Covid has come along like a thief in the night and stolen just about every employment convention in the book. And South Africa was ripe for the plucking! With its stagnating economy, huge debt, rating agency downgrades, state capture and an ever-increasing unemployment statistic, it only needed a small breeze to tip it over the precipice. What we got was a gigantic sneeze from the rest of the world that flung us off the cliff in no uncertain terms.
As a recruitment agency of some 47 years standing, we have experienced some of the best and the worst of South Africa and the world’s economy. There were clear indications, before Covid, that the landscape in the advertising, marketing, media and communications industry was changing. There was a definite trend towards hiring on contract, freelance and short-term agreements and paying only for work delivered. Salaried employees who resigned were not being replaced and only those who proved their worth on previous assignments were considered for permanent employment. In two short months this trend has become the norm. How to effectively engage with clients in a work from home arrangement, cutting overheads and a more critical analysis of the true value of each employee is occupying the minds of, especially, small business owners now. Salaries are being replaced with pay for performance clauses in flexible agreements with working hours and leave no longer the sticking points they used to be.
I expect this to continue, even after we get through the immediate crisis of Covid, and make our way through the economic challenges we are still to face in South Africa. There is a large acceptance from our candidates that they are unlikely to be permanently employed in the near future and that their remuneration will depend largely on freelance assignments and the quality of work they deliver. We are seeing examples of “self-preservation marketing” where candidates are upskilling and making themselves available on various platforms, both locally and on the international stage. This is being well received by the industry as it makes for more competitive work and raises the quality.
Unfortunately, there is serious collateral damage to the new norm. Unemployment statistics aren’t likely to get better any time soon with large sections of the previously, safely employed population, unable to get work and not having the skills or the desire to market themselves. Our inboxes are filled with CVs, job applications and desperate pleas for help. The best advice we can give is to keep in contact with your industry, try to stay relevant and look to diversify within your skillset.
Let’s hope that as we move to level 3 and an opening up of the economy that there will be more confidence to employ. If there is one thing that we have learnt in our 47 years of business is that nothing stays the same for very long. This crisis will pass and when it does – BE READY.