Planning for Workforce Uncertainty

March 23, 2020 Sarah Peiker

Even in the best of moments, these are worrying times. The physical, social, and economic toll of COVID-19 is already devastating. At the same time, businesses need to address the challenges of today while preparing for an uncertain future. Finding the right balance won’t be easy, but our shared ability to encourage productivity and future growth will directly impact both business and human outcomes in the years to come.

I run the global recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) practice for ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions. We work with thousands of companies and millions of employees and candidates around the world, which gives us a unique view into the world of work, especially when times change.

While the current situation is obviously very different—and more acute in many ways—some of the uncertainty we’re seeing is reminiscent of the 2008 crash and the recession that followed. In particular, it has me thinking about how some companies were better prepared than others to adjust to new realities in their workforces. That preparation paid off during other times of uncertainty, such as with Brexit, new regulations or geopolitical concerns. And again, it paid off again when unemployment hit historical lows and demand for certain skill sets intensified. With that in mind, here are three things we’ve learned that can help companies prepare for uncertainty:

Put Scalable, Flexible Resources in Place

From a workforce standpoint, all we can be certain of in the face of an uncertain future is that most companies’ needs are going to change. Many will be forced to make difficult decisions based on reduced demand for their products and services. Others will find themselves in periods of rapid and unexpected growth. How long that will last or when it will shift is up in the air.

In the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession, many companies reduced the size of their talent acquisition functions. In the years that followed, some used RPO to establish flexible recruiting teams that could be scaled up and down as necessary. When things turned around, these companies were able to act fast, quickly ramping up their recruiting efforts, which kept business running smoothly. And now? Some of those companies are scaling up and others are scaling down, as needed.

We also know from past experience that times of significant change usually force HR leaders and front-line managers to turn their attention to core business issues and away from recruiting and hiring. Recruiting professionals can help you maintain empathetic candidate engagement during difficult times. Your hiring plans may change, but your employer brand remains as important as ever.

Leverage Recruiting Technology and Social Tools

If you can stay home, please do. But don’t cancel an interview with that hard-to-find candidate just yet.

While recruiting processes have evolved considerably over the past several years, it is likely that the response to COVID-19 will cause an even more dramatic shift as companies adapt to solutions such as video interviewing, online and mobile assessments, and social candidate engagement. For example, research conducted March 11 by Talent Board and the Candidate Experience Awards found that 58% of employers were scheduling more virtual candidate interviews as a result of the COVID-19,  up from 39% in a survey conducted just nine days earlier.

The way we connect to each other in the world has changed and may very well continue to do so. It’s already accelerating our reliance on digital recruiting. RPO can help to establish and facilitate technology solutions to keep talent acquisition efforts on track.

Don’t Slack on Developing Talent Pipelines

In the current environment, future hiring needs and production demands will be difficult to predict. What we do know is that some hard-to-find talent will remain elusive for the foreseeable future (health care professionals, delivery drivers, and IT staff come to mind). We also know from the 2008-09 experience that over the next few years, demand for specific skill sets, including brand new ones, will likely emerge.

Connecting with candidates and cultivating talent pools you can draw on in the future will be essential. Whether it’s supporting programs for aspiring welders and electricians or maintaining relationships with full-stack developers and sales professionals, RPO providers can help to identify work-ready and future talent and develop the relationships to keep those candidates engaged.

Workforce planning has historically favored known variables over unknown ones, but that won’t work in today’s reality. Being ready for an uncertain future is the best thing we can do for our companies and for the people we’ll work with, today and tomorrow.

This article was published on Linkedin and is part of a series of articles in which we share some of the trends Talent Solutions is seeing in the market, along with insights about what organizations can do to mitigate risks and disruptions as we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
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