More than a year since Covid delivered its first lockdown blow to the UK economy, this month The Global Recruiter held a Recruitment Live online discussion in association with The Access Group to discuss the impact, initial and ongoing, on recruiters dealing with high volume temporary workforces. From the first challenges of the pandemic through to the current opportunities, it was a chance for leaders from the industry to discuss how their businesses had changed, how they had adapted and the way forward.

Logging on were:

Ben Batten, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Volt International
Victoria Holloway, Onsite Sales Director, Berry Recruitment
Sam Price, Head of Client Services, Morson RPO
Roberto Orlandi, GP Recruitment Manager, MCG Healthcare
Charlie Sell, Group Managing Director, Arrows Group
Richard Stevens, Chief Executive Officer, Momenta
Jason Martin, Head of Strategy – Recruitment Division, The Access Group
Simon Kent, Editor, The Global Recruiter

What emerged from the conversation was the significant negative impact the pandemic had had on some sectors compared with others, the impressive and frequently rapid changes and innovations that recruiters had made and the ongoing positive moves which appeared to have come about as the recruiters continued to address their clients’ changing needs.

Richard Stevens detailed how their two and a half thousand client- and partner-based workers all required moving to home working, a task which was easy for some, and involved dealing with complex legacy systems for others. It was a move which they never thought would happen for some clients, but which has since proved a favoured model for the future.

At MCG Healthcare the shutting down of surgeries and operating theatres dealt a severe blow to the levels of talent demand. The company first invested in their own workforce to switch from their reliance on temp bookings to permanent placements. They also worked to make their own offices Covid-safe as soon as possible since this was the preferred working option for their consultants. With the healthcare sector re-opening the business is now working at a much higher volumes than previously and are faced with challenges to find good recruiters to work for them as well as sufficient medical talent to meet demand.

A similar pattern occurred at Berry Recruitment, according to Victoria Holloway, where staff demand encouraged the company to make their branches Covid-safe so that they could retain the benefits of the office environment. She also notes that the company was quick in redeploying candidates from sectors which had shut down to other areas of demand.

While some recruiters found new markets, others found changes made to the length of contracts offered. Charlie Sell noted that some employers were wary of committing to longer time periods simply because they weren’t certain if a resurgence and further lockdowns would disrupt their work. At the same time recruiters found it hard to get the right talent to commit to less certain and shorter term arrangements. Both Sell and Roberto Orlandi felt there needed to be a greater sense of transparency on notice periods so that both candidate and client understood the nature of the work in hand and what could happen.

Richard Stevens noted this transparency also needed to extend to where the work would be situated. While some businesses wanted people to work from home they needed to be clear from the start if that work could transfer back to a specific location. To some extent this was a purely practical consideration – some workers could be stationed many miles away from where the work was formerly done. Making a location change might not be at all possible in these instances.

Remote working has also opened up the ability for recruiters to place workers who may not previously have been able to take certain projects. Ben Batten explained that companies now seemed more open minded about who they would consider, although he also made the point that it had yet to be seen whether this would continue after the Covid restrictions reduced post July 19th.

Sam Price also reported some changes in her business’ work, including the introduction of technology which would manage the compliance side of candidate placement. With social distancing and remote working in place the technology became necessary for client and talent to understand who was working on which project at any particular time.

Price explained the need for recruitment companies to be ‘agile and adaptable’ in order to meet the new circumstances in which they were working. This brought with it a chance to have greater communication and collaboration with clients, pushing further towards recruiters becoming consultants to their clients rather than just suppliers of people. There was a sense of recruiters becoming solution providers, for example delivering the technology workers needed to do the job as well as the workers themselves.

Technology has certainly played a huge part in enabling temporary and high-volume recruiters continue to fulfil the requirements of the clients. Victoria Holloway was not alone in feeling that the digital Right to Work brought new efficiencies to the business. Jason Martin also noted a trend towards the use of technology in bringing recruiters and clients closer together. There was generally a positive reception among participants for platforms which might enable recruiters, candidates and clients to share information and functions to do with the workers’ placement. Such systems could cover onboarding, training and performance measurement. Once again these systems would give greater transparency to any working arrangement while also ensuring clients understood the value of the service provided by recruiters.

Overall, there was a positive sense that the past year’s challenges have enabled the recruitment industry to demonstrate its worth to clients. Those on the call had sensed a swing back towards using recruiters rather than depending on in-house functions and that delivering directly to the client was now a preference rather than being part of a supply chain, simply because the margins for the client could be reduced. As the country continues to open up the recruitment industry seems ready to take advantage of the growing opportunities.