Jonathan Dunne’s business, Taunton Cider, was completely reliant on pubs. As the UK went into lockdown, his business disappeared overnight, staff were furloughed, and Dunne had to work out what to do next.
Dunne completely refocused his business, bringing in new retail clients as well as selling directly to consumers online. The company’s sales were up 150% year-on-year in June as a result, and Dunne is in a position to hire again. One new staff member has just started on the sales team and Dunne is looking to hire more sales and production staff in the coming months.
“We can be more targeted at the person we want,” he explains. “Somebody we wanted last year and couldn't afford we now can, or if they weren’t available, they now are. What we're hoping is that by the end of this year, we’ll have better people, a better product, and a better offering.”
Generally, the food industry is one sector that seems to be surviving pretty well during the pandemic – at least those not supplying the hospitality sector exclusively. Lukas Vanterpool is director of The Sterling Choice, a recruitment agency that supplies candidates to the food, FMCG and engineering sectors, from entry-level jobs all the way up to the C-suite. He says that there has been an uptick in recruitment in the sector overall as businesses try to meet consumer demand and find new markets.
“There has been a real increase in short-term labour, as you would expect,” says Lukas. “And that's various levels of scale. I think a lot of people would assume it's people in the fields picking potatoes, but that’s really not the case. Anything up to executives, site leadership, project managers, contractors, day-rate interims. There has been a real focus on people who can come in and add some value and support.”
A lot of this has been extremely reactive, Vanterpool explains – businesses have had to respond rapidly to increasing demand, particularly when it comes to fresh produce and tinned goods. Temporary workers have sometimes had to have been brought in as employees got sick and had to self-isolate.
This hasn’t been the case for the entire sector. For suppliers to hotels, restaurants and travel companies, there have been mass redundancies. Suddenly, the market has been flooded with talent. In previous recessions, this would usually lead to new hires being offered lower salaries and benefits than they would usually be able to command, but Vanterpool says that in his sector at least, that isn’t happening. “When you compare it to 10 years ago, the whole mentality around this is completely different. The offers are going out are very fair. The expectation around the talent and how to treat them is still not as high as it could be, but they're still working on it.”
The food sector is not the only one that’s still going strong. Accounting and financial services has experienced a similar split in fortunes, where the more forward-thinking firms have thrived over traditional teams and practices. Farha Jamadar, a finance manager for Todd Doors, says that the pandemic has given her a chance to take stock, review all of the tasks done by the team, and create very specific job specs for the team that they want in the future. “We’re not in a position to hire yet, but we will be,” Farha says. “The job market has now switched to an employer’s market, so we have a better chance of filling that role with someone who has the skills that we want.”
The technology sector is also still hiring at the moment; productivity and communications tool providers in particular have performed strongly, and tech support and development roles are still plentiful on the jobs market. Amanda Augustine, careers expert at CV-writing service TopCV, says that positions and sectors that are considered ‘vital’ are the ones that are hiring at the moment. “While there is no set guarantee, individuals who have been deemed ‘key workers’ by the government during lockdown can expect a greater degree of job security than other, nonessential workers,” she says.
Primarily, this is public sector roles in health and social care, education and public safety. Food is of course on that list, as are utilities and financial services. Elsewhere, Amanda is less optimistic. “If your sights are set on working in a sector where most organisations have been forced to close their doors, layoff or furlough workers, or institute a hiring freeze, you can assume that recruitment will remain at a virtual standstill for the foreseeable future,” she says.
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