46 (141) 2020
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Wanted – accountable, agile, employees. And managers.

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Yannick Coulange, managing director, PageGroup Poland, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about how recruitment and executive search has changed as a result of the pandemic – which changes are temporary, and which will become permanent.

How has the pandemic affected demand for recruitment?

Depends on the sector – some have been more affected than others. There’s increased recruitment in healthcare and logistics, and IT remains in strong demand. Above all, the pandemic has slowed down the decision making and formalising processes. Our methodology had to adapt, we had to show caring guidance and consider our customers’ well-being. Overall, we’ve not been too impacted, but the impact is seen everywhere. A wave of uncertainty has swept over the candidate side. Potential candidates are worried how they will perform in a new job in such uncertain circumstances. They are asking themselves should they wait for the clouds to part before switching jobs. This manifests itself in rising numbers of drop-outs at interviews; this doubt and anxiety on the part of candidates makes it difficult for employers. How can you make new recruits feel welcome and part of the team? How do you make them feel the culture? How can you conduct effective on-boarding at a distance?

The cost of losing a new hire is significant. The uncertainty persists – how do we know this pandemic won’t have a third or fourth wave? If it impacts for a year or so, it won’t change companies’ vision or growth plans, but it will slow down volume hiring. Strategic recruitment has been less affected. In executive search, we have been able to maintain and increase the number of recruitments – these have not been put on hold. Clients are looking for leaders who can demonstrate autonomy and experience at this challenging time, as well as cultural fit and engagement.

Is Poland still an attractive location for new inward investment? Members in the real estate sector are reporting new enquiries from the US, UK and Scandinavia.

From a distance, Poland is still of interest. During lockdown, Poland was able to operate. There is increased demand from abroad. The experience of lockdown and working from home reinforced Poland as a country with a skilled, flexible workforce and availability of people.

How has the actual process of recruitment changed as a result of the pandemic?

We are in world of rapid adaptation. Collecting and using data is at the core of how we operate and recruit. This has been digitalised; the human factor has been reduced as far as possible – but it cannot be eliminated. You still need to get the measure of a candidate face to face in an A-to-Z recruitment process. So, we meet in the open air, take a walk in the park, keeping two or three metres apart, wearing masks. We had to be innovative to protect the candidate’s and our staff’s safety. We were almost back to normal over the summer as the lockdown eased, but we had to continually adapt our processes to meet the rapidly changing conditions, in the  interests of all our customers.

There is a lot to foresee. April recruits, for instance, in some cases haven’t yet been into their new offices six months on. How can they become part of company culture? How do we make sure they live the values of our company?

We must also pay attention to employees’ emotional well-being, the psychological level, the balance between home life and work, the lack of socialisation – what will be the lasting impact to people? This should be at the top of any employers’ agenda right now; active listening is needed. We are living through something that’s unprecedented; we need to tell our employees that it’s OK to be touched by this experience.

How has Covid-19 and lockdown affected the skill-sets that employers are looking for?

Adaptability, above all. Recruits will be asked to work from home, isolated from their colleagues and line managers. They will be accountable for realising their goals with new forms of supervision, so high levels of trust need to be extended to them. Maturity and trust, to deliver what’s required, regardless of time or location. Accountability. And agility to adapt as the situation changes. This creates new challenge for leaders. When people are engaged, they are prepared to extend trust and display the flexibility that’s needed. Encouragement, but ultimately performance is the key. Employees are challenged by the new levels of autonomy; will and self-discipline are more important than ever.

Has the experience of working in lockdown changed the criteria and skill sets that employers are looking for in candidates?

Skills sets still function. Above all, the candidates have to show initiative, agility and adaptability, regardless of personal situation. The pandemic won’t last forever; it is a stand-alone event. The questionnaires and tests we use are aimed at finding the best candidate for the long term. Right now, we are finding that we have to help our clients face the same challenges that everyone else faces; recruiters have to show empathy and solidarity. It's impressive to see how people are stress-resistant and adaptable. Parents with young children should not under any circumstances think this situation could alter their employability, it’s just a temporary consequence of the pandemic which will solve itself over time, and through evolving organisations.

We do recruitment and we will continue to do recruitment after the pandemic. We will pick up the learnings from this experience. What was good, what was less good, what could be improved. The needs of the past will not be the needs of the future – skills will develop over time.

It is clear that hybrid working models are the future. Already before the pandemic, we saw firms that operated with hot-desking concepts. Buildings, offices, will still be needed, but how that space will be used – it will be interesting to observe. During lockdown we could see imaginative, spontaneous solutions to the problem of real estate.

These urgent reactions to short-term crises create those learnings that will transform future leadership. We are learning to sort these issues out in different ways, getting people together – leadership vectoring and communication. 

Education has to move too. If employers are to continue to be able to recruit graduates and school leavers with the new skills necessary in a post-pandemic world, Poland’s schools and universities will have to adapt.

I’m not sure we’ll see that happening quickly in the case of primary and secondary schools. Will the Class of 2020 be any different to previous years? Too early to say. Universities, however, are adapting much faster to a world of remote and blended learning. Changing the education system may take a lot longer than changing the world of business.

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