How to manage hiring during COVID-19 uncertainty

Essential, COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt sectors across the country, the infrastructure and engineering industries have an opportunity to come together, collaborate and share ideas in order to build a sustainable labour force of the future, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters.

Robert Walters associate director engineering and infrastructure Jane Lowney said while most of us can’t materially change the outcome of the pandemic we face right now, each of us can choose how we respond to it.

“Across the engineering and infrastructure industries everyone is grappling with uncertainty and operating in similar trying circumstances,” Ms Lowney said.

“In recent history our industry has been adversarial and have competed with one another for work and contracts, however thanks to the environment we are now operating in, we have the opportunity to work together and start planning for the workforce of the future.

“One example is around contracting and risk allocation models. In the past we haven’t been able to get to grips with a sustainable solution, so what better time to tackle it than now?” Ms Lowney said.

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With COVID-19 impacting hiring trends, the construction and engineering sectors in particular are working on projects that have been fast tracked by government.

“Governments across the country are creating shovel-ready projects in record time to better support the employment opportunities for an increasingly displaced workforce,” Ms Lowney said.

“Both public and private sectors have an opportunity to come together to think about innovative ways in which they can connect workers with employers in an efficient and timely manner. In turn, this will go some way to relieving the pressure on those who have recently lost their jobs due to the current pandemic.”

Robert Walters recommends considering seven tips for hiring managers to ensure a smooth, comfortable and efficient hiring experience during these uncertain times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • Create certainty in the recruitment process: Candidates are looking for it. Plan and prepare your selection process, commit to the timings and milestones, and communicate that clearly to candidates.
  • Revisit contracting models: Permanent hires can feel like a big commitment in the current climate but there are other ways to hire without carrying the same risk. For example, you might hire someone on a six-month contract and treat that as a probation period while waiting to see how the markets looks in a few weeks’ time.
  • Consider barriers: Think about what reassurances you can offer candidates. Be ready to answer questions such as: Is your hiring policy ‘last in, first out’?
  • Be realistic: People with 10-15 years’ tenure at their current employer are unlikely to leave their jobs right now. So be smart about who you’re targeting.
  • Consider upskilling: It might sound odd for a recruiter to say this but perhaps you don’t need to hire an external candidate. If your organisation is quiet at the moment, consider your existing workforce and who might be redeployed and/or upskilled to fill an area of need.
  • Be flexible: Employers and professionals everywhere are learning new ways of working at the moment. Before hiring, challenge your own assumptions about things like working hours and geography. For example, does your new recruit really need to live within daily commuting distance from your workplace now?
  • Plan onboarding: In this time of social distancing, think carefully about how you will onboard your new colleague. Consider each stage of your usual process and how you can adjust this in the current circumstances, whilst also ensuring that your new employee still feels part of the team.

“At the end of the day even if you’re not looking to hire anyone, reaching out to industry associates and speaking with peers in your industry is behaviour that should be encouraged as much as possible. Together, we can and we will get through this,” Ms Lowney said.