Recruitment in 2020 has been a major challenge for employers across many industries, due in part to its unpredictable shifts. At the beginning of the year, employers were having trouble attracting and hiring top-tier talent due to the low unemployment rate. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, unemployment in January and February was still tracking near 2019’s 3.5 percent figure—the lowest unemployment rate the United States had seen in half a century. By April, following the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. with shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, unemployment had spiked to 14.7, its highest level since the Great Depression.
Months later, unemployment rates are at nearly half what they were at their peak—7.9 percent in September 2020. How will COVID-19 affect future hiring and job recruitment for American employers?
The downward trend of the unemployment rate is a promising sign that the economy is bouncing back following its mid-lockdown halt in the spring. With continued month-to-month drops for that rate (it fell half a percentage point between August and September), more employers are restarting their hiring processes, and more people are willing to return to work.
These steps toward recovery have occurred even as the United States has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases each day. The pandemic isn’t over yet, so why is the job market jumping back—and how should employers prepare for it?
A common theory is that the federal government’s initial stimulus plan, which significantly increased the value of unemployment benefits, had the unintended benefit of making it more difficult for employers to fill open jobs. For a time, out-of-work individuals were receiving $600 per week from the federal government and several hundreds of dollars per week from their state governments.
Particularly for entry-level jobs, the value of unemployment benefits briefly exceeded the value of working wages. Speaking to MarketWatch, economist Stephen Stanley of Amherst Pierpont Securities criticized the policy, saying, “when you pay people more to sit at home than to go back to work, they sit at home.”
The extra $600 in federal unemployment officially expired at the end of July. Unemployment rates have fallen since then, from 10.2 percent in July to where they are now. As more people take steps to find new jobs and return to work, it is critical for employers to examine their recruiting and hiring strategies to see where change is necessary.
Consider that many out-of-work individuals weren’t staying home just because they were well-compensated by unemployment benefits—staying home was safer than going into an office and interacting with other people. Right now, some of the most valuable recruiting tools for employers are policies intended to protect employees with in-depth workplace safety protocols such as temperature checks, masking requirements, and socially-distanced office layouts to remote work policies.
There is no doubt that recruitment looks different post-COVID than it did in 2019. In-person interviews have been replaced by Zoom meetings and virtual interviews. Office-centric job benefits, including free snacks in the kitchen, bring-your-dog-to-work days, and regular staff bonding activities, have dropped out of favor for perks that emphasize remote work, job flexibility, and health-focused benefits.
Whenever the pandemic ends, job seeker and employer priorities may revert. In the meantime, employers must stop waiting and adjust to suit recruitment in 2020.
Even your employee background checks might change. While criminal history searches and employment verifications remain crucial, you might consider adding reference checks or skills tests that assess a candidate’s ability to work and thrive independently, communicate well via multiple channels, and manage time and deadlines effectively. All these attributes are vital for all-remote or partially-remote positions, and they are skills that are vital for recruitment in 2020.
If you need help reshaping your employee background checks, contact backgroundchecks.com for assistance.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.