• Skills and ‘upskilling’ become important as roles change
  • Video interviews, applications and virtual job fairs are here to stay
  • Pandemic sped up changes, but it’s still more evolution than revolution

After a year of pandemic, there are some lights at the end of a long tunnel, as Covid-19 vaccinations begin restoring hope that 2021 might look more like 2019 than 2020.

For recruitment marketplaces, though, the recovery began already, in the second half of last year. Many sites bounced back big time. Some have even exceeded previous years’ revenue.

Whether that’s sustained for the rest of this year, and beyond, depends on a number of factors beyond the control of the marketplaces themselves:

  • How fast herd immunity can be achieved (if at all).
  • Whether there are new, surprising surges leading to more lockdowns.
  • Whether any of the new Coronavirus variants elude vaccine protection, sending the world back to Square One.

No surprise: Everyone wants to return to our pre-pandemic reality.

“There’s always going to be a desire to go back to the way we were, to some sort of place of status and comfort,” Greg Kihlström, CEO of Silicon Valley-based CareerGig, told the AIM Group. “There’s probably more nostalgia than there should be.”

What’s changed so far, and what will change, when the post- pandemic period arrives? The AIM Group spoke with industry insiders and executives for “the lay of the land” for recruitment marketplaces.

Skills more valuable than titles, location

Job-board algorithms have long been good at matching candidates to positions based on two primary factors: job title and location. Post-pandemic, skills will become more important for applicants than what they did in their previous positions.

“Search algorithms must focus more on the experience and cultural fit of a person rather than ‘Can they get to that location?’” explained U.K.-based recruitment advertising consultant John Salt. “‘Show me jobs within a 25-mile commute’ has become less relevant now than it once was.”

AI, ML bring better matches

Kihlström, of CareerGig, said better matching through use of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be crucial.

“When we talk about skills-based hiring, it’s less about matching someone who had ‘this title’ at ‘this organization’ and more a matter of, ‘If this person is good in these two to three skills, they could be a great fit’ even if they didn’t have the same job title. That will take more number crunching and optimization.”

Big job boards are doing this “a little,” Kihlström added, “but they’re not moving quickly enough. They’re still sending out resumes based on titles, not quantitative success. It will take a lot to steer that ship in a different direction.”

“Matching skills to jobs and not just titles is already in place at Jobiqo,” Ling Wu, the Vienna-based company’s sales director, told the AIM Group. “Our matching solution covers behavioral data. So, if an IT consultant looks at an IT sales job, our tech knows this person might be interested in sales generally.”

WFH may turn into a hybrid model

The work-from-home trend is partly responsible for this new emphasis on skills, although not everyone thinks it will last.

Wu’s boss, Jobiqo CEO Martin Lenz, said that while coming into the office full-time may never return, he expects a hybrid model to evolve.

“Some people enjoy working from home,” Lenz told the AIM Group. “Others prefer working in the office. Some fear seeing other people due to health risks. Some are super relaxed and want to go out and see people.”

David Beaurepaire, CEO of HelloWork in France, told the AIM Group fully remote work will probably diminish “as more and more people realize that contact with their colleagues is very important.” But at the same time, he said, “more and more people living in Paris are applying for jobs outside the city, in middle-sized towns and cities,” a reality that could only be possible when remote work is an option.

In The Future of Work After Covid-19, published in February, the McKinsey & Co consultancy projected “20% to 25% of workforces in advanced economies could work from home three to five days a week.” That’s more than quadruple the number before the pandemic and “could prompt a large change in the geography of work, as individuals and companies shift out of large cities into suburbs and small cities.”

Office space will be reduced by an average of 30%. Video conferencing may dent business travel and 20% of that may not return, McKinsey suggested.

Job boards stress upskilling

To succeed post-pandemic, recruitment marketplaces may have to offer job-seekers ways to improve their skills. Most growth in labor markets will occur in high-wage jobs that require employees to learn new skills, McKinsey said, and “more than half of displaced low-wage workers may need to shift to occupations in higher wage brackets.”

Some of those workers will undoubtedly move to the gig economy.

A survey by UpWork, a freelance marketplace, found that 36% of U.S. workers now have primary or secondary jobs in the gig economy, and “60% say that there is no amount of money that would convince them to take a traditional job.”

Yet this sector was particularly hard hit in 2020. Statista reported 52% of gig workers lost their jobs because of the pandemic while 26% saw their work hours reduced.

Among the freelancers UpWork surveyed, 59% said they had participated in skills training during the previous six months, vs. 36% of non-freelancers.

CareerGig has added courses to help a worker “who might be driving an Uber a few days a week to upskill into a role to be a data scientist or work in cyber security,” Kihlström told the AIM Group. “We have a network of providers that offer courses and that can assess how they did in the course.”

LinkedIn added its own upskilling / education component all the way back in 2016, following the company’s $1.5 billion acquisition of online learning site Lynda.com.

Though not a specific response to the pandemic, LinkedIn Learning offers 16,000 courses on business, technology and creative topics, with courses running the gamut from programming to accounting. Completing a class earns users a certificate which can be added to their LinkedIn profiles. Individuals pay $20 a month which includes free access to LinkedIn Premium. The company also works with businesses and educational institutions; LinkedIn claims that 78 out of the Fortune 100 use its upskilling product.

A separate product, LinkedIn Skill Assessments, was launched in 2019. It provides online tests of some 75 different professional skills. Nigeria-based recruitment site, Jobberman.com, has its own Skills Assessments product, which helps recruiters determine core competency levels of job seekers. And Seek, the No. 1 job site in Australia, has a 50% stake in U.K.- based education platform FutureLearn, and a minority share in U.S.-based Coursera, which went public last month on the New York Stock Exchange.

Can employees switch career paths?

U.K.-based Adzuna launched a tool called CareerPaths last summer, targeting employees in sectors hurt by the pandemic.

“Think of a British Airways cabin crew member who is now asking, ‘Do I want to continue working in travel?’” said Adzuna co-founder Andrew Hunter. The CareerPaths app lets jobseekers find if the skills they have from their current or most recent position could help them pivot to a new industry. “You put your skills, your job title and CV in, and we’ll show you different pathways in our database that look like you. A bartender could become a bar manager. Others are less obvious.”

For example, a worker in a retail clothing shop may have great customer service skills. Could those work in, say, logistics?

“The CareerPaths tool will say, ‘You’ve matched to a new role by a certain percentage and here are the new skills you’ll need to acquire,’” Hunter said. (Adzuna doesn’t offer courses of its own, but is looking into promoting courses from other providers. “The tool has been very popular, and users are asking for it,” Hunter told the AIM Group.)

Is a shortage of employees coming?

Will employees be there when business opens up again? The small nation of Israel presents some salient examples.

The country offered unemployment benefits for furloughed employees throughout the pandemic. It’s now reopening following its world-leading vaccination campaign, in which more than 50% of Israel’s population received the jab within a few months after approval, including 90% of the most vulnerable — those over 50.

Restaurants, hotels and bars are all mostly open — although some were limited to people with a “green passport” indicating they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19.

Payments cause workforce problems

That led to the discovery in March that Israel was experiencing a workforce problem. Government unemployment benefits to furloughed employees extend until the summer, and some one-time restaurant and bar workers were reluctant to give up on the “free money” — in many cases more than they’d earn at their low-paying jobs. (Similar problems were reported in the United States, where many unemployed workers received more in benefits than they would have received working.)

Israeli government reports said 12% to 17% of businesses hadn’t rehired furloughed employees because those employees didn’t want to return.

“The [unemployment payments] model isn’t logical,” Israeli restaurateur Ilan Zagdon told Haaretz newspaper. “Restaurants who are trying to bring back their workers can’t even get their phone calls answered.”

In other cases, when student-employees transitioned to remote learning, they moved to a different area, leaving a local employment gap.

“It’s already been several weeks that I’ve been advertising for new staff, but there’s been no response,” lamented Yaacov Braun, who owns the cafe Ha’tsrif in Be’er Sheva, a town 50 kilometers from the Tel Aviv metropolis. Pre-pandemic, Be’er Sheva, the home to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, had a large student population. Israel was a world leader in its vaccination program, but it wasn’t the only place where workers hesitated to return to their jobs.

‘Pent-up desire’ but still, a ‘huge shortfall’

“There is pent-up desire in the job market,” Salt told the AIM Group, referring to the U.K., where he’s based, “but there may be a huge shortfall of workers when demand returns.”

That may be good news for niche job boards in retail, hospitality and other hard-hit sectors, Salt added. “You will have a lot of people advertising.”

Even so, he didn’t see Covid-19 as “a watershed moment for recruitment marketplaces. Jobs seem to be coming back quickly, in every industry, as it opens up.”

Dennis van Allemeersch, director of online services for Belgium-based DPG (formerly De Persgroep), which runs a network of media sites including those in the Netherlands and Denmark, concurred.

“Covid is a different type of crisis than the financial crisis of 2008,” he told us, “but for the sake of comparison, recruitment markets took about two to three years to recover then. That’s an assumption we’ll go with now, too.”

Van Allemeersch agreed furlough payments were keeping the market from bouncing back, at least temporarily.

“The number of people looking for work is expected to increase as soon as the government stimulus programs are done. At the same time, we see a decrease in labor force mobility. People with good jobs are sticking with them, rather than moving to other places, with the degree of uncertainty that comes with that.”

“Full-time jobs won’t come back as readily as they did after the 2008 recession,” noted Jeff Tennery, who sold his freelancer- focused marketplace, Moonlighting.com, to CareerGig last year. “The virus cuts too deep into the labor market.”

‘Essential’ vs. ‘non-essential’ workers

The pandemic bifurcated the workforce “into essential and non-essential workers,” added Matt Charney, a long-time recruitment classified consultant who’s now head of industry and product marketing for SmartRecruiters.

“For people in high-volume, low-skilled jobs, hiring has become so transactional that there’s little motivation to stay anywhere long-term.”

Charney said “it’s a good time to be in recruitment tech. It’s not such a good time to be a recruiter. There’s been a shift to cutting costs rather than improving ROI.”

Charney says he “used to be able to put a job on Monster for $499 without thinking about it. Now I’d have to go through all kinds of internal approvals.”

Video is here to stay

When remote work exploded, video tools proliferated. That won’t change. The video revolution applies to the work itself.

“You don’t have to hire a software engineer who lives in San Francisco or Palo Alto, you can hire someone in Idaho where they pay a fraction of rent,” said Kihlström.

Wu, of Jobiqo, said video applications could be the next big thing. “You attach a video to your application and the company can listen to your 30-second pitch. It’s particularly popular with blue-collar workers.” Wu called video applications “a quick win. The technology is not so complex.”

Use of video for onboarding is a good idea, pandemic or not, Salt said. “For a lot of jobs, a CV is the last thing you want to give to HR. For Millennials and Gen Z, you don’t even need a CV. It’s partly an age thing. Covid has definitely accelerated this process.”

Video integrations abound

CV-Library in the U.K. has integrated video interviews into recruiter options. The service was free when it launched last year. MeteoJob in France, Bayt and Forsana in the Middle East, and Kariyer.net in Turkey all enable video interviewing.

At PNet in South Africa, parent company StepStone offered its proprietary video interviewing platform, but “only a few clients were interested,” sales director MJ Bronkhorst told the AIM Group. “Many people felt it would add value, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t necessary as there were already enough alternative platforms available.”

In other words, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and others are good enough; there’s little need for new technologies here.

“The great majority of interviewing is now virtual,” Chris Russell, MD of RecTech Media, told the AIM Group. “If a job requires the employee to work in person, then the interview will still be in person, but with masks and social distancing.”

Virtual job fairs remain popular, too. JobsInTheUS.com is a good example.

“They run them from 9 to 5 over Zoom. Every hour a different employer comes on,” Russell said. “Virtual job fairs can be cheap, effective and the profit margin is high.”

Russell is still hoping in-person events come back. The annual HR Tech conference is currently scheduled to take place at the end of September. Will the U.S be “open” and safe enough by then?

“That’s my target,” Russell said. “I would love to go to that in person.”

A change in marketing strategy

College Recruiter, a niche site in the U.S., changed its marketing approach.

“We suspended our ‘nurture’ campaign that sent a series of emails to potential and existing customers with the goal of building our brand, then engaging,” Steven Rothberg, president and founder, told the AIM Group. “Some of that messaging no longer made sense given the radical changes to the economy, including the state of the job market.”

Instead, College Recruiter began sending emails covering hiring in a Covid-19 world, with links to pandemic-nuanced webcasts and how-to videos.

“We shared best practices for working remotely and managing a remote workforce,” Rothberg added.

“This Covid ‘nurture’ campaign was one of our most successful ever in terms of the leads it generated. It seems that many readers valued the new content and began to view College Recruiter as an important source of information about adapting to the new reality. Most emails are sent with no sales pitch. It made us a more credible and desirable media partner when a company has hiring needs.”

Looking back … and forward

As we’ve previously reported, the early months of the pandemic were brutal for recruitment marketplaces.

PNet, for example, saw a 32% drop in the number of positions advertised during 2020. That breaks down to a 52% reduction during Q2, a 41% reduction in Q3 and 24% in Q4, Bronkhorst told us. Fortunately for the company, its corporate clients stuck it through “with a 90% retention rate. That was our saving grace.”

Adzuna’s Hunter said that, after an initial panic when “50% of U.K. startups dialed back hiring,” job listings have nearly returned to normal.

“We’re at 91% of where we need to be,” Hunter said. “We only have 9% more to claw back.” For Adzuna’s U.S. operations, job listings are already 8% to 9% above pre- pandemic levels.

The pandemic hasn’t led to a noticeable collapse in job boards. “None are shutting down that I can think of,” Charney said. “But they are all really, really scared.”

Salt, the U.K consultant, isn’t so confident that situation will last.

“In the U.K, there are a huge number of job boards and platforms,” he explained. “The market is saturated. I can’t see any other way than some consolidation. With the exception of CV-Library, their profit margins are not high.”

Still, the rebound is clearly in progress, Russell posited. “Companies are hiring again. It’s that simple,” especially when

Andrew Hunter, co-founder, Adzuna compared with 2020 when “job boards lost 60% to 70% of their listings.”

Job boards: They come, they go

Nor should we panic if job boards do begin to go under.

“Job boards go out of business every year,” Russell said. “New job boards in new niches are always popping up. Old niches become stale and could use a refresh. Job boards will always exist because people need work.”

Lenz, of Jobiqo, predicted that emerging from the Covid-19 crisis “will be more like a continuous process than a quick change.”

Beaurepaire, at HelloWork, said what we are seeing happening now is more “an evolution than a revolution.”

However it plays out, the changes of the past year mean 2021 will not look like 2019. Nor will it resemble the worst of 2020. There is light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel and savvy recruitment marketplaces are already placing strategic lanterns along the path to recovery.

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