Feature

How has COVID transformed talent acquisition?


Coronavirus has changed the face of working life, but what does this mean for talent acquisition?

Words by Kieran Howells | Design by Lucy Bick

Words by Kieran Howells


Design by Lucy Bick

Whilst the pandemic continues to challenge the business world on many fronts, one of the most drastic changes is to talent acquisition. According to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics, hiring across the UK hit a low in April, as many companies slammed the breaks on hiring.

For prospective job candidates, this has resulted in a highly competitive and challenging environment in which to find work. Again, ONS research shows that between March, when the lockdown began, and September, the number of people claiming unemployment benefits rose 120% to 2.7million.

But what does this mean for HR? Whilst externally it may appear that companies now have a vast talent pool from which to source new professionals, the current climate does present several key challenges, all of which need to be addressed before new talent can be sourced.

When you take away the requirement for everyone to turn up at one location every day, the concept of hiring a more diverse and broader range of talent from anywhere in the UK becomes a lot more logical

Pandemic-sparked hiring changes

Andrew Lawson, Head of HR for the Globe Theatre in London, believes that whilst the current crisis has indeed shaken up the search for talent, the pandemic was a key impetus for change that was inevitable in the long run. Speaking to HR Grapevine, he explains that the move to remote working has opened the door for many businesses to source talent from across the UK and, perhaps, the globe. “When you take away the requirement for everyone to turn up at one location every day, the concept of hiring a more diverse and broader range of talent from anywhere in the UK or abroad, for that matter, becomes a lot more logical. That does put emphasis on HR to ensure that everyone is talking; that communication is strong, but we’ve proven over the past few months that this is possible,” he says.

As Lawson states, for those willing to embrace remote working in the long-term, the door is now open to search for candidates from further afield. However, this highlights another key area in which talent acquisition has changed and evolved – the onboarding process. Previously, taking on new talent involved being physically paraded around the office to introduce the new-starter to the team, lots of on-location training, and having a manager close at hand to offer guidance. Now the process must be conducted entirely remotely.

The key concern in this area for HR is that, for many, the process wasn’t considered effective even before COVID came about. Gallup data compiled in 2019 found that only 12% of employees strongly agree their organisation did a great job of onboarding new employees. That means 88% don't believe their organisations do a great job of onboarding, whilst the same study found that a negative onboarding experience results in new hires being two times more likely to look for other opportunities. One might assume that with in-person onboarding being hard already, positive feedback for remote onboarding would be even worse. Not everyone thinks that way.

Obviously we can no longer meet people in person anymore, so that has massively changed

On the ball

Alex Ehmcke, Operations and People Director at PinkNews, states that whilst managing talent attraction and onboarding in the middle of the pandemic hasn’t been an easy process, he and his team have consciously adapted to fit the needs of the individual. “Obviously we can no longer meet people in person anymore, so that has massively changed, however we stick to the same guidelines, but pivot those to digital,” notes Ehmcke. “So, there’s a rigorous interviewing process that now takes place over video chat to ensure that the candidate fits the role, we offer all of the same resources and training that we would in person but those are now completely digital, and we absolutely drill in that managers and HR are available to talk to at all times."

He continued: “We set up all of the same onboarding meetings with key people that they’re going to be working with over video chat and we always host a digital Friday welcome drinks to give them social time. However, one big thing that we take very seriously is ensuring that any technology is sent to new starters as soon as possible; having the right kit is extremely important so minimising the time spent waiting for that is essential.”

The pandemic has been challenging, but it’s also been a great time to be in HR, because our agenda is in the spotlight

Boost for D&I

And whilst it seems that transforming the onboarding process to digital has been a challenge for many, Donna Miller, HR Director at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, notes that it offers a chance to improve another area of HR’s remit – diversity and inclusion. She continues: “The pandemic has been challenging, but it’s also been a great time to be in HR, because our agenda is in the spotlight. Broadening the talent pool in this time hasn’t only meant hiring people from elsewhere, it also means that the opportunity to offer people positions who maybe wouldn’t have applied otherwise has arisen. Working parents, disabled people who may have mobility issues, these are all people who may well have not applied for the role before, but who add greater perspective to our companies. It’s a silver lining in a bad situation.”

When consulting HR experts like Miller, Ehmcke and Lawson about their experiences in the pandemic, it’s evident that there are still key challenges that HR needs to address in sourcing key talent, but just as evident are the opportunities to improve upon the experience for hired individuals. The reward for doing so can be huge. Research by Glassdoor found that organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. By refining the process to address the ‘new normal’, HR could not only improve the hiring process, but the overall prospects of the company as a whole. This is an opportunity that, in a time when businesses are struggling, is not to be sniffed at.


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