Article written by Richard Jackson, Co-founder & General Manager, RLC Recruitment

As a recruitment agency focused on manufacturing and related product supply chains, RLC Recruitment is accustomed to managing fluctuations in the job market and hiring processes.

Some of these fluctuations are seasonal; some are due to economic cycles. However, the COVID-19 situation is presenting us with circumstances that are unprecedented, outside of natural disasters or wartime. The latest figures from the Thai government show unemployment has doubled to 700,000 since December 2019 and the IMF has downgraded the country’s economic forecast to a contraction of -6.7% GDP – the largest fall of the ASEAN nations.

Naturally, stakeholders across numerous industries are asking: “How is recruitment being affected? Is anyone hiring right now?”

I’ve been hearing these questions a lot, so I’d like to share a few thoughts about the difficult times we’re going through. My comments focus on multinational companies, as these are the clients that I regularly consult with.


‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’


Many industries have been irredeemably affected by the COVID-19 shutdown. Unfortunately, many businesses will not survive these next few months. Other companies are dealing with complex and costly “force majeure” scenarios.

As a business owner, this is painful to watch because I know just how much blood, sweat, and tears go into creating and sustaining a successful business. I wish everyone who is dealing with economic troubles the best.

In the current economic crisis, I think it’s important to remember the words of the late US President John F. Kennedy: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters — one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” 


Keys to survival: agility & innovation


I have witnessed a clear dichotomy of responses among major multinational companies operating in SE Asia. Their reactions to the COVID-19 crisis have been polarized, forming roughly two groups, let’s call them ‘A’ and ‘B’:

Company A Company B
Indecision/slow responsiveness Decisive/prompt action
Centralised decision making Autonomous local and departmental leadership
Poor top-down communication Clear updates and messages
Uncertainty/paralysis Demonstrating trust & accountability
Hiring freezes imposed; candidates in limbo Enacting proactive hiring policies

I have been impressed with how quickly some companies fitting the “B” mold have adapted. Critical hiring decisions have been left to empowered local managers rather than imposing blanket global-wide freezes. Lengthy hiring processes that involve multiple face-to-face interviews with travel-weary executives have been streamlined with video calls. Some hiring processes are now being finished within a matter of days; this can mitigate a lot of the lost productivity that has been well-documented in lengthy hiring processes.

This period of disruption could be a tough test of a company’s preparedness for the 4th industrial revolution. It is a chance to prove that a company’s business culture is something more substantial than a slogan written on the office wall. Interestingly, the ‘work-from-home’ model is shining a spotlight on data-driven performance, as businesses and management increasingly rely on purely numeric information to track objectives.


The importance of leadership


If we are going to look for any positives, then perhaps the most significant is the opportunity to demonstrate or develop leadership during potentially desperate times. This leadership doesn’t need to come from bosses — leadership can and should manifest itself in every level and department of a well-run business when the chips are down!

The underlying narrative of the current situation is one of trust.

As we continue to work remotely through national shutdowns, I wonder how many people feel that their work is valued? Do employees feel accountable and trusted by their companies to deliver? Or will this new routine end up highlighting the insecurity and anxiety within teams and organizations? I’ll be very interested to hear the comments from my connections in the coming days, weeks, and months…

For any leader this is a period we will reflect on as one that shaped the narrative of our career; it will give us a genuine indication of our true leadership capabilities.

How are you responding to the challenge? Will you look back at a dismal period filled with blame and insecurity, or will you reflect on a period of change that resulted in a sense of pride, progress, unity, and positive accomplishment?

RLC Recruitment, Co. Ltd. Thailand –  April 2020 /  เมษายน 2563

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