The world of work has changed in a few short weeks. Businesses are struggling with continuity plans, where they can, while others are simply in crisis mode, trying to adapt to a completely new landscape on the fly.
The National Recruitment Federation (NRF) represents most recruiters and employment agencies around the country, at the coal face of the jobs market. We have members frantically busy recruiting for essential sectors such as retail supply chain, healthcare and logistics, while others deal more frequently with sectors experiencing mass lay-offs.
What is encouraging is that where businesses can facilitate remote working, or modify their workplace operations to satisfy safety protocols, we are seeing hiring. Core functions in some businesses that are no longer in demand are being put aside to provide products or services for which there is new demand; be it hand sanitisers, home deliveries, online shopping or health and safety signage.
We are an innovative, adaptable and enterprising nation. The country and its workforce will undoubtedly prevail, albeit it with economic stimulus and practical supports co-ordinated by a caretaker government and a hard-working civil and public service.
The coronavirus has forced us to reboot our lives and focus on what is important; essentially health, family and looking out for more vulnerable members of society.
We have also learned that work is something we do, and not somewhere we go. We may never return to the working patterns that existed before Covid-19 and, in some ways, this may not be a bad thing.
This pandemic may be the catalyst to start a remote-working revolution, which could see the revitalisation of rural Ireland. We could have less traffic congestion and pollution, more time with family, and, most importantly, access to affordable accommodation and housing outside the traditional commuter belts.
The home office may just replace the co-working spaces and massive corporate headquarters mushrooming in our principal cities. The prospect does, however, highlight the need for a robust and functioning national broadband infrastructure, as a key priority, once the healthcare crisis is contained.
Some companies are having connectivity issues with conference calls and network access, and employees are isolated from their teams and colleagues, which may reinforce the value of the physical corporate office and shared workspace. But the benefits of home working and increased productivity for many may just prompt more remote working from now on, at least partially with a few in-office days too.
For those who have lost jobs, there are things that can be done now, as well as applying for income support.
At the NRF, we have committed the resources and services of hundreds of member firms to help get Ireland working again. We have diverted staff to managing a phone-line and email contact to support people who have lost jobs recently.
The service will compile details, including work experience and qualifications, to circulate to our network of recruiters countrywide. NRF advisors can support with job search information, identifying skillset, CV preparation, remote interviewing and upskilling and training options.
There are jobs out there and, if you are in a sector particularly badly hit, like hospitality or travel, it will help to look at your wider skillset and all that you are capable of, rather than the role you previously held.
People have core skills they are not even aware of, such as customer service or dealing with telephone inquiries, money, technology, schedules, paperwork and so on. They need to analyse what their experience to date has entailed, and pull out every skill to identify what another employer will need.
Certain individuals can look at what they originally qualified in. There are people trained in accountancy, engineering or healthcare, for example, who went on to start their own small business. If that’s not viable right now, they could look at what is available in their original profession.
Sectors hiring in significant numbers include food retail, supply chain, fast-moving consumer goods, logistics, procurement, construction, healthcare, pharma and medical devices, recruitment, insurance and, sadly, insolvency.
Non-discretionary core functions including accounting, technology, marketing and sales are stable, with some job opportunities at present.
People are also advised to think about upskilling and the availability of online courses. Many are free through learning networks, such as Skillnet. The NRF has close links with the Skillnet Ireland employment activation programme, which is excellent, and includes free training in skills in demand by companies, and direct access to employers for meaningful work placements.
This type of collaborative approach will be essential to get Ireland back working. It is difficult to forecast, but economic activity has to continue. Demand for labour will bounce back, as a massive economic recovery drive happens; albeit with new, potentially even better, ways of working.
Donal O’Donoghue is president of the National Recruitment Federation and managing director of Sanderson Recruitment in Dublin