Recruiting is picking up again – a clear indication that, at least economically, we’re beginning to see the end of the pandemic. Across the board, companies are looking for skilled workers.
Job portal Indeed reports a 22% increase in job advertisements for 2021 so far. And the fashion industry too is desperately seeking to hire.
COVID-19 Changes Workplaces
The past 15 months were tough on businesses as well as workers. Organisations were restructured and slimmed down across the industry and cut back on jobs or left positions vacant in the process. This was, of course, a difficult reality for those affected by job loss.
Online retailers, on the other hand, experienced a boom and hired thousands to cope with increased demand. Just recently Amazon announced the recruitment of an additional 125.000 workers for the US market alone. But they aren’t exactly looking for the department store sales assistant or buyer who lost their positions due to Covid-19. And an employee who used to style windows at the The Gap won’t be too keen on picking and packing orders at an Amazon warehouse.
The retail and fashion industry is now coming to realise that some of the cutbacks may have been very costly, and that a new perspective on recruiting and personnel development is needed. At the same time, many workers have since transitioned into industries that were less affected by (or winners of) the Covid-19 crisis. Some lost faith in the future of their company. Others see the entire fashion industry as not only tainted but also insecure. These signals should worry even players who previously didn’t face difficulties on the labour market.
A Baptism by Fire for HR
It’s a truism in HR as elsewhere that the Covid-crisis has accelerated developments already well under way before. Many HR professionals went through something like their baptism by fire during lockdown. Challenged like never before, they significantly contributed to keeping businesses afloat through the pandemic: they organised short-time work, facilitated work from home, developed and introduced flexible working hours in a pinch, digitised recruiting and training within weeks and so on. Under normal circumstances, each and every one of these endeavours would have meant years of project work, provided funds were made available for them in the first place.
In many companies, HR remains something that’s expected to run smoothly and quietly in the background – an administrative function rather than a creative one. But this low-invest approach is unlikely to be enough in future. It rests on an outdated mindset that views employees primarily as cost factors and not as performance factors. While management sings high praise of teams and staff “without whom none of this would be possible”, day to day priorities and spending on HR, training and salaries often tell a different story.
Ask a top manager prospectively about the biggest challenges and the answer usually revolves around profit and growth. In retrospect, however, they will often recount that the biggest problems had to do with personnel and leadership. And while CEOs never miss a fashion fair, they are rarely seen at career fairs.
Post-Covid Employer Marketing
If you agree that staff quality significantly contributes to a company’s success, things will have to change. Post-crisis, the labour market more than ever favours employees. And employees have, over the course of the pandemic, acquired a taste for remote work, less travel, and a more relaxed approach to work. A flexible schedule and working from home are increasingly taken for granted – even if decentralised creative work doesn’t always lead to the best results, and sales staff can hardly work from their home office.
We may not always like it for efficiency reasons, but to offer the modes of working employees have come to expect communicates a form of employers’ trust. But there is more. How a company approaches topics like diversity and sustainability increasingly factors into the choice of employer too. Even better if your business can offer purpose on top of all that.
In all honesty, however, the main purpose of most companies will be to make money. At the end of the day, that holds true for employees as well. Because table football and team events lose their appeal when all your friends make more money than you.
It’s not enough to tackle these issues, we need to talk about them too. In this sense, employer marketing is no different than marketing communication at large.
A Broader War for Future Talent
The current war for talent is not confined to the fashion industry but takes place across industries. The increasing size and complexity of organisations across all industries have led to an extensive specialisation of functions, including HR. The vertical structuring of companies requires the intelligent interplay between a wide range of professionals.
The digital transformation calls for new skill sets that most traditional businesses lack in-house. In other words, the fashion and retail industry, traditionally united by a love of product, has to dress up for techies who could just as well work for Porsche, Biontech or Apple.
To prevail in the war for future talent, companies require innovative and creative approaches to organisation and HR. And creativity and flexibility, after all, are core strengths of the fashion industry at large. Bringing those strengths to fruition, however, will require an open mind, hard work, and investment.