Recruitment: The COVID-19 Effect
August 3, 2021
Jade Smith

You might have noticed that candidate engagement has changed in recent months. It’s safe to say that over the course of the past year the recruitment landscape has changed a lot.

The first national lockdown starting in March of 2020 caused the UK’s GDP to drop by a whopping 17.6 points within a month. Organisational growth ground to a halt, and as a result, by September we saw the largest increase in unemployment since the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009.

How the Pandemic Affected Employment

A line graph demonstrating the up and down trends of jobs posted on Jobsgopublic during the pandemic.


There’s no doubt that this economic downturn affected organisations’ willingness to hire and retain staff. Prior to the pandemic in February 2020, only 4.1% of economically active adults were unemployed. By the end of the second lockdown of November 2020, unemployment hit a peak of 5.2%. Redundancies rose in parallel with this increase, seeing 14.4 in every 1,000 British workers losing their jobs by the end of the second lockdown. This is compared to just 3.8 in February.

Public sector recruitment activity followed a similar trend as a result. In the period between January and April 2020 the number of jobs posted on jobsgopublic decreased by 68%. Comparatively, the number of active job seekers during the first lockdown was 38% higher than the same period of 2019. This suggests that a larger number of candidates were competing for fewer jobs.

Are Things Getting Better…?

Now that the vaccination programme is well underway in the UK, the recruitment landscape has begun to evolve again. Recruitment activity has bounced back, with public sector organisations posting almost triple the number of vacancies on our job boards in the first quarter of 2021-22 than Q1 of 2020-21.

Yet, you may have noticed that the volume of candidate traffic has dipped at the same time. Indeed, the number of active jobseekers on jobsgopublic during this quarter was 26% lower than last year.

Why Has Traffic Dropped?

Although at first glance the dip in traffic is alarming, this is a positive sign for the British economy. Data from ONS’ July report (linked above) demonstrates that as of May the rate of redundancies has returned to pre-pandemic levels. This demonstrates that companies are now more able to retain staff. In addition, the number of payrolled employees in the UK in June 2021 was only 206,000 below pre-pandemic levels. Thus, the unemployment gap has begun to close again.

A change in jobseeker attitudes may also be playing a large role in the dip in candidate activity. A recent Indeed survey of unemployed workers demonstrates that starting a new position immediately is not a priority for many candidates this Summer. Among the reasons stated, fears about catching coronavirus was still a major concern. Many candidates are also waiting for their children to go back to school in the Autumn. This fact is unsurprising given that many employees are concerned about the costs of childcare following the return to offices.

What Could Happen Next?

There are speculations that candidate activity may begin to increase again from the Autumn. With the Government having begun to wind down the furlough scheme from July, businesses have expressed fears of bankruptcy. This could lead to another spike in unemployment, and subsequently more candidates seeking jobs. This is a period which public sector employers should exploit to highlight the advantages of working in local government.

Moreover, with another cohort of graduates recently joining the workforce, there’s a large portion of workers seeking new entry-level roles. Prospects has highlighted that the Public Sector is expected to become one of the largest graduate employers in 2021. With skills shortages proving a major pinch point for organisations, now would be the ideal time to tap into new graduate talent and nurture skills from within.

We understand that competition for skilled job seekers is at an all-time high due to the current candidates’ market. Get in touch with our team today to see how we can help you find ideal candidates for your roles!

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