Recruitment in an age of Covid

Chris Hickey of Robert Walters outlines hiring trends to look out for in 2021 as the recruitment company reveals its latest Salary Survey.

Recruitment: People seated waiting for interviews holding CVs


As a survey by KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation shows recruitment of staff in the UK expanded last month for the first time since September, driven mainly by temporary roles and at uneven rates across the country, we speak to Chris Hickey – UK CEO of recruiter Robert Walters about recruitment during Covid, trends to watch out for this year and about Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021 [based on the views of 2,000 UK professionals]. It shows a big demand for remote working with over half [57%] saying they would like to move to full-time remote working in 2021 and nearly a third saying Covid working has improved their communications skills due to an increased demand for virtual presentations, over-the-phone meetings and video calls. Nevertheless, 40% said that they feel Covid-19 will have a negative impact on their career plans and 26% are considering entering a new industry. Over half of those in a job are looking to move jobs in the next months. A separate survey of 300 employers found 61% will be looking to change their offering in response to the change in employees’ expectations with reduced or reconfigured office space (59%), enhanced mental health and well being policies (58%) and an increased investment in technology, apps and tools (44%) being the top three changes businesses will consider taking in 2021. A quarter of companies’ stated that senior leadership preferring more ‘traditional benefits’ is their main barrier to implementing change to their employer value proposition.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the hiring market in 2020?

Chris Hickey: “2020 has certainly been a year of upheaval and disruption, with the Covid-19 pandemic having a profound effect on both the UK and global markets.

“Added to that, people’s lack of clarity around Brexit further compounded uncertainty.

“Whilst the Brexit indecision dominated the first few months of 2020, it was Q2 where an element of shock was felt by companies and professionals alike due to Covid-19.

“In spite of this, from the summer, we began to see a readjustment on a number of levels – aided by the UK’s highly skilled and adaptable workforce and the speed and ease with which many firms were able to transition to remote working.

“Even with the broader market challenges, there has been positivity in some sectors this year, although this has been countered by substantial difficulties in others – such as retail, leisure, travel, and hospitality.

“Areas that have done notably well out of the disruption have been those that are aligned to technology, supply chain and logistics, healthcare and financial services – particularly in areas that rely on volatility such as hedge funds, broker-dealers and the trading arms of investment banks.”

Which skill sets will be in highest demand in 2021?

CH: “Judging by previous market cycles, senior professionals who have expertise in restructuring and turnarounds will be in high demand as the UK initially emerges from its recessionary market.

“Experienced individuals that are able to communicate effectively to provide training and advice to more junior staff will also be highly valued as the markets begin to pick up and transition into a growth cycle.

“Whilst initial focus for hiring will primarily be for senior talent who possess strong communication skills, roles for junior staff and foot-in-door individuals will also begin to surface in turn, as demand cascades through sector by sector.”

What key workplace trends do you anticipate in 2021?

CH: “As a headline, we anticipate that some of the changes incorporated into workplaces as a result of Covid-19 in 2020 will be more enshrined in day to day working environments going forward.

“With this in mind, we expect the way of working to change in a number of sectors, with an element of remote working continuing to be incorporated in some industries and sectors.

“Whilst the pandemic did not necessarily bring about entirely new trends in working-style, it certainly fast-tracked the inevitable around flexible working – speeding the transition up by as much a 5-10 years for some companies.

“One trend of note post-lockdown in the UK was when workplace restrictions were temporarily eased by the government, we saw a number of professionals gravitating back to an office for a variety of reasons.

“With a general view that offices provide a clear delineation between work and home, as well as in a number of sectors benefitting productivity, communication and well being – offices will continue to remain a social hub for many professionals, albeit a socially distanced hub for the short term.”

What advice would you give hiring managers looking to recruit and retain employees in 2021?

CH: “As ever, hiring managers need to remain flexible.

“Instead of waiting for the ideal candidate in this market, consider candidates who shows potential, the right aptitude and a willingness to learn.

“Hiring managers who wait for a 10/10 will lose out to the competition – particularly in industries that are poised to grow at a rapid rate once the market turns around – such as travel, leisure and hospitality.

“With so much movement of talent, it is crucial that hiring managers get a solid understanding of transferable skills.

“Whilst it has been a disruptive 10 months, it is important to note that, pre-pandemic, the global economy was very much moving in the right direction – with markets and jobs at an all-time high in most developed and developing nations.

“Whilst Covid-19 is something that has thrown that flow out-of-sync, there will be a period where markets begin to ‘pick up where they left off’. “

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