The New Year's festivities had barely come to a close when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on our screens again, instructing us all to stay home to help in the fight against COVID-19.
A third national lockdown became inevitable when COVID case numbers soared to record highs over the holiday break. This was partly due to the spread of a particularly contagious variant of the virus that has particularly affected London, the east and the south east.
As with the first lockdown, which was announced back in March 2020, people have been instructed to work from home where they can, schools have closed (except for the children of key workers) and travel has been severely restricted.
'Lockdown 3' is expected to remain in place until at least the middle of February although there will be regular reviews. It is expected that the country will be phased back into the regional tier system when the government decides they can relax restrictions.
Much hope is being placed on the vaccination program which, at the time of writing, has seen more than 3.5 million people receive injections.
What does this mean for Cambridge businesses?
While jobs will inevitably be lost as some businesses either fold or decide to lay off workers, the outlook isn't all bleak due to a combination of government support and the unique employment mix of the region.
The furlough scheme, whereby the government pays the majority of eligible employees' salaries, has already been extended by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, giving eligible businesses security at least until the end of April.
While salaries have fallen across the country, Cambridge is expected to resist this trend. In fact, statistics have shown a slight rise in the city's annual salaries between 2019 and 2020. This is in stark contrast to the aftermath of the 2018 economic crash which saw local salaries plummet by 15%.
One key reason for this is the region's jobs mix which is slanted towards sectors that have been less impacted by the pandemic. These include R&D, pharmaceutics, tech and food.
In many sectors, the job supply has actually increased as employers recruit to meet new, sometimes unexpected demands. These include educational software (edtech) firms that have risen to meet the need for quality home learning resources. Another example are those local manufacturers that have turned their factories into production lines for 3d printed face masks or ventilator components.
Many companies have also had to increase their internal IT provision to support home-working employees. This has led to significant IT recruitment drives in some cases.
How can Cambridge businesses attract top talent?
With salaries in Cambridge expected to remain roughly stable, businesses should look beyond renumeration to attract the best people. It also goes without saying that they should not be looking to reduce salaries to take advantage of the increase in employment demand.
So what are some tips for company recruiters?
1) Focus on job security. This is likely to be high on many candidates' priority list as many will have been in previously secure roles and may still be recovering from the shock of having their rug pulled out from under them. Companies that have shown support and compassion for the workforce during these tough times (e.g. extending the furlough scheme to employees with home-schooled children, inviting furloughed staff to virtual meetings, etc.) should highlight these positives in their campaigns.
2) Clarify your home working policy. While candidates remain uncertain about the length of the current lockdown, they will want to know about home working provision. Will they be given access to company-owned devices and networks to do their work or will they be expected to use their own? When lockdown ends, will they be required to return to a physical place of work or will home working be an ongoing option? Local statistics show that most people (39%) prefer an even balance between the two while 35% would like to work from home permanently, even after lockdown.
3) Set out your COVID safety credentials. Working in a COVID-safe environment is likely to be a high priority for employees expected to travel to a workplace. Detail all the measures you have taken to keep people safe and healthy (not forgetting mental health).
4) Create an attractive travel policy. Provision for parking, for cars and bicycles, might be appealing as employees seek to avoid public transport.
5) Improve the candidate experience. Even before the pandemic, optimising the candidate journey has been a priority for many companies as they recognise the influence of social media and review sites such as Glassdoor on brand perception. With many interviews now conducted via video conferencing software, time to hire has fallen in many recruitment campaigns. This provides an opportunity for smart recruiters to invest more resources into improving the overall candidate experience.
In summary, Cambridge and the surrounding areas will be affected by the ongoing COVID pandemic and jobs will inevitably be lost. However, many sectors will remain resilient and, on the whole, salaries are likely to remain stable or even increase.
Therefore, we advise recruiters looking to bring in top talent to focus on increasing their competitiveness through ensuring a positive candidate experience and highlighting their ability to provide a secure and COVID-safe working environment.
Cambridge salary statistics: https://www.plumplot.co.uk/Cambridge-salary-and-unemployment.html
Work from home statistics (may want to leave out as a potential competitor): https://www.prs.uk.com/news/2020/recruitment-and-the-eastern-region-s-recovery