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The impact of Covid on the temporary labour market

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Amanda Watson Press Releases, Employers, Recruitment...

Before the pandemic, the landscape of work as we know it was undoubtedly changing and had been steadily for some time. Rates of employment were at an all-time high, with widespread issues across a huge variety of sectors struggling to find the talent it needed to keep up with growth. The gig economy was also on the rise, with more and more people entering into these less conventional ways of working.

Businesses were really having to assess and overhaul their employment offering and turn to new ways of recruiting to stay competitive in the war for top talent. At the low and unskilled end of the spectrum, shrinking availability of migrant workers was having a huge impact on the FMCG, warehousing and distribution and manufacturing sectors.

One of the main factors behind the rise of the gig economy is that it places control back with the worker – they choose when they want to work and for whom. This offers levels of flexibility that traditional employer and employee relationships are, in the main, unable to.

As a temporary work agency, it’s already something that we have had plenty of experience of. However, it’s often misunderstood that temporary work is a second choice to the security of a permanent job – we regularly see people who want the flexibility that temping can offer. The commitments to work are not the same as a traditional 9-to-5 structure that most workplaces provide. By offering flexible hours and other options including working in blocks of time, employers are able to give workers flexibility around childcare and other duties.

In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions have compounded some of the issues that were bubbling under anyway. Those who have been able to adapt quickly both in terms of their business offering and attitudes towards flexible work have seen the smoothest transitions. Meanwhile, many sectors that have heavily relied on migrant workers from Europe – whether seasonally or all year round – were already concerned about their ability to recruit the volumes of staff they would need following Brexit and the end of free movement at the end of 2020. Add in nearly a year of heavily restricted travel, and this means that some sectors are reaching crisis point perhaps sooner than expected. While automation might be the solution in the longer term, these issues are here to stay in the short to medium term.

Elsewhere, the lockdown has seen huge sections of the UK’s workforce displaced, furloughed, made redundant or, for the self-employed, unable to operate their business. Many of these people have sought temporary work outside of their normal skillset or entered the gig economy.  

There is potential for a shift in attitudes towards working in some sectors as the nation has a new awareness and appreciation for certain roles. People who have been displaced from hospitality, for example, perhaps into the healthcare sector, may decide to stay as the value placed on these jobs increases.

After a year of ‘work from home if you can’, businesses have made the necessary investments and have, in most cases, proven that it can be done. And that it can actually be successful – from a productivity and employee wellbeing point of view. Remote working has really opened up the labour market. Previous geographical barriers or the limitations caused by a requirement to be at your desk 9-to-5 have reduced.  

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s 2021 Recruitment and recovery report says the recruitment industry supports £86bn in gross value added across the economy. This is a significant amount more than the accounting or legal industries. It also highlights that 19 per cent of companies that use temporary workers would not be able to operate at all without the use of temporary workers. Such work that is facilitated by the recruitment industry has shown its value during the pandemic by keeping vital services running, something that many in recruitment are hoping is recognised and might prove to be a continuing trend. 

Ultimately, there will always be demand for temporary workers to plug the gaps for seasonal peaks and periods of growth, along with the agility that temporary workers offer. And individuals will always want to be able to earn while balancing their other commitments.

What recruiters can expect to see is more change. In particular, there will be changes to the types of skills that are most in demand by employers, and candidates expecting more flexibility in working arrangements. Agencies are experts in the recruitment market, and at the forefront of these changes – businesses turn to us for our knowledge and expertise. This value will always be there.

Mandy Watson is managing director of Ambitions Personnel