In March, the Flemish employment service (VDAB), recorded one third fewer job vacancies than a year ago. The corona crisis is clearly felt, yet despite this downturn, Jan Denys, Randstad's labour market expert, also spots opportunities for both companies and job candidates.
In March of this year, the Flemish employment service (VDAB) was directly notified of a total of 17.361 vacant positions. Compared to March 2019, this was a decrease of 31,3%. The fall in job offers was general, though some sectors were hit harder than others. The hospitality and tourism industry noted a fall of 61,6% and wholesale- and retail sales and corporate services experienced a setback of more than 44%. “When a crisis like this one occurs, companies react according to a familiar pattern”, says Jan Denys. “First of all, temporary contracts do not get renewed. Next, any scheduled recruitments are reviewed. These do not all get scrapped, which is noticeable from the statistics. The labour market continues to operate. The third phase concerns redundancies. These are already happening now, but later in the year more substantial reforms will be implemented.”
Though the corona crisis has serious implications for the labour market, Jan Denys also wishes to add some historical nuancing. Compared to the crisis of the early seventies, the natural outflow is greater at this moment. “At the time, few people left the labour market spontaneously. Many candidates joined the labour market and simultaneously many jobs were lost. What we are seeing now is not such an explosive cocktail, but the present prognosis of 100.000 new job seekers is not negligible. This is the highest number since World War II, though it should be noted that during the 2008 crisis, the prognoses were much worse than what actually happened, and this may also be the case now.”
Though the labour market is not shut down, many job candidates find themselves in a peculiar situation. Is there any point to applying to a (new) job? “For some profiles, such as engineers, little will change, but many others will have to adjust their expectations”, Jan Denys says.
“This means more people will have to be satisfied with a job they would not have considered a year ago. Don't be too picky, you can always find another job later on.”
For newcomers to the labour market, the situation is even more precarious. They are finding it harder to finish their studies and landing a first job will not be sinecure either. “Studying for one extra year may be an option in such a case. Not by way of a sabbatical or a vacation, but in order to gain some extra skills and to deploy these when things are looking up”, says Jan Denys.
Gaining some extra skills is never a bad idea for those who wish to arm themselves in anticipation of better times. “For the jobless, this is certainly a valid strategy and also a very accessible one. The range of interesting online courses is wider than ever before, so do take advantage of this offer.” Those who are in work but would consider going for a new job, certainly need not cancel their plans, Jan Denys emphasises. Keep your eyes open for opportunities.
“I understand that people feel uncertain and tend to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, but the labour market really does continue to operate. There's no reason to put your plans aside for years. Dare to give any interesting options a shot.”
Like the job candidates, companies also have to make an assessment of their situation. The crisis compels them to put recruitment on hold - but then how do you prepare for an eventual return of scarcity on the labour market? Jan Denys sees mainly opportunities. “For large companies, this is an ideal moment to land some extra talent. Talent that would otherwise be hard to find on the labour market or that would only be available via headhunting. It may be opportune to retrieve some specific profiles at this moment. This requires you to look further into the future than the next quarter. This is not easy, but it may be just that little bit easier for small companies operating on a firm financial footing. They may manage to recruit some profiles that would be unattainable to them in normal circumstances.”