Thanks to digitialisation the private employment services industry has continued to operate throughout the Covid-19 crisis, serving the needs of workers and user-companies around the world. I am quite sure that if the crisis had hit us 30 years ago it would have been quite a different story.
Over the past decade our industry has been quick to embrace the efficiencies afforded by new technologies. We have developed a host of digital tools to support our work – from video interviews, on-line skills assessments and e-signature of labour contracts through to electronic databases of candidates and job vacancies.. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention” and the Covid-19 crisis has served to accelerate this trend. Hence while our physical branches were closed during lockdown in the majority of countries, our personnel were able to keep on working from home and to continue to match supply with demand in the labour market.
As the lockdown’s hit around the world so the jobs and employment landscape changed almost overnight. While many economic sectors were forced to close and to furlough staff as a result, so others saw a significant surge in demand for their goods and services. They needed to staff-up quickly to be able to meet the increase in business and our industry was swift to respond and worked to reallocate people into sectors such as food retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.
Using digital tools, our agency personnel were able to reach out to candidates fast and match them into new employment opportunities. Five months down the road and many of our permanent staff continue to work from home.
Like many sectors, the private employment industry had already adapted to this evolving trend – witnessed by the fact that while the physical number of branches has decreased over the past 10 years, the sector’s income has grown steadily as more and more elements of the service move online. The global pandemic provided a good stress test and thanks to digitalisation the sector was able to keep functioning effectively – including swiftly introducing the use of e-signatures in order to comply with the regulatory requirement that all labour contracts must be signed.
Indeed, since the crisis struck in the early part of 2020 many people around the world have been recruited and on-boarded without any physical contact. The whole process has been handled virtually through email, apps, conference calls, Zoom meetings etc. This is not ideal but it has set a precedent and demonstrated that we don’t need to be always in a physical office space to carry out our role in facilitating labour market transitions.
Of course, the rise in digitalisation also brings the challenge of privacy issues. These are of particularly sharp focus for the recruitment and employment sector where people are sharing very personal information about themselves and their financial and legal status. In the new digital era our candidates need to be confident that the personal information that they share with us will be treated with the utmost discretion and that it will be protected. We take this very seriously as an industry and are reinforcing and expanding our use of systems such as Blockchain in order to protect candidates’ personal data and uphold the requirements of privacy legislation around the world.
While digital services have brought many benefits, I must stress that the private employment services industry remains a people business and could never be fully automated. While I am confident that the days of faxes and roller-decks are gone forever, we recognise that the human touch is a very important element of the service that we offer. By leveraging the speed and productivity that digitalisation can bring to the back-office function, our agents are freed-up to focus their energies on the person-to-person experience that adds value for both candidates and clients.
As protecting human health continues to be a priority and social distancing remains a necessary part of our lives in the months and year ahead, so we will continue to rely on digitalisation and remote working. We will learn the lessons of Covid-19 and ensure that we provide our staff, candidates and customers with the support they need in working more online and more independently. I believe that this is a trend that we will see across a host of other industries and that we will look back on the 2020 pandemic as the turning point that ushered in a new world of work.