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Steve Isenberg

COVID-19 and the Staffing Industry: The Realities, the Recovery

Posted on: November 11, 2020

By: Steve Isenberg

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie

As the final chapters are sutured into the book of 2020, no one is asking if the coronavirus affected the staffing industry. Few are even pondering about how COVID-19 impacted the staffing industry. Instead, the burning inquiries have moved past the if and how, to questions like can the staffing industry recover, and if so, when?

Of course, a worldwide pandemic that catapults millions into the unemployment line will leave an indelible mark on the staffing industry. And in this case, the abruptness of the furlough brought about a massive case of whiplash.  So, the if was never in question at all.

But let’s focus for a moment on the how. Knowing the stats would be staggering, many folks have contented themselves with vague estimates like tons, boatloads, and other generic, non-techy terms. Well, it’s time to rip off the band-aid and bare the truth.

 The Realities

Rakesh Kochhar, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center, reports that the coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic downturn swelled unemployed Americans’ ranks from its perch among the lowest rates in decades, at 3.8% in February, to 13% in May. In round numbers, the unemployed vaulted from 6.2 million to 20.5 million.  In April, the rate peaked at 14.4%, although some believe the May rate may have reached 16%, this cannot be substantiated due to measurement challenges.

You may be wondering how the COVID-19 crisis compares to past employment crises. According to a Pew Center analysis of government data, the Great Recession, 2007 to the beginning of 2010, saw a peak unemployment rate of 10.6 in January 2010. Kochhar notes our current COVID-19 recession is comparable to the Great Depression when the unemployment rate is estimated to have reached 25%.

According to Bullhorn’s Global Recruitment Insights and Data Covid-19 Impact Survey, fielded in North America and the U.K. in May and June of 2020—

  • 82% of U.K. businesses had laid off at least some of their workforce
  • 46% of North American companies had laid off or furloughed employees
  • 81%, said that reduction in job requests had been their biggest customer-related challenge
  • 21% reported clients were unable to make payments
  • The U.S. staffing industry suffered a 21% decrease from 2019, with the market shrinking from $152 billion to roughly $119 billion since the COVID-19 outbreak, dropping to its lowest level since 2013

CEO Today reports—

  • As of April 2020, 60% of American employers had reduced their job openings, with almost 25% of companies closing all their postings completely.
  • Glassdoor experienced the site’s lowest number of job posting since February 2017.

Sandwiched between the difficult-to-swallow stats are some possibly more positive, perhaps surprising findings.

  • 30% of staffing and recruiting professionals reported their businesses to be doing better or as well as the previous year
  • 42% of recruiters across North America and the U.K. say they have not reduced their internal workforce.
  • While 2% predicted a sustained depression that extends past 2021, 56% expect the economy to improve by the end of the year.

The Recovery

The good news? Those in the know predict that staffing will recover faster than the overall economic recovery. Changes in staffing are commonplace due to a myriad of factors. One might even say that change within the industry is the norm. Expect a recovery, yes, but experts caution that returning to the same ol’, same ol’ is unlikely.

Gordon Burnes, Chief Marketing Officer at Bullhorn, says, “While respondents expect permanent changes to the industry, such as the rise of remote jobs, staffing and recruiting is still fundamentally about people, and the top priorities for agencies—improving client and candidate engagement—demonstrate that the path to success is through relationships.”

It means that now’s the time to aggressively market, strengthen awareness of your brand, keep your name on the front burner, and do so while connecting with the consumer.

Mandy Wittschem offers strategies that will improve both healthy relationships and brand awareness.

  1. Pivot to serve related skill disciplines

Think of your talent pool’s transferable skill sets and how they could be used in novel ways to help employers that need staffing now.

 Help your clients with a plan 

Do your clients need remote workers? Assistance with rightsizing their workforce? Help them develop a 30-, 60- or 90-day workforce plan to get through this crisis. Be their value-added partner now, and they will remember it later.

When it comes to aggressively marketing your staffing agency, ASJ Partners’ experienced team and cutting-edge strategies will get the job done with a customized plan that fits your unique brand. Let our six-point process determine your company’s path for marketing success.


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