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Managing human resources through the pandemic

The direction of change in the labour market

By, Marc Burrage, managing director at Hays Poland
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This year has been unique in every aspect of business, including the situation seen in the labour market. Changes that have occurred have posed new challenges for many companies struggling to keep their heads above water; they have also changed how professionals perceive their future.

The events of the past months have proven that it is impossible to prepare for every possible development. In the new reality for businesses, flexibility, quick decision-making and the ability to adapt to a constantly changing situation have become key to success, both for employers and employees. Even though some candidates might find it more difficult to find their dream job at the moment, companies are still planning on hiring highly skilled workers with unique and sought-after competences.

This year was expected to be a period of further economic growth and continued competition among recruiting employers. The main topics for HR professionals were those related to the challenges with recruitment – talent attraction and retention, as well as skills shortages across the market. Despite forecasts predicting an upcoming economic slowdown, it was perceived as a problem that would be of little concern to the Polish labour market. Both employers and specialists were optimistic about the next twelve months – companies planned to hire, and professionals were confident about their career prospects. The situation changed when the coronavirus pandemic reached Poland and the major restrictions were implemented.

In addition to financial difficulties and new challenges, lockdown meant major changes in recruitment standards. Companies channelled their efforts into finding solutions that would help them secure income to ensure survival through this difficult period. In some cases, this meant layoffs or other cost-saving decisions that directly influenced employees. Many companies also revised their recruitment strategies and postponed the implementation of hiring plans. Nevertheless, even in the lockdown period, there were employers who were actively recruiting, mostly from the IT, e-commerce, pharmaceutical and food industries. Since May 2020, more and more employers have been re-launching their recruitment processes, a trend that has come about from the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, increasing workload, or the need to hire talent that would help the business to change and prosper under tougher economic circumstances.

The changes in the labour market influenced the decisions professionals made about their futures. Specialists employed in strong industries are often less open to changing jobs, which therefore requires more time and effort to convince them to participate in recruitment processes. As a result, talent acquisition in some industries and areas of expertise is now even more difficult than one year ago. There is a different attitude that characterises people working in sectors heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic, who have either lost their jobs already, or consider such an outcome highly probable. This group of candidates apply to job offers with increased intensity – sometimes even when they do not meet all the requirements. This therefore means that recruitment teams have to deal with a greater number of unsuccessful applications, but also devote more attention to encouraging passive candidates to participate in the recruitment process.

A significant challenge for both companies and employees has been to implement and adapt to the remote working model. Although home office has been seen as an available benefit in many companies before the pandemic, it usually had not been used as a somewhat default solution. Therefore, in many cases it was necessary to develop work from home policies, set up new communication channels and deal with changes in IT infrastructure. After resolving the initial problems with remote work, the challenge became to manage dispersed teams and sustain employee engagement. The productivity level and level of employee engagement will remain key issues for the businesses that continue working in a remote or hybrid model.

Regarding recruitment processes delivered during the pandemic, it can be said that companies that quickly switched to remote interviews and that had previous experience in this field, gained an advantage in the market. Although video interviews are not new to the Polish labour market, before the pandemic it was quite rare to hire a person without at least one face-to-face meeting. Currently, companies have tools and a set of best practices that enable effective implementation of high-quality remote recruitment processes. The experience gained in 2020 will make online recruitment more common. The same can be said about the remote onboarding process.

Coronavirus remains a threat to the global and Polish labour markets. Although it is unlikely that all of the restrictions seen in the first lockdown will be re-implemented, it is not completely impossible. Hence, it is extremely difficult to formulate forecasts for the labour market. In the face of so much uncertainty right now, companies and employees are figuring out how to be at their most effective in this new world. Many businesses will need to acquire new skills, develop new methodologies and ways of evaluating and measuring success. Things may be disrupted for some time and some areas will be permanently changed. As an example, it be that the flexible way of working, fast becomes the new normal, even post-Coronavirus. Without a doubt, there will be some workers that will need to find new jobs, and often in order to do so, they will need to acquire new skills.

In 2021, companies will search for experienced candidates with specific competencies that will enable them to build a competitive advantage in the new market conditions. The candidate market will be replaced by the competencies market, where specialists with the skills desired by companies, will still receive lucrative job offers. The pandemic period has already shown how important IT experts are to businesses, and this trend will continue in 2021, also applying to financiers, data analysts and  automation and e-commerce specialists.

The challenges companies will face in the near future will be closely connected to the shortage of highly skilled professionals in respective areas, and the expectations jobseekers will have. Companies are still competing for in-demand experts and developing employment strategies that offer good salaries and interesting career paths. Employers are also providing their current workforce with more opportunities to reskill or even change profession. It is becoming crucial for businesses to implement innovative solutions and focus on the competencies of candidates, rather than on their professional background or experience. Narrowing the skills gap is one of the key challenges for employers and policymakers alike, along with remaining agile to adapt to whatever changes come next. Focusing on core competencies, flexibility and an appetite for learning will be key in this new era.

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