Has the COVID-19 vaccine drive really boosted hiring intent?

It is too early to say feel some HR experts

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The Indian job market has been disturbed and disrupted for a while now, and the COVID-19 outbreak only worsened it further. Layoffs, furloughs and hiring freezes came to be the most dreaded terms for employees. The unlock periods, however, brought some cheer to businesses and the job market as such. A Naukri.com report from 2020 claims that there has been 14 per cent spike in hiring processes in December. The insurance sector saw 45 per cent growth while BFSI, pharma/biotech, FMCG and IT software saw marked improvement. More data points now reveal that with the COVID-19 vaccines getting approvals in India, the country may see an upswing in hiring intent as well.

As per a Teamlease survey for January-March 2021, Indian employers display healthy hiring intent of 27 per cent, which is up six per cent from the previous quarter – a balance, tempering optimism with caution. And the various sectors are responding with measured positivity. The survey took into account 815 small, medium and large businesses across 21 sectors. Health and pharmaceuticals have shown the maximum intent of 47 per cent, as per the report. Post the many unlocks, businesses have managed to bounce back with many companies declaring incentives and bonuses for their employees. This has significantly fuelled the rise in hiring sentiments.

I understand, from an engagement and socialisation perspective one may need to get people to office. However, even if there’s a vaccination drive, I don’t think we should suddenly ask people to come to office without requirement

Jitesh Bawa, senior VP – HR,Tata AIG General

Yet another report, this time by Monster, suggests job postings have seen an upward trend lately as businesses are reverting to post-COVID levels. All this is brewing a very positive sentiment in the job market, which is expected to be enhanced by the news of the vaccination drive all over the country. But is the hiring intent dependent on the vaccine or is it just business that determines who and how many to hire?

Lalit Kar, Sr VP-HR, Reliance Retail, lists out many reasons why businesses are recovering steadily post COVID and how he could bring in similar cheer to the job market. “Petroleum and power consumption has gone up, purchasing managing index is now 56 per cent. Collection of GST at Rs 10,000 crore, is the highest so far. The only thing, which is not showing improvement, is employment. This means, the economy is on an upsurge but employment has declined. There are two sides to this. The service sector is not responding in a similar manner due to perhaps cost-cutting or rationalisation for a lean organisation and functioning with lesser head count”. However, Kar is optimistic that if the upsurge continues, which will be boosted by vaccination, it will have a positive correlation. He also informs that many corporates will secure vaccines for their own employees and all this will definitely give a boost to job creation. “If the manufacturing and mining sectors start doing better, the service sector will get better too. There is talk of capitalising the public-sector banks. Today there is a conservative approach to get people to work. Normally, companies refrain from adding people unless they are going for an expansion. Many new skills will get added and a lot of jobs will be outsourced,” adds Kar.

NV Balachandar, executive director – HR, Ashok Leyland, echoes similar sentiments and predicts that the artificial intelligence and data analytics space will see more hiring. “The vaccine will certainly improve business confidence, thereby resulting in increased hiring. The service sector and IT — especially AI and data analytics— will see more hiring, and expertise will be more valued than experience. The gig economy is here to stay and play a critical role as well as encourage more diversity in the workplace,” he explains.

It’s not that companies have suddenly decided to hire from tier-2 or tier-3 cities. It is just that people from the metros have moved back home. Since companies are working remotely, these people are getting hired from their hometowns. It’s not like HR strategies have shifted towards hiring talent from these cities.

Girish Menon, head – HR, Swiggy

But intent to hire cannot be seen in isolation when it comes to businesses. Companies will hire if they need a certain amount of workforce and that may not change, with or without vaccines. Jitesh Bawa, senior vice president – human resources, Tata AIG General, doesn’t see any correlation between intent of hiring and vaccination. “In the last nine months, we have learnt certain things, some of which are good, such as giving flexibility to people to work. It did not impact work at all. Till now, most of the corporates were reluctant to permit work-from-home options to their employees. All that has changed. I understand, from an engagement and socialisation perspective one may need to get people to office. However, even if there’s a vaccination drive, I don’t think we should suddenly ask people to come to office without requirement,” he asserts.

He also adds here that hiring has a co-relation with business. “If the latter picks up, so will recruitment. The vaccine has nothing to do with it. My hunch is that at least for one and a half years, even if there is a vaccine, the corporates will be reluctant to meet the representatives of other companies. The need to meet people will reduce. Therefore, whether there is a vaccine or no, people will hire. They will find surrogate ways of connecting with the customer,” Bawa explains.

Expertise will be more valued than experience. The gig economy is here to stay and play a critical role as well as encourage more diversity in the workplace.

NV Balachandar, executive director – HR, Ashok Leyland

Teamlease’ survey also mentions that tier-2 and tier-3 cities may become hotbeds for white-collar jobs. Lockdown due to COVID-19 has made it amply clear that talent can be hired from any location now, including from foreign shores, as geographical limitations have ceased to matter much.

Girish Menon, head – HR, Swiggy, too is of the opinion that intent to hire depends on the business, as market sentiments are definitely positive now than they were before, which is reflecting in the hiring intent. But when it comes to increased interest in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, he does have a valid point here. “Many people have gone back to their hometowns because of the lockdown. It’s not that companies decided to hire from tier-2 or tier-3 cities. It is just that people from the metro cities have moved back home. Since companies are working remotely, these people are getting hired from their hometowns. It’s not like HR strategies have shifted towards hiring talent from these cities,” he enunciates.

The economy is on an upsurge but employment has declined. There are two sides to this. The service sector is not responding in a similar manner due to perhaps cost-cutting or rationalisation for a lean organisation and functioning with lesser head count.

Lalit Kar, Sr VP-HR, Reliance Retail

Menon also feels that it’s too soon to declare the hiring intent is any different from what it was before. “We will have to wait for that. The vaccine is not the only criterion. Businesses will determine what their hiring plans are. There are also data points saying 30 per cent of the workforce will leave if they have to come back to office. So, it’s too early to say how things will pan out,” he signs off.

It is obviously good news that hiring intent seems to have received a boost with news of the COVID-19 vaccine, but at the end of the day, business outcome will decide if the intent translates into actual recruitment or not.