As the situation regarding COVID-19 continues to develop, some of our Technology Scotland members have been able to respond to the calls for assistance we have been seeing across Scotland, and the UK. These responses have taken a variety of forms, from tailoring pre-existing products to provide support in these unprecedented times to innovating business procedures and practices to provide more relevant and efficient services.
We’re proud that those of our members who have been able to provide support, have offered their support in such unprecedented and uncertain times.
This week, we’re taking the time to hear from our corporate sponsors, Enigma People Solutions, on the current recruitment landscape during COVID-19. In this blog, Ben Hanley, Director at Enigma People Solutions, takes a closer look at the impact COVID-19 has been having on the industry and how businesses have been responding, shares some thoughts on leadership, remote working and looks to the future and, looking ahead to the future, predicts the top five changes we’ll be seeing as we come out of COVID-19.
A Tech Recruiter’s View of COVID-19
The past couple of months have been as fast a paced rollercoaster of emotions for leaders in the tech industry as many will care to remember! It has been clear from many posts that everyone’s mental health has been stretched Andrew Dobbie of Made Brave wrote a great piece about this that will resonate, I am sure, with many tech and non-tech business owners.
In the main companies in our ecosystem have battened down the hatches recruitment wise but have not furloughed many staff and are operating as best as they can remotely. Remote working has been relatively seamless for those that had flexible working initiatives in place to start with and for all others will force a rethink on allowing flexible working and home working options moving forward. I wrote in a response to a comment on LinkedIn recently that “having the opportunity to work from home is one thing, it offers flexibility. Being “forced” to work from home is completely different and yes can lead to isolation. We as humans need social contact, some more than others, we do better with those water cooler moments and office banter.” This is why so many companies have invested in “culture” over recent years. I have great sympathy for those trying to work from home and manage home learning especially for younger children this must lead to constantly being pulled in two directions which cannot be fun or good for one’s mental state.
In many cases social distancing is manageable in the manufacturing sites as the machines and workstations are typically some distance apart and the clean rooms and clean suits worn help with protection against virus transmission. My expectation and hope is that most R&D teams will remain unscathed assuming lockdown measures are eased in June onwards, however, it is hard to tell what impacts will be felt by specific markets that these companies feed into. We are already seeing clients that feed into Automotive sector for example show concerns over the impact of Covid-19 on that sector. Not all companies will come out unscathed and we know of at least one company that was awaiting Chinese investment that has had to let staff go as a result of that investment being halted albeit, we hope, temporarily.
There are a few companies that have been quite bullish and we have just completed a retained search for a Head of Operations where the whole process was conducted via video interviews. Brilliant forward thinking and flexibility by senior and experienced professionals on both client and candidate sides.
One of our newer and larger clients is forging ahead recognising that recruitment cycles for rare skills can last 3-6 months so no sense in turning off the candidate flow and certainly much of the recruitment process can be managed online and via video interviews.
In a time when we are all experiencing so many different challenges and emotions leadership is vital. To me, one of the key roles of leaders (whether relating to a business, family or community) is to make people feel safe and supported. Now and over the coming weeks we will all be presented with opportunities to demonstrate that leadership. I have already seen some great examples of this from local shop keepers providing support to their communities to corporate leaders giving clear support and security to their teams. As business leaders we are in position to support our employees and as mentioned previously, I have great sympathy for those trying to work from home and manage home learning for children under the age of say 13/14. Endless Zoom meetings can have their toll as well, so it is important that we allow employees to try to generate their own work life balance for now. This New Jersey based article about the Mental Health fallout from Covid-19 struck a chord with me.
I do wonder whether we will, once lockdown ends, just wipe our brows and return quickly to the old normal of meetings, driving around, flying, booking holidays and treat Covid-19 like it was some sort of bad dream. I was intrigued by this article on post lockdown growth that discusses the challenges we face as the global economy restarts.
One thing is clear and that is we have proven to ourselves beyond doubt that we can enact massive change however this is easiest if imposed by governments. I hope that as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic we look at how we work and live and take the chance to implement some of the changes that have been forced on us at this time in a way that reduces our negative impact on the planet and allows us to be more prosperous in terms of health and community.
Of course, things will pick up again but there is a clear message to take from this experience. We can develop a “new normal” after this. To create a “new normal” does not require massive change from anyone, it will require small changes from everyone that will stack up. Possibly, shop less frequently, less work travel and meetings but conference virtually more often, walk an extra mile and reduce the car journeys. Will there be a Green Recovery as Kristalina Georgieva Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund asserts?
So with an eye on the future here are my 5 changes we may well see as a result of all of this
Rebirth of UK Manufacturing – Well maybe not a rebirth but certainly an increase in self-sufficiency. Already an issue as the UK moved away from the EU, the need for there to be a stronger ability within the UK to be self-sufficient has been magnified by this crisis which has shown the gaps in our internal capabilities and supply chain. There is an opportunity to develop a stronger manufacturing industry.
A rise in flexible working – more video calls, flexible working policies renewed but companies will again think more about the culture they create.
Reduction in travel – possibly for international holidays although I think that will bounce back but I do think we will see a reduction in business travel as meetings and interviews are conducted online. Industry events may change again as it is more cost and time effective to run events online through webinars etc. This in truth is continuing an upwards trend in webinars.
A return of purpose – I expect that following Covid-19, partly by necessity as the jobs landscape changes, people will reflect and reconnect with their purpose and we shall see a rise in start-ups and also people moving career to pursue their passion or develop services or products that solve issues close to their hearts.
Innovation – in line with the recognition of some of the challenges laid bare by Covid-19 we will see an increase in medical tracking apps, an increase in social tracking aps and initiatives to support or bring solutions and efficiencies to the medical and care sectors.
There are clear signs that at the entry level of the industry is facing a downturn as always happens in recessions graduate recruitment and internships will be cancelled or at least significantly affected. It is difficult to manage internships when practicing social distancing. We must be careful to invest in young engineers as history has shown that recessions cause a shortage of talent when growth does eventually return.
The other group I worry about most is contractors. Contractors were already under pressure as a result of changes to IR35 that have now been paused and are in for a rough ride as the markets pick up but cautiousness remains. Unsurprisingly March 2020 was the worst month for new contract jobs in 11 years
One thing is clear – recruitment is a marvellous barometer of the health of an industry. When there is growth there are more jobs and fewer candidates available, when there is contraction there are more candidates and fewer jobs. The tech industry and especially the specialist markets that Enigma People Solutions supports of Electronics, Photonics and Semiconductors has long had an issue with low availability of staff so my expectation is that even if jobs stay flat talent will still be in demand.
Enigma People Solutions is an award-winning technology recruitment consultancy. We find technical leaders for the emerging and enabling technology industries. Visit our job search page for the latest vacancies in photonics, electronics, semiconductor, software and IoT in Scotland and the UK. Check out our blog page for the latest in the technology industry. You can get in touch with us [email protected] or call us on + 44 131 510 8150
Are you a member of Technology Scotland that has been contributing to the COVID-19 response? Get in touch with us at [email protected] if you would like to be featured in this blog series.