Ending lockdown: Implications for student recruitment and development

This post originally appeared on the 1st July on the ISE blog. In it I look at when lockdown is going to end and what it all means for those employers who are recruiting entry-level talent.

 On Monday night Matthew Handcock informed me that I was going to have to stay locked down for at least another two weeks. This wasn’t actually a personal phone call, it was announced in the House of Commons and applied to 300,000 other people in and around Leicester, but it felt pretty personal. 

Like everyone else, I am pretty tired of lockdown, and although I’m cautious about opening up too quickly, I was looking forward to things getting back to normal. But it looks like I won’t be able to get a haircut until August now!

The local lockdown in Leicester is unlikely to be an isolated case. Global figures show that the pandemic isn’t close to over and although there has been a steady downward trend in the UK, we are still regularly seeing around a 1000 new cases and over 100 deaths a day. There is no vaccine or cure in sight and until someone discovers one we are unlikely to go back to ‘normal’.

The impact of lockdown

Lockdown has disrupted a lot of our daily routines and lifestyles. I’m now a homeworker, frantically Zooming my days away, I also no longer travel, or go to pubs or even into other people’s houses. But, no matter how unsettling these kinds of personal changes have been, the implications for the labour market have been bigger. 

The number of new jobs being advertised has been in a slump since the start of the lockdown. In the student labour market we are predicting that employers are going to recruit around a quarter less new hires than they were planning pre-lockdown. Some commentators are predicting that this will lead to unemployment rising to over 4.5 million with young people particularly vulnerable. 

For those involved in the nitty gritty of recruitment and student employment this has meant rapidly shifting recruitment process online whilst making plans for virtual inductions and online learning and development. A lot of the discussions that we have been hosting at the ISE over the last few months have revolved around how employers can use technology to keep the student employment market on the road during the dark months of lockdown (see for example our webinar on how employers adapting in light of Covid-19). 

Is there an end in sight?

Last week I gave a webinar on the end of lockdown. Later that day the Prime Minister gave a speech setting out the next phase of opening up. In this announcement, 4 July became a key date. 

This included a reduction of the social distance to one meter, the opening of pubs and playgrounds and a range of other measures all designed to give a strong signal that we are moving into a new phase. Since then there have been a range of further announcements including threats to close the beaches and the Leicester lockdown.

The government are hoping that the lockdown is over. They want to improve people’s quality of life and give a boost to the economy, but the reality of the pandemic has continually frustrated the government’s plans. If lockdown ends, it will only be because it has transformed into something else, a new normal defined by social distancing and as the government’s slogan states ‘staying alert’. 

With some luck and improved tools to track and contain the disease, we may be able to move into a new phase, but lockdown will gradually fade out, possibly over the course of months and years, rather than reach an abrupt end. 

The new normal in student employment

All of this means that from the autumn we will be entering a new normal for student recruitment. Employers responding to our survey at the start of May told us that they would be shifting a lot of recruitment processes online. It has subsequently become clear that many new hires will be starting their new positions remotely, participating in virtual inductions and then settling into homeworking like the rest of us. 

All of this will be taking place within a worrying economic climate. It has become difficult to find anyone who is willing to say anything very optimistic on the economy. Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered this particularly cheery thought…
The outlook is dire. We expect global economic activity to decline on a scale we have not seen since the Great Depression. This year 170 countries will see income per capita go down—only months ago we were projecting 160 economies to register positive per capita income growth.

So for student employment professionals this probably means that the following things are likely to become critically important as you establish a new normal in your firm:

  • You are going to have to fight for your programme: Firms are going to be dealing with a lot of short-term issues. While early talent programmes are vital to the long-term survival of your business, some in your firm may see them as easy prey when it is time to make cuts. You will need to be prepared to make the case for continuing to recruit young talent. Our employer’s guide to Covid-19 (members only) will help you in this as will our webinar on managing recruitment in a crisis
  • You are going to have to move online and change a lot of what you do: The pandemic and the lockdown disrupt some of the fundamentals of business as we know it. Our research shows that this has led to a substantial shift online in student recruitment and development. While some of these processes will gradually shift back to their pre-lockdown forms, a lot of our industry is in a major process of transformation. You will need to think flexibly and creatively about how you recruit for and run graduate programmes and apprenticeships in this new world. 
  • The government has a big role to play: While many people are skeptical about government getting too involved in the running of businesses, the next few years are likely to be characterised by employer-government partnership. Some of the challenges are simply too big for individual firms to address alone. Government is expected to announce a raft of employment focused initiatives over the next few weeks and the businesses that survive are going to be the ones that make effective use of these schemes. ISE will be publishing our plan for government in the next few days and then providing advice and commentary on whatever the government announces after that. So, stay tuned!

In summary, we are seeing lockdown gradually morph into the new normal. Many aspects of student recruitment will never be the same again. Firms that grasp this fact, and stop waiting for the ‘end of lockdown’ are likely to weather the coming storms better than those hoping for a return to normal.

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