6 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed the Job Market
Updated: Jun 26
As Covid-19 rips through the economy, all of us are left thinking: what will this hold for jobs in the future? Will we ever be the same again? However, the reality prevails: change is the only constant amongst a world of uncertainty. Singapore’s jobless rate had shot up to a 16-year high, at 3.6 percent, in 2020, while retrenchments - at 20,450 so far - were nearly double those for the whole of 2019. (Labour Force Survey, Ministry of Manpower Research & Statistics Department) Retrenchments, furloughing and downsizing have defined the job market since the beginning of 2020 and will continue to plague the economy until the pandemic resolves itself.
However, while many businesses have downsized or disappeared altogether, others have greatly accelerated their growth, depending on their adaptability or the nature of the pandemic on their business. In this transformation, new opportunities have presented themselves in the technology, service, and medical sectors. As the economy in Singapore recovers and bounces back, one cannot deny that many irrevocable alterations will continue to challenge our ability to adapt and reshape our way of working. The speed of change has also altered executives' opinions on working and hiring. These are six ways the job market has changed, permanently or not.
1. Lowered wages, but the situation is improving
A Randstad Singapore survey in 2020 found that over 50 per cent of respondents were willing to take on jobs with a lower salary. With the economy in a state of emergency, the job market was driven by necessity. Businesses who were not deemed as ‘essential’ had to temporarily close during lockdowns all over the world while their employees faced being furloughed or retrenched. "Generally, people are more flexible with salaries now as they recognize that it's difficult to get a job and also that in trying out a new industry, taking less pay than their last (salary) may be necessary as their previous experience is not as relevant,” said FastJobs general manager Lim Hui Shan.
However, as Singapore adapts and recovers from the crisis in 2021, companies have continued to hire and search for talent. In fact, certain border measures created a higher demand for talent in specific jobs, increasing their salaries in certain industries.
2. Remote Work
Before Covid-19, working in person was a necessity and the norm. As we quickly adapted to remote work, companies continued recruiting and people started jobs remotely. This presents a new concept to companies: if you can work from home, you can work from anywhere in the world. What does this mean for the future of recruitment?
We have seen global completion for talent for the most strategic jobs for a long time, but not for every job. For most jobs, there has been a limited local talent pool. A global job market could mean that there could potentially be thousands of applicants, and they could be from anywhere in the country, or in the world.
3. Working from home
Before Covid-19, most employers would be adamant to allow employees to have a more flexible work from home arrangement. However, this pandemic has forced companies to adopt new working arrangements, communication channels, work protocols, and schedules. Companies adapted quickly than they would have possibly expected of themselves and tried their best to work in different settings. New dynamics formed as parents navigated homeschooling their children while working from home and colleagues communicate with one another in an entirely new setting. Employers had no choice but to trust their staff -- and everyone adapted. Working from home has revolutionized what everyone thought working had to be, and it will be likely that companies will continue to adopt these new flexible models for their employees.
However, there are two flip sides to this:
The first one is that most executives are facing a lack of ideation and creativity as difficult decisions are usually discussed and made in person, not through a screen. Hence, there is a stronger push to get teams to gather and work together in the same room for strategic discussions, ideation and risk assessment.
Secondly, flexibility is seen in different ways depending on if you're an employee or an employer. Most senior executives accept to allow employees to work from home 20% of the time, whereas most employees enjoy the WFH structure greatly. The definition and management of flexibility need to be aligned with all parties in the days to come.
4. The technological boom
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in all aspects of life -- videoconferencing, telemedicine, e-commerce, online education, and financial technology. Companies and their services that were virtually unheard of before the last year have household names: Zoom, Disney+, and other online platforms.
According to a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey of executives, international companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. Another McKinsey survey investigated the impact of Covid-19 on consumer sentiment and stated behavior had respondents saying that they were three times more likely to say that at least 80 percent of their customer interactions are digital in nature. With companies unable to market and network in real life, experts have agreed that it is now necessary for B2B or B2C companies to connect with their customer base digitally. This process has accelerated the growth of digitalization across all sectors and is a determining factor of survival in the post-COVID-19 world.
In Singapore, COVID-19 has caused a lack of new talent coming from abroad, on top of the increasingly stringent regulations for the employment pass. This has increased the demand for talent in tech, increasing salaries for most digital and tech jobs. (ie. Software developers, tech leads, digital marketing, etc.)
5. New opportunities in different sectors
While COVID-19 devastated many industries and forced many organizations to downsize their workforce, some other industries are seeing the exact opposite effect. Industries such as health care, food, and pharmacy retail, and supply chain industries have faced a huge sudden need for their services. Tech companies especially have experienced a boom and increased demand for their services, resulting in expansion and hiring.
While some businesses have developed diversification strategies in an emergency response to help weather the economic storm, others have made fundamental strategic changes and transformed their business processes completely. Companies had to transform their organizational structures out of necessity, provide alternative services and set different goals. The pandemic forced organizations to rethink HR goals in the long run and adapt their hiring strategy in anticipation of change.
6. What's in it for us in the future?
Which of these changes will impact us indefinitely? No one can tell for sure. In mid-2020 where lockdown and border closure measures were in full force, many managers and executives lauded the WFH structure and the use of technology in the workplace. Interestingly, many of them have different opinions now, a year after the pandemic struck us. A survey we conducted in late 2020, revealed that most executives stated that they would only accept employees to work from home 20% of the time in the future. Ultimately, while WFH may work for routine, backend office work, working remotely present more obstacles for jobs that are more complex and require creative team problem-solving.
The discussion of flexibility is still ongoing. After having a taste of working from home, most employees would agree that they prefer a more flexible arrangement. However, most of the upper management agrees that there is a lack of value creation with this arrangement. Balancing employee's needs for flexibility and the management's goals is now new challenge executives face, and will continue to change as the world adapts to this crisis.
While the economy recovers gradually and many business processes return to normal, there is no denying that this pandemic has inevitably changed the job market. As the business demands change and economic conditions develop, it is compulsory for organizations to adapt and adjust their hiring strategies for survival and longevity.
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