Recruiting key talent during COVID-19


Emily Rourke, Coles Group’s National Talent Acquisition Manager – Retail Leadership recently shared her learnings from recruiting key talent during COVID-19 and her best strategies for attracting, engaging and securing candidates in this unique environment, in our first Spotlight Series webinar for the year. This guest post covers all of the best bits of the webinar.

Attracting, engaging and securing top talent during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest workforce challenges faced by talent mobility, talent management and recruitment professionals in recent years. With limits on international travel, candidate supply down across a diverse range of job families, pressure on salaries and changing employee priorities, hiring great talent has never been more complex.

The question on many organisation’s talent agenda, is ‘how do we recruit top talent in this unique environment?

In such a fast-paced industry and an even faster market, it’s easy to get swept up into rushing onto the next challenge or project as quickly as possible. But it’s important to stop and take stock of the transformation the industry has experienced, what we have learned over the past 12 months and to really consider the areas of opportunity and where we can apply these learnings moving forward. This way we are preparing ourselves for the year ahead as well as future proofing our approach to talent pipelining and management.

Considering the various impacts on the market:

  • The reduction in travel and changes for visa holders has had a knock-on effect, as all businesses are recruiting from a reduced pool of candidates.
    Initially many organisations saw an influx of applications as people were stood down, jobs were put on hold, and there was uncertainty about what would happen next. However, as the situation evolved and restrictions changed, this then shifted to a very tight candidate market and a decrease in ‘available’ talent.
  • Visa conditions have changed for many people remaining onshore.
    Some candidates were required to relocate for additional support and to comply with updated visa requirements. For example, from metro to regional areas to help back up recruitment needs in those locations.
  • Limited and unpredictable ability to move between states has impacted process flow and employee experience.
    The physical act of moving interstate became more difficult and so it has become more challenging to keep employees engaged and motivated for a move, with so much ambiguity. This has also affected people’s perceptions around moving. Many of those who may have been interested in relocating are holding off until they can move more freely or are reconsidering what it would take to make moving an attractive opportunity.
  • People ‘sheltering’ in their current positions.
    A common feeling among candidates is concern about the security of moving into a new business, where they could be ‘last in, first out’. With so much uncertainty elsewhere in the world they are opting to stick with the status quo for now, making it more difficult to compel candidates to move.
    These candidates tend to be using the time to research the market, learn about potential employers and consider what they want their next move to be.
  • Some people are leaving the ‘temporary employment’ they sought while so many businesses were on hold to go back to their original industries, and others are reconsidering what their future career looks like.
    According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 93% of jobs impacted at the beginning of the pandemic have recovered. So, while the perception is that there are lots of people out there looking for work, that’s not the case. The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in years at 4.5% and it is continuing to trend downwards. There has also been an increase in the number of people who are unemployed, but are not actively seeking work, due to prohibitive factors such as childcare costs or commitments to further education. There is continuous movement in this space, so it is often coming down to a case of supply and demand.
  • There has been growth in demand from employers for certain roles and skill sets.
    Requirements for candidates with skills and experience in ‘growth areas’ such as essential workers, IT, Technology, eCommerce and Health and Safety is providing candidates with these skills with multiple viable job options.

These impacts have placed significant pressure on salaries.

People aren’t afraid to ask for what they think they’re worth or what they’ve seen on the market. This coupled with, fewer candidates on the market and therefore a generally less competitive recruitment process, means that to secure top talent businesses need to present a reasonable and compelling offer. Salary is a big part of this but benefits, security and company culture and values are also an important part of ‘the package’ on offer.

Meanwhile, people’s priorities around what they are looking for have changed somewhat over the past year.

People seem to have taken the time to revaluate what their priorities are and what is important to them – if they are going to stay in their current role, what do they need to do to keep progressing in it and if they are going to move, what kind of work culture and benefits do they want?
Some of the most common ‘new’ questions for recruiters are around expectations for working from home and more flexible work arrangements to accommodate work/life blending.
Job security has unsurprisingly jumped up the priority list as well – what happens if we have another COVID19 wave or something else happens that impacts our borders?
Candidates are looking at how businesses have responded to the pandemic, whether they reacted swiftly enough, how they managed the impact on their teams and if they have robust processes and measures in place.
Wellbeing has become increasingly important too – what policies does the organisation have in place around team member wellbeing and how well do they walk the talk in supporting their employees through both the bad times and the good?

If we are going to be able to recruit top talent, we need to future-proof our business’s talent requirements:

  • Make sure you have Recruitment 101 covered
    Ensure the right processes are in place so you can offer a great mobility experience for both your stakeholders and your candidates, and that you are communicating with candidates on current issues and trends.
  • Plan for the long game
    Look at your strategy and consider what the business’s goals are over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. Just because there are particular roles in demand right now, it doesn’t mean you need to plan for that if that’s not where your business is headed. Forecast where your gaps are going to be, build good relationships with your pooled talent and be open and creative about identifying transferrable skills and experience so you broaden your horizons and widen your pools of available talent.
  • Prioritise internal development and progression
    Some businesses can take this for granted when it’s an employer’s market, opting to hire in the skills they need rather than investing in developing their internal pipeline. Often the best talent, is the talent you already have.
  • Have a strong employee value proposition
    Make sure your employee value proposition is visible and transparent. Knowing what your business stands for, what you offer and what you expect will build interest and allows candidates to gain a sense of connection with your business, so you’ll be top-of-mind as somewhere they might want to work when they are ready to move.
  • Be flexible
    It’s important to look at areas where you can be more flexible in what you’re looking for, and train and support hiring managers where needed so they are able to identify the skills and qualities that make your business great – beyond someone that has done the job before in a similar industry.
  • Be on the same page as your stakeholders on what a great candidate looks like and what support you are able to offer them.
    Having the conversation up-front about what a great candidate looks like (discussing transferrable skills and experience, as well as ‘like-for-like’ hires), confirming what benefits can be offered and what success looks like if candidates need relocating or mobility support, speeds up the process and ensures you are able to provide a great candidate experience.
  • Recognise that the way we work is changing rapidly – and that as a result, managing a geographically dispersed and remote workforce has become part of the ‘new normal’.
    Have an organised, inclusive and engaging approach to working with a remote workforce. If this is done well it will improve collaboration and communication, while adding to the value proposition and reputation of the organisation.

It’s an exciting time to be working in our industry and right now we have the unique opportunity to make mobility a part of ‘business as usual’.
I’d love to hear from you on what else you’re doing to future-proof your business’s talent requirements. Feel free to continue the conversation on LinkedIn.

About Emily Rourke
Emily is the national Talent Acquisition Manager – Retail Leadership for Coles Group where her team is responsible for attracting, engaging and securing the top specialist and retail leadership talent to join Coles Group brands.
Starting her recruitment career in the UK more than 10 years ago, Emily has worked for agencies, global retailers and loved national brands in talent acquisition, employer branding, internal culture and PR and communications.

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