HR Nov / Dec 2020

Recruiting recovery

An industry comes to grips with the effects of a global health crisis

Covid-19 has had wide-ranging effects on a number of industries, so it should come as no surprise that the business of executive recruitment took a hit in the wake of the pandemic.

However, despite the initial difficulties—which included sharp decreases in placements for several months—recruiting firms are finding their feet as they adjust to the new business environment.

Tight competition

That doesn’t mean the first months of the outbreak weren’t without their challenges. Ryan Yasunari, president and chief executive of Envision Co., Ltd., said there was a “significant slowdown in the volume of hiring, with a large proportion of our clients freezing headcount almost immediately after the start of the pandemic”.

One crucial component of the recruitment equation—people seeking new employment—will face challenges in the year to come, despite a fore­casted improve­ment in the global economic landscape. Yasunari explained that this will mean that job-seekers will experience “difficulty securing new opportu­nities as competition for a limited number of positions remains intense”.

He added that, even if the global economy improves, the recruitment industry will continue to face major challenges. “There are significant head­winds in the long term, particularly associated with the increased prevalence of recruitment solution services, including recruitment process out­­sourcing and direct sourcing services. Increased job board participation and the introduction of artificial intelligence and recruitment technology also threaten the traditional recruitment-agency model”.

Adjust quickly

Similar to other businesses facing drastic changes due to the pandemic, recruit­ment firms have adapted quickly. As Jeremy Sampson, managing director of Robert Walters Japan K.K.—which sponsored the British Business Awards this year—explained, firms across the industry have moved rapidly to conduct interviews and place new hires virtually. In fact, according to a survey they conducted in May, 90% of firms have shifted to remote interviews.

The silver lining to the changes on the global economic landscape is that new horizons have appeared, Sampson said. “Covid-19 has opened new opportunities for businesses in technology, e-commerce and healthcare. We have seen an increased demand for services that support remote working environments and online education as a result of rapid adoption of digital tools,” he continued.

“The digital and technology sectors have always experienced a shortage of highly skilled professionals. And with increased digitalisation, it is likely that demand will only grow stronger”.

He is optimistic that, even when the pandemic abates, the demand for highly skilled, bilingual professionals will remain steady—and is even likely to increase.

Market needs

One of the defining factors of recruitment in Japan, Sampson said, is that there is a “chronic talent shortage”. This creates an opening for firms who will be hiring in the new normal.

“Organisations who understand that the pandemic is temporary are shaping their recruit­ment strategies based on long-term hiring needs. Businesses in industries that are experiencing particularly acute talent shortages are seizing the opportunity by actively hiring when the competi­tion for talent is not as tight,” he explained.

One of the dynamics that makes recruiting a difficult business at any time in Japan is that there is a marked disparity between the talent available and the demand for it. “Japan continues to be one of the most challenging markets in which to secure talent,” he explained. The steady greying of Japanese demographics is also not improving the situation.

However, an upside still remains. In both the short and long terms, promising bilingual profes­sionals will find their stock rising—and plenty of firms will be willing to go the extra mile for them.