent across their entire journey.

Want to see what we can achieve together? Connect with us today.

Jahkedda Akbar Mitchell

About Jahkedda Akbar Mitchell

Jahkedda has many years of experience providing strategic guidance, data, and insights on job-seeker trends in support of TMP Worldwide and its clients. She has also worked in-house on the candidate attraction team for a large fortune 500 company. Jahkedda has a passion for psychology and storytelling; understanding why we do what we do and how to change behaviors...only using her powers for good. Jahkedda is a member of TMP Labs: a design thinking focused innovation lab.

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