Business & Admin Support - Market Update Q3

Tribe’s Head of Business and Admin Support, Cathi Thomson and her team share their insights into another challenging quarter for the industry.

Reflecting on my last quarterly update, the feeling of the unknown could not have been more accurate! It has been a long six months navigating the COVID-19 playing field. 

There is no denying this has continued to challenge us in the world of business support.  The themes I touched on around automation and technology, empathy and flexible working all remain prevalent. As the quarter kicked off, SEEK shared that the number of people working from home declined to 32 percent (compared to 48 percent in April and 41 percent in May). 

We felt like we were getting back into our groove. As we rolled into July, we were pleased to see returning confidence relating to hiring within business support, both across the temporary and permanent markets. Roles that had been put on hold became a priority again, particularly in financial services and Government. The market was extremely candidate rich and while an attractive situation for organisations hiring, it was challenging for candidates actively seeking work. The importance of connecting with and managing each application during this time was something we encouraged our clients to be aware of. Many chose to utilise our services for this reason alone - brand and customer experience.  They simply did not have the capacity to do what we do in this space. 

It was an encouraging start to Q3 but there remained an air of uncertainty. BNZ senior economist, Doug Steel, said that while there was a sharp rise in economic activity when lockdown lifted, it may take years for the country’s GDP levels to return to pre-COVID levels.

Doug said: "The economy was hit hard when we went into lockdown and the lift in June was a bounce from an absolute low. I think people are very aware of the fact that the Government financial support is due to stop in September and the country will have to stand on its own two feet. That may be contributing to the sentiment of uncertainty about the future.”

We were somewhat prepared for this to play out and understood hiring intentions would likely be impacted, but we weren’t necessarily prepared for lockdown 2.0 in August. Businesses had the experience and infrastructure to deal with it this time - we’d done it before and we could do it again. It still threw a spanner in the works for many, and specifically for business support hiring. 

We know that there has been a massive mindset shift around flexible working. We have also learnt that this shift impacts business support roles greatly. Think executives not able to or choosing not to travel due to restrictions, technology in place of face-to-face meetings or office premises downscaling and in some cases reverting to a complete remote model. These few things can impact the makeup of EA, PA, reception and office management roles, while stirring up questions about the importance and/or relevance of these roles. At the least, it put a question mark around the hiring of them. 

A recent article in the New Zealand Herald states that young job seekers have been hit hard by COVID-19, with a rise of more than 80 percent in the number of 18-24-year-olds on the Job Seeker Allowance. Ministry of Social Development data comparing August 2019 to August 2020 shows: 

  • The number of 18-19-year-olds on the Job Seeker Work Ready allowance increased by 86 percent to 5,100 people.
  • The number of 20-24-year-olds on the same allowance rose by 84 percent to 26,268.
  • People looking for Job Seeker assistance in the 40-44-year-old age group increased by 46 percent to 9,949.

While admittedly the 18-24-year-old demographic is not the only one that feeds into business support roles, it is certainly a proportion of them. So, is this another reflection of the potential uncertainty and in turn nervousness of employers when hiring into these roles? And if hiring, are organisations tending to invest in experience over motivational fit and trying to play it safe?  It’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on for sure. 

As we start to scale back out of lockdown in Auckland, it’s fair to say we feel a bit like we did in July - on the up. Recruitment really is a rollercoaster, never mind CV19!