Navigating the Post-Lockdown Job Market

WFH Culture

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on employment and work culture in New Zealand. From wide-ranging redundancies and pay cuts to the rise of WFH and a favour for freelance, recruiters share their impressions of the current job market and what needs to be done to get ahead post-Lockdown.

In May, Treasury revealed that it forecasts unemployment will more than double from the current 4.2 percent to a peak of 9.8 percent by the fourth quarter of 2020. Companies have been forced to change the way in which they operate and many talented Kiwis are being made redundant due to financial struggles. The media and advertising sectors have been particularly hard hit. The closure of Bauer Media which resulted in 274 jobs lost as well as the 200 freelancers they supported, and the 200 staff from NZME made redundant, point to the difficulties these creative industries face.

Recruitment agencies operating in this space say that while companies have continued to employ freelance, contract and some permanent staff post-Lockdown, this has not been at a volume seen pre-Covid-19 – pointing to tough times ahead for job seekers.

Louise Lawton, director at The Creative Store, notes that the majority of this employment has come from the client side as opposed to creative agency. “Lockdown saw clients almost immediately put their jobs on hold and a lot of freelance assignments cancelled, this has made things tough,” she says. The recruitment agency has since had a steady stream of candidates get in touch who have been made redundant, including designers, copywriters, client service, digital marketing and digital producers.

Talent director at The Pond, Leighton Howl, tends to agree with this sentiment stating fulltime recruitment within the sector is dead unless the business is not affected by Covid-19. “This however equates to only about 10 percent of companies,” he estimates.

Added to the drop in fulltime employment, many companies have cut existing employee salaries by between 20-30 percent in the short term, making recruitment post-Lockdown challenging to navigate. “This makes it very hard to hire someone in a team when team members have taken a percent pay cut in hours or dollars. You can see the awkwardness – and why it would make hiring difficult,” says Howl.

Howl does say that companies are still hiring contractors as rates are often confidential and hiring is more flexible and task-focused. “We’re expecting an increase in the need for freelancers and contractors in the coming months. The flexible nature of using freelancers or contractors reducers risk and employee costs for the company – they are ‘off the books’ as they say,” he says.

Despite the tough times ahead, Debbie Kitson director at Portfolio Recruitment, is optimistic about the future of recruitment within the sector. “During [Lockdown] we met amazing new talent and when clients are ready to start recruiting again, they’ll have the choice of some fantastic people.” She does however caution that prospective employees will need to be flexible in terms of their offering and pay.

“We’d like to think that employees who have managed to retain their roles will be grateful for this, as it has certainly not been a given for everyone. Overall everyone will need to demonstrate kindness, flexibility and patience with the ‘new normal’, whatever that might be.”

Howl reiterates the importance for job seekers to be open to new ways of performing their roles. “This could mean adapting to new processes, less admin, more stepping outside your ‘skills’ comfort zone. i.e. you may be in a small agency and need to take the rubbish out as the intern role is gone.”

When it comes to remuneration for new roles, Lawton says that employees should lower their salary expectations, at least in the short-medium term. “Employees will be expected to be open to change within their role in this new post-Lockdown world as the job pool gets fuller. With redundancies, job functions may change and morph, which on a positive, will give employees the chance to learn new skills. There is a real mix out there, we are hearing about a lot of reduced hour and reduced pay. How long companies are going to do this for is an unknown,” she says.

Freelance Frenzy

Due to staff cuts, a freelancer market could be on the horizon. Lawton believes it will be the first area to step up, while companies recover and build up revenue. “Clients who have perhaps been hesitant to go down the freelance route, will be more open to using this flexible solution to save money.”

Kitson agrees saying that a freelancer market may be the case initially as studios get back into the swing of things and as their requirements become more clear. She adds it will be very much dependent on the specific role and situation. “Candidates without work will of course need to be open-minded about opportunities. Roles they might have been in prior, might not necessarily be options moving forward, it’s certainly going to be a time for reassessment of needs all round.”

“100 percent. It is a freelance and contractor market. Both are different in recruitment. Why? They enable the business to roll out ebbs and flows of workload and project value and pin things harder to budget and mitigate lost margin.

“Contracts are on a fixed rate and price so are an accountants dream employee. They’re also skilled, fast, senior, dynamic and bring a newfound energy to a company, as they often have opinions, experience to back up their existence,” says Howl.

The WFH Phenomenon

Working from home and the flexible working hour has also increased in recent years, particularly intensely since Covid-19 hit. Many companies utilise flexitime, which will continue to increase within sectors where employees are not required to be in the office full time.

Working from home has certainly shown that it is feasible and Portfolio are hoping there will be more flexibility with this. Kitson says some people work exceptionally well in the working from home environment, while for others it is unnatural. “There’s a lot to be said for being in a studio, by nature its generally a collaborative environment, and as a result works more effectively face-to-face than in a virtual one.

“It has been great to see the sharing that has gone on through Lockdown and the ‘human side’ of virtual meetings, where you’re seeing people in their home environment.”

Despite the fact that many are still working from home during Alert Level 2, Howl tends to disagree with the above sentiment, saying there’s a 90 percent chance that our working habits won’t change as we emerge out of the pandemic. “We’re humans and we’ll revert back to what we’ve been doing for centuries. Some roles require different levels of team input and can be just as effective WFH. In others, collaboration is key to productive and success.

“If you are growing, perhaps that move to a bigger space can be put on hold for now by utalising WFH for suitable roles. “

However, for every yin there’s a yang. Unfortunately not great for the commercial property sector, leasing and new office developments will take a hit as companies will be able to do more with the space they’ve already got,” says Howl.

This article was originally published in the NZ Marketing supplement ‘Marketing in Lockdown’. To purchase a copy of the supplement, click here.

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