How Covid-19 Has Changed the UK Job Market

How Covid-19 has changed the UK job market

The Covid-19 pandemic spelled disaster for businesses and individuals across the globe, with most industries and individuals seeing financial constraints or challenging circumstances. Almost one in 20 people in the UK – 4.9% – are currently unemployed, and the Government Office for Budget Responsibility states that as many as 2.2million British people could be out of work by the end of 2021.

However, the dramatic shift in working practices and projects in the past year has created many new opportunities, for businesses, employees and self-employed professionals alike. Here Generate’s team of payroll and contractor management specialists reveal three major ways that the British employment market has changed after 2020, and how contractors can best drive their career prospects in 2021 and beyond.

3 Ways Covid-19 Has Changed the UK Jobs Market

1. Shift from a Candidate-Short Market to Widening Talent Pools

Whilst rapidly growing globalisation, technological advancements, sustainability targets and the need to compete with emerging markets had all driven competition for the best talent pre-pandemic, the last year has seen a major shift in the balance between employers and jobseekers. Mass redundancies and cancellations of contract projects have mean that hundreds of thousands of jobseekers are all vying for employment prospects during a time of unprecedented economic downturn. In 2021, the average job advertised online will receive at least 250 applications.

The new entrants to the job market are also prepared to compete for positions that are less than ideal. Over 60% of individuals would be willing to take a pay cut or transfer across industries to land a new role, with 53% willing to relocate completely, despite the upheaval caused by Covid-19 and the growing acceptance of remote working. Skills shortages experienced by both public and private sectors are already beginning to reverse, as those out of work utilise the pandemic as a catalyst to retrain or upskill.

Increased competition means that candidates must stand out from the crowd and differentiate their employee offering like never before. A LinkedIn profile and standard CV will no longer be enough: the most successful individuals seeking contract and permanent work will create a truly unique personal brand. To increase your chances of landing an assignment:

  • Tailor your CV exactly to each job you apply for – emphasise the skills most relevant to the demands of each role and cite precise examples of relevant success
  • Create a punchy two-sentence intro statement evidencing why you are the best candidate for the job, and include this at the top of your CV/application/introductory email
  • Leverage your networks – Tap into your existing connections at organisations in your industry and recruitment agencies that may be able to help, and update them with your latest relevant experience so that they can effectively sell you for any upcoming opportunities
  • Be bold – Don’t be afraid to get creative and appeal directly to hiring managers and department heads on channels they frequent individually: start up a conversation about their interests and challenges, and build a rapport to either understand how you could help or learn about other external opportunities.

2. Types of Roles Needed & Shift in Demand

Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends and created brand new requirements across industries, rapidly altering the types of contract roles that will be most urgently sought in the coming five years:

  • Cyber Security – Whilst all tech skills are in high demand, and data and analytics are some of the largest areas of investment for CIOs and CTOs, the pandemic has fast-tracked the need to protect companies from security threats due to the sudden mass introduction of remote and hybrid working. 56% of CTOs now rank cyber security as their most urgently required skill set, well ahead of BI & data management (41%) and software development (35%). In the UK alone, only 10% of IT professionals have the cyber security skills the UK’s tech sector will need between 2021 and 2026. 70% of European companies have stated they do not have appropriate cyber security talent, with a shortage of around 140,000 skilled workers in Europe alone.
  • Teaching Roles – The UK has long suffered from a significant lack of skilled education professionals. In recent years, high workloads, stress and lack of support saw half of all newly qualified teachers (NQTs) leaving education entirely before the first five years of their teaching career. However, after Covid-19 threw education into the spotlight, teaching is becoming an increasingly sought-after profession. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) predicts that the pandemic will actually reduce skills shortages due to the ‘job security and stable wages’ offered in education. Around 1,800 more University graduates will enter teacher training programmes by 2022, which will give a notable boost to the current average of around 29,000 annual teaching graduates.
  • Nursing & Care Roles – Whereas the year before Covid-19 saw 43,000 nursing jobs unfilled, the pandemic has seen nursing applications skyrocket. In 2020, nursing applications rose by over a third, with growth in interest from all ages and backgrounds, including a 40% increase in the number of men applying. Despite the increased mental health issues, stress levels and physical health risks generated by acting in a caring role, agency nursing and temporary care assignments will increasingly be seen as the most secure career path in both permanent and short-term work. The pandemic has also caused thousands of individuals to reevaluate what they want from their vocations, and urged many to choose a more meaningful profession that provides real value and life-changing support to others. 

3. Importance of Soft Skills

Whilst soft skills have been increasingly recognised by employers in the past decade, the pandemic forced businesses to urgently reassess the experience and abilities needed both to manage the current crisis, and drive forward future growth post-Covid.

Character and personal abilities will become ever more important to hiring strategies. Coding tests and references to evidence technical skill level will remain, but will be complemented by simultaneous characteristic and softer skill assessments. Recruiters will establish personality tests such as Myers Briggs and DISC as the norm, and tasks designed to bring out creativity, problem-solving and communication abilities will grow in popularity. When combined with a candidate-rich market, additional testing and personal characteristic considerations could elongate and complicate the hiring process from the candidate point of view.

To establish a positive first impression long before the interview stage, jobseekers can place these skills, which are most in demand in the New Normal, front and centre of their application:

  • Empathy – The fallout from Covid-19 will require leaders who are able to simultaneously ensure projects are delivered on time and in full, keep clients and stakeholders happy, and support direct reports. Those in management will need to provide extra support for employees who have been affected by long-term furlough or unemployment, long Covid or losing a close friend or family member to the illness.
  • Leadership – The ability to manage, coach and support individuals from all backgrounds, both professionally and on an individual, personal level will be increasingly valued as businesses embrace diverse hiring strategies and grow teams across the world.
  • Communication – Not just public speaking or the art of the perfectly worded email, this skill will be in high demand to wear many hats including serving clients, managing suppliers, managing remote and office-based teams across locations and delivering difficult news such as post-furlough redundancies. Good communicators will also be invaluable to management for their ability to provide honest feedback from employees at all levels direct to the Board to enable organisational improvements, and to maintain employee co-operation and engagement throughout periods of business transformation.

The coming decade will see soft skills and personality play a pivotal role in hiring strategies for both contract and permanent roles alike, as employers increasingly connect personal abilities with project success.

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