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March 24, 2021

The technology sector is hiring again but recruitment has changed forever

Tech companies including PayPal and Accenture are hiring more now than before the pandemic, while virtual recruitment becomes the norm.

By Matthew Gooding

Despite many tech companies thriving during Covid-19, hiring took a hit in the past 12 months, with large corporations and start-ups alike battling an uncertain economic climate. The job market has now started to bounce back but, like many other areas of life, it is unlikely to return to its pre-pandemic form.

Job listings for the largest tech companies fell by more than 40% from the peak in February 2020 after the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic in March 2020, according to data from GlobalData. Since the summer, the number of job openings has shown strong, consistent growth, despite ongoing lockdowns, but only returned to pre-pandemic levels in February of this year.

Some of the biggest names in tech observed a considerable knock to job openings in the first months of the pandemic, falling to around half the number seen at the start of 2020. Big Tech companies such as Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft have seen a notable slump in openings and only just recovered to pre-pandemic levels, despite the fact their business growth and stock market performance rallied through most of last year.

Amazon, the company that saw its revenue grow most dramatically during 2020, posting a 37% increase, is still not hiring as many people as it was before Covid-19 took hold, though with over 800,000 staff on its books (many in non-tech roles) it already employs far more employees than any of its Big Tech rivals.

Tech hiring during Covid-19: the winners

A handful of tech companies continued to swell their ranks throughout the pandemic. Online payments provider PayPal was one knockout performer for job listings, observing a 200% increase in early 2021, even as the other big tech multinationals only began to see numbers tick up to pre-pandemic levels. This no doubt reflects the record payments volumes and new accounts it saw at the start of the pandemic as consumers flocked to a trusted brand as the economy digitalised.

This acceleration of digitisation also explains why many IT services providers are embarking on hiring sprees. Accenture, Cognizant and IBM all have more job listings now than they did this time last year, according to GlobalData.

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Accenture CEO Julie Sweet attributes its hiring spree to the continued compressed transformation of businesses. “Companies have to simultaneously transform multiple parts of their enterprise and reskill their people in what previously would have been sequential programs,” she told the company’s Q2 earnings call last week. “We increased hiring approximately 50% both year-over-year and since last quarter and we’ve onboarded over 100,000 people virtually over the last 12 months with new innovative approaches.”

Beyond Covid-19: the future of hiring

Virtual hiring became the norm very quickly in the pandemic, says Toby Young, partner at Bailey Fisher Executive Search, which helps tech companies recruit C-suite executives. “The initial response when the pandemic started was ‘how can I hire a member of my senior team without meeting them?’,” he says. “But within four weeks that all changed.”

Young believes Zoom interviews are likely to remain a central part of recruitment, even as the pandemic subsides. “Video interviews are here to stay, and I think they’ve actually benefited the hiring process,” he says. “It takes away the need to travel, and it has made people get better at interviews; they’re better prepared and feel more comfortable asking direct questions, whereas when meeting face-to-face I think it was a slightly softer process and you’d get more small talk.”

Young expects a lot of companies to adopt a hybrid model of virtual and in-person interviews, with final stages happening face-to-face. “People have missed that chance to really get to know a person and try and work out if they’re a good cultural fit,” he says. “We’ve had some clients go for walks with candidates or conduct outside interviews where allowed during the pandemic.”

He adds companies also feel more empowered to look to candidates from other parts of the world after working remotely during Covid-19. Though it is common for tech businesses to have development or sales teams working remotely across different geographies, he says this is also becoming the case at C-suite level. “It’s opened up the world in terms of where you can hire from,” he says. “But you have to think about who you want to be culturally and how you achieve that if you have teams in the UK, Australia and Brazil. I think that will create a whole raft of challenges in the longer term.”

In-demand skills for technology businesses

The pandemic has also affected the type of skills tech businesses are looking for. “Based on our research and anecdotal evidence from members, the most in-demand skills in the past year have been cybersecurity, cloud and IT support, the kind of things you naturally need with everything moving online and businesses undergoing a forced digital transformation,” says Nimmi Patel, policy manager for skills, talent and diversity at tech trade association techUK.

Although the surge in demand for cybersecurity skills was a “specific reaction” to the pandemic and the growth in the cyberattack surface as organisations moved to homeworking, Nimmi believes, the market for tech workers with cloud skills is likely to continue to be brisk as Covid-19 has increased demand for cloud-based solutions. “Cloud is still quite new for many of the organisations we talk to, and though a lot of them were already using it in some respect, they weren’t making a conscious decision to do that,” she says. “Now since the pandemic, there’s more awareness and they are making a conscious decision [to move to the cloud].”

Home page photo of a laptop user by Mr Whiskey/Shutterstock.

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