The Counter-Cyclical Hiring Impact of COVID-19

December 31, 2020 – Having spent over a decade delivering executive search mandates in the professional and technology services domain, Gene Allmark-Kent is a partner and part of the global leadership team for the risk and data advisory practice at Wilton & Bain. He supports clients and their boards addressing the complex and ever-changing regulatory agenda, appointing key executives in areas such as cybersecurity, compliance, analytics and across the emerging technology landscape.

Mr. Allmark-Kent recently joined Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss tech/ cyber recruiting, how it has changed because of the global pandemic, and what things will look like moving ahead.

Gene, describe how tech/cyber recruiting has been impacted by COVID-19?

It is clear the COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on many industries. However, for a number of them, it has had a counter-cyclical effect, accelerating both the need and pace of hiring. As working from home has put significant additional pressures on both IT and security, we have seen the appetite and competition for resources has risen accordingly. We have witnessed an increased focus on the cloud and something of a land grab for resources in areas such as Dev Sec Ops which sit at the nexus of these topics and remain earlier in their maturity cycle. As we have previously seen in domains such as cloud transformation or data science, there is pervasive competition for cloud security experts from major corporates, consulting firms, software vendors and even the hyper-scalers.

Has COVID-19 forced more organizations to consider digital transformations?

COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated both the need and desire for digital transformation and adoption. As described by Deloitte, lots of firm’s get stuck at the point of ‘doing digital things’ on their journey to becoming or being digital..the latter steps requiring more fundamental changes to companies’ operating model, business model or DNA. A crisis certainly gives firms an abrupt intervention to address these matters and do so in a way that the usual BAU politics or processes may have previously hampered. Take the hiring process as an example. We now have clients onboarding and recruiting executive talent via a wholly digital journey, some have never seen the office at which they’ll work, while others may not have an office base any more at all. That concept would have been unthinkable in 2019. Equally, we have seen clients, particularly in domains such as trading and hedge funds where “working from home” was outlawed, suddenly spinning up virtual environments and now struggling to get their employees to return to the office.

What is the current state of recruiting for AI/tech firms?

Has this sector slowed or continued strong? Firms in the AI, data science and data intelligence domain have continued to thrive and grow through this period. Whether it be an increased focus on automation, seeking cost reduction in processes such as compliance or optimization, or even the fight against COVID-19 itself utilizing AI and machine learning for drug repurposing and cost-effective therapeutic development. Data science continues to be a major focus for these objectives. Firms continue to seek to reduce cost through the automation of lower value business processes, while also freeing up skilled workers for more enjoyable, fulfilling, and higher value tasks.

What’s changed?

It feels like the general hype we saw through 2016-2018 to ‘recruit good data scientists and we’ll work out what to do with them’ started to cool last year. What has emerged is a more solution or industry-specific desire by many firms to recruit and deploy these skills. It is interesting to note the growth of vendors who have found success with a particular industry vertical (for example, financial crime in banking), finding it easier to move into other sectors ‘having solved something,’ than those more vanilla, data-science platforms that can ‘solve anything’ and at times struggle to position themselves in the market or certain clients.

What are your expectations for the next 12 months?

It feels like the market for technology skills continues to remain competitive at all levels. Certain sub domains such as cloud, cybersecurity, SAP S4 remain in high demand for both end-users and services firms. Given the increased need and conversance with working from home, borders and geography have started to become less of an inhibitor to recruitment as they once were. However, this presents new challenges to onboarding, integration, and well-being. As we face a second lockdown, knowledge of the first round has both equipped us for what is ahead but left some feeling slightly deflated. Taking a more positive note, we can certainly see that many firms are ‘ahead of a conservative target’ and have adjusted more quickly to the ‘new normal’ than they may have previously feared. Much of this has been enabled through the acceleration of their digital journey and greater adoption of new technology solutions, integrating new emerging skillsets and a quicker propensity to transform themselves.

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