Updated: Mar 9
It has been more than a year since COVID hit us. The beginning of 2020 was marked by an initial slowdown with an almost complete shutdown of several sectors. This first wave caused a major economic slowdown and, in turn, put a brake on recruitment. While most lockdown measures were eased in the summer, a second wave prevented the long-awaited recovery before fall. Despite this, some resilient companies continued to move forward at all costs and kept their activities going, and in some cases, kept recruiting.
The health crisis has even been a source of opportunity for some sectors. One thinks of the health and social services sectors, of course, but also of certain branches of pharmacy, biotech and medtech, sectors linked to the food chain (food trade, food industry and agriculture) or the information and communication sciences sectors.
Indeed, the rapid rise in remote work, education and civic life have accelerated already existing trends. These include remote learning, video games, telephony, cyber security, e-health, collaborative work software and other sharing platforms, and more generally the digitization of processes. Generally, management and executive functions are not experiencing the same tightening, given their usefulness in managing the impacts of the crisis while paving the way for a brighter future.
Lessons learned from 2008
Following the economic crisis of 2008, the OSEO report showed us that the companies that had been the most stable are those that have been able to innovate and respond to the new needs of businesses and consumers. Innovation can be a key to anticipate a possible recovery, or even continue to grow during unstable times, emerging from the crisis well-adapted to the new reality.
Situations of uncertainty frequently lead companies to reinvent themselves. One of the ways to do this is to invest in people: hiring, renewing or training their talents. However, in 2008, some companies had favoured a strategy that was a little too "cautious" and stopped all recruitment activities, thus losing visibility among talents. Today, it is clear that a different approach is needed to maintain ties with their target candidates, especially in a tense and penurious market. It is essential for organizations to keep promoting their employer brand.
Investing in R&D to prepare for a post-pandemic world
Innovation can also be achieved through continued R&D efforts. The uncertain situation means rethinking the technological building blocks, processes, training, work organization, etc., and the need to develop new technologies. It is therefore an advantage to have the skills and talents necessary to innovate at all levels throughout the value chain.
The crisis must also be taken as an opportunity in terms of R&D not only in the sectors at the frontline of crisis management but also in all the sectors where the new reality is going to change our way of consuming, our expectations or our business models. While companies that are building their future through R&D are competing fiercely to attract the bright young minds that are essential to making their vision a reality, the effective reduction in job offers in the market could enable agile SMEs to access talent that may have been out of reach in recent years. In contrast to the second quarter of 2020, in the first quarter of 2021, many companies decided "not to wait for a less uncertain period to come" and to restart hiring at all costs. Currently, we see that innovative startups are actively resuming their recruitment of scientific and technical profiles to relaunch their R&D projects (and possibly benefit from certain R&D subsidies), as well as business development talents, preparing for the end of the crisis. Indeed, having these talents now could help companies take action and get ahead of their competitors.
PhDs are among the first-rate talents to implement and lead innovative projects. In France, and abroad, they also benefit from incentives (Crédit d'Impôt Recherche in France, for example). But what about their current desire for professional and geographical mobility? Whether it is to reach the places where research in their field is most advanced or simply out of necessity to further their career, PhDs typically are highly mobile at the national and international level. However, since the start of the pandemic, we see a clear decrease in professional mobility for employed PhDs. While some prefer to remain in their current position and delay their external development projects, researchers with soon-to-expire contracts are thinking more seriously and are more cautious about moving. This is amplified by the health context that favours remote work and has a strong impact on national and international travel. With the new reality, the watchword is caution. This situation can also be observed for all management staff. "Contrary to what one might think, despite the staff reductions in many companies and the less numerous job offers, it is not necessarily easier to recruit at this time, since the accessible talent pool is reduced by the reluctance to geographic or professional mobility", comments Adoc Talent Management CEO Dr. Amandine Bugnicourt.
This situation brings the need to take a stand on a number of new issues as employers: the increasing openness to remote work, flexible working hours, benefits (not necessarily monetary). Let's bet that these questions will remain relevant even after the pandemic is over.
It goes without saying that recruiting, even in normal times, is already an investment with a cost and a share of risk for any organization. While this is even more true in times of uncertainty, it remains important to anticipate new business opportunities during and after the pandemic. Having the right talents at the right time can enable organizations to seize these opportunities and restart their growth momentum.