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What it's been like recruiting in the Skills & Employability sector through lockdown.......and what next?

14 July 2020

By Stuart Duffey

What it's been like recruiting in the Skills & Employability sector through lockdown.......and what next?

I think it’s fair to say that the last 3 to 4 months have been tough going. Tough for individuals and their families whose health was directly affected by the virus, tough for those treating it and tough for businesses trying to weather an unprecedented storm.

I thought I would attempt to take stock of what’s happened, where we are up to and what to expect for the remainder of the year with a particular focus on recruitment into the Skills and Employability sector.

For us as a business, lockdown day saw approximately 75% of our active roles cut almost overnight. The remainder, bar one or two senior level appointments, fell away over the following three weeks. We were faced with fixed running costs, no roles to work on and a team of recruiters all working from home with little to do.

We reluctantly decided that the only course of action open to us was to furlough the team, leaving little old me to do whatever recruitment remained whilst keeping the business ticking over.

To compound matters, several offers were withdrawn leaving candidates who were working their notice with firms without roles to go to. This was heart breaking for them and created a real worry for us in terms of cash-flow going into April - the past 3 to 4 months have been a rollercoaster for us all. Working from home has been great to an extent but I am worried about Stockholm Syndrome towards my house when I eventually get back to the office and back on the road. My wife is a primary
teacher so balancing two full time jobs along with the home schooling of our 7 year old daughter has been challenging, testing and fun as well as compounding
my appreciation for every one of you educational professionals out there.

I have spent the time marketing the business and keeping in touch with clients and candidates as best I can and over the last few days have started to welcome Andrew and Dan back to the frontline operation of the business. Hopefully all of you will see our usual levels of communication return as it has been hard to keep up with everyone even though I have tried my best via various methods!

I think we can safely assume that the pandemic has affected recruitment in different ways. There are some sectors that have flourished, other that have been profoundly affected and some that are hanging on in for the inevitable pick up.

Where do our sectors sit?  Skills and FE first. Such a mixed picture as some organisations have flourished and I have worked with some ITP’s recruiting at
every level from Director to Administrator.
I have also seen a lot of investment in Quality teams ensuring ducks are in row to implementation of self-deep dive audits and
“Mocksteads” to prepare for the future.
AEB providers in devolved areas have continued to grow and moved a lot of delivery online which has been fantastic. However, there has also been lots of uncertainty, with mixed messages from the ESFA and the Government resulting in some big players making large scale redundancies, providers handing back contracts and funding and unfortunately some close their doors for good.

I don’t think there has been an independent or college provider that hasn’t furloughed at least some of its staff, particularly at the junior end of the spectrum. The extent to which furloughed staff return and when is a conundrum that will face every organisation (and recruiter) over the next few months.

Employability: We have some great moves by providers to continue to support clients from afar in many innovative and ground-breaking ways. I have heard some amazing stories from across the UK on how interventions and support has continued to be delivered to customers, assisting those in need to access employment even at the height of the pandemic. The view of this sector is future looking, and the question is what comes next with the economy and unemployment figures likely to be the worst in three generations. Sadly, some fantastic professionals have been made redundant which is confusing and frustrating as their skills and knowledge are going to be needed more than ever over the coming months and years in being the vanguard of fighting back out of the crisis.

Business is slowly beginning to pick up. We have seen a smattering of new instructions in the past 3 or 4 weeks and several roles that had been put on ice when lockdown hit, have been reactivated. This is definitely encouraging and now more than ever, across both Skills and Employability, sharing knowledge, open communication and collectiveness to offer solutions for the new post lockdown landscape is key.

As a business Dan, Andrew and I can’t wait to welcome the team back over the next few weeks. Remote working is now the norm, but I will always miss the unique day to day contact and camaraderie that an office environment provides.

The outlook for the second half of 2020 remains unclear. Talking to other recruiters and our clients has been helpful and the majority think that any real activity will be in the final quarter of the year. What is clear is that business as a whole is very unlikely to return to pre Covid levels for a long time yet and it could be 12 months before we see a real upturn in fortunes. However, our sectors could accelerate very quickly and having a hand on the talent available in the market we feel is key to employers in as much as a strong CV and network is key to anyone on the job market or likely to be on the job market in our sector over the coming months.

Until then we need to work harder and smarter than ever, keep our businesses at the forefront of people minds and try to be kind to one another along the way. I have confidence in Dan, Andrew and I, our team and the depth of our client and candidate relationships to drive our sectors forward and see the sector flourish in these testing times.

All the very best

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