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Recruiting in times of Covid-19 – a personal experience

19. April 2020  source: cargoforwarder.eu

The global economy is experiencing what is probably its deepest slump since WW2. Unemployment is rising dramatically in many countries, above all in the USA and Great Britain. Dismissals are the order of the day, new hires are scarce.
The crisis is not sparing logistics companies either, as the slump in intercontinental transport volumes shows. Nor recruitment agencies, as this personal report by Markus Bock, the owner of the Hamburg-based specialist for HR Consulting & Recruiting, Facts & Skills, illustrates. Yet, besides the suffering being caused by Covid-19, he also sees the virus as an accelerator of innovation.

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The author manages Facts & Skills together with his wife, Vivian Ding - image courtesy of Facts & Skills.

On 25JAN20, my wife returned to Hamburg after a 3-week stay in Beijing and Shanghai, where we have branches, and at the same time as she came back, I became ill. It was not simply a slight cold, as would be usual at this time of year, but fever, coughing, and extreme fatigue - first contact with the corona virus?
I still do not know. The general practitioner did not want to receive me in his practice, the local university hospital did not feel responsible and the helpful lady from the nationwide corona hotline referred me as a Hamburg resident to the Bernhard Nocht Institute, a world-leading specialist facility for tropical medicine. After two telephone calls with members of the Institute and answering several questions, I knew that I did not belong to the risk group and that I probably only had a simple but severe flu, like a great many others.

Phase of contract cancellations began in early February
At the same time as "my" flu, we received the first contract cancellations in Hamburg. Logistics service providers who were looking for specialists for the sea freight import business or their fairs & events department, lamented the drop in orders and suspended any new hiring for the time being. This was also the case with some airfreight logistics providers.
At the Hamburg headquarters of a large Asian shipping company, applicants called and asked to be allowed to attend job interviews outside the company building because they were concerned about being infected with the coronavirus within the office. This was all in February, before contact restrictions were imposed in Germany and other countries.
Video-based interviews have been used in the recruiting selection process in China already since the beginning of February. However, the final interview still takes place face to face, both in Germany and China, thus for China all final interviews have been "postponed" until April. In Germany, some logistics companies will start face to face interviews again in the last week of April.

Hardly any new hires at logistics companies
During the course of February and March, an increasing number of logistics service providers in Germany, whether they were SMEs, established medium-sized companies or even large freight forwarding groups, began to stop hiring new staff. Already scheduled job interviews were cancelled at short notice and postponed indefinitely.
We have seen a decline in contracts of around 30% in China since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. We are currently no longer processing any search assignments at all in the Retail and Air&Sea Logistics segment, and in the eCommerce and Internet Plus (online-based services) segment the number of search assignments has fallen by around 20%.

Trend: wait and see
Companies are currently even more cautious in their hiring decisions in Germany than in other countries. The predominant trend among many logistics companies is to wait and see how the pandemic has affected their company and then decide whether and in which positions to hire or replace staff.
Several of the logistics service providers based in Germany have now introduced short-time work. We did the same in Hamburg at the beginning of April. In my opinion, short-time work is indeed a very practical and sensible method for companies to be able to deal with such exceptional situations.
In China, in order to cushion the impact of the pandemic on companies and employees, the government has implemented tax deferrals and a waiver of social security contributions over several months, differentiated according to company size.

Corona acts as an innovation accelerator
Despite all the negatives, there are also positive aspects:
Society has realized that logistics is essential to keeping the system running, and thus, in many places, people working in logistics are now held in different regard than prior to corona.
The workforce in many companies has also "moved closer together," despite the lockdown. Times of crisis obviously lead to greater solidarity.
In no time at all, IT system administrators have made companies home office capable...purchased VPN licenses...and discovered that, when necessary, things can happen very quickly...
As one system administrator recently said to me: "What we are seeing these days is digital transformation at speed."
From a human resources perspective, the last weeks and months have been very valuable in terms of the experience and knowledge gained and still to be gained regarding working from home. For years, the possibility of using a home office has been one of the most important pro criteria for applicants. Many shipping companies and logistics service providers have until now have struggled with this employee wish. Yet, now that important practical experience has been gained, some HR managers are already working on models for sensible home office contingents to increase their attractiveness as a company.

Forecast for the future
In our estimation, the situation will remain challenging for Air&Sea Logistics in 2020. The development in the second half of the year remains to be seen.
While Internet Plus companies (online-based services such as food delivery) are experiencing a boom during the corona pandemic, demand is expected to decline after contact and movement restrictions are lifted.
For the eCommerce industry, the speed of growth will depend on the purchasing power remaining or regained after the corona pandemic and the associated consumer behaviour.

Time to complete unfinished homework
We, as recruiting specialists and external HR agency, are generally optimistic about the future and are using the current time to optimize internal processes, expand our candidate network and prepare for future search assignments.
To conclude, here is a brief overview of our company:
Facts & Skills is an internationally active personnel consultancy. It was founded in 2007 and is represented at three locations: Hamburg, Shanghai, and Beijing. A total of around 30 recruiters and consultants work on finding the right candidates (m/f/x) for companies in the fields of logistics/supply chain, e-commerce, and retail. The experts use a wide range of recruiting methods, from advertising in selected media, active sourcing in social business networks, through to the classic direct approach if the digital search does not yield any results.
Geographic core markets are currently Germany and China.

Markus Bock, owner of Facts & Skills

 


 

Recruiting in China and Europe – Two Markets, Two Philosophies

11. September 2017

The 2007 incepted HR consulting & recruiting company Facts & Skills, specialized in logistics and the supply chain, runs offices in Hamburg, Germany, Shanghai and Shenzhen, China. F&S founder Markus Bock and his Chinese partner Vivian Ding informed CargoForwarder Global exclusively about similarities and differences in both search markets. The outcome of the comparison is based on their daily doing and insights.

Senior Supply Chain Engineer, Trade Lane Manager Europe-Asia or Director Sales and Marketing Germany, these are but  just three out of dozens of current vacancies the Facts & Skills recruiting experts, sitting in the company’s Hamburg headquarters, try to fill with skilled applicants on behalf of their clients.

 

Vivian Ding and Markus Bock of Facts & Skills - credit: F&S

Different needs

In contrast, their colleagues in Shanghai and Shenzhen are predominantly working on orders to find specialists for managing and developing the supply chains of e-commerce flows. “E-Commerce is really going through the roof in China, which explains the fast growing staffing needs local logistics players have,” states Mrs Ding. This particularly applies to e-commerce platform operations managers or e-commerce last mile ops managers, jobs that are highly demanded in China.
According to the F&S experts, the Chinese recruiting market differs substantially from that in Central Europe, due to a number of key factors:

  • Chinese universities have introduced study courses in logistics only in 2005 and beyond, leaving the number of graduates still quite small. In contrast, in most European countries universities and academies have introduced logistics study programs much earlier.
  • For several years now, Chinese economic growth has slowed down, putting the logistics company’s focus on cost savings. Particularly the optimization of supply chain processes offers very high savings potential, which explains the local market’s high demand for experts who are familiar with the local circumstances.
  • Important to note is that in China skilled logistics managers and senior consultants are much fewer than in Europe. Therefore, they tend to demand higher wages compared to their European peers, respectively consultants claim higher daily rates. 

 

Focusing on vocational education
Given these sourcing circumstances, F&S plans to establish further training opportunities in China - according to the recruiter’s German concept and adapted to the needs of the regional market. In its initial stage, seminars lasting between 3 to 5 days will be offered. Preparations are underway. If all goes according to plan, the first courses will be run in Shanghai and Shenzhen in Q1 of 2018. A second vocational pillar F&S developed for China consists of practice-oriented modules spanning several months, in which local experts will impart knowledge to the trainees and pass on their skills to the participants. Once the members completed these courses successfully, they would qualify for managerial positions.
However, for the time being, F&S has put this intention on the backburner. Explains Markus: “Currently, it is difficult to gain sufficient acceptance for long-term training courses which do not include an official title or degree awarded by local authorities.”
 
Growing sourcing network
F&S is strong in the Chinese sourcing and recruiting market thanks to a joint venture signed with LogClub last year, China's largest media company in the field of Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Vivian Ding speaks of a “win-win situation” giving her company the opportunity to attend logistics events organized by LogClub in different Chinese cities, offering her company’s recruiting services to the participants and expanding the own network of industry specialists and decision-makers simultaneously.
Conversely, LogClub benefits from the additional services offered by partner F&S, this way attracting more people to its events. A Win Win situation for both. Regular events on current logistics topics in various Chinese metropolises form a good platform to expand the network to industry specialists and decision-makers. States Vivian:  “Due to the LogClub network we have access to 400,000 industry specialists. This way, there is almost no vacancy we cannot fill with a suitable candidate.” She goes on to say: “This is reflected in the market, which means that more and more attractive vacancies are reported to us.”

Sample of one of Facts & Skills current job ads
Locals replace expats
Further to this, she speaks of a new trend in the Chinese sourcing market, particularly in logistics. “In contrast to the past, employers are increasingly searching for skilled local personnel to fill a specific managerial function, whereas a few years ago they tried to hire external professional expats for performing executive duties.”
 
Conditions get tougher in the German sourcing market
Touching the German labor market in logistics and supply chain, Markus speaks of a significant transformation the recruitment process went through during recent years. “Finding suitable candidates to fill managerial and specialists positions is getting increasingly tough because the unemployment rate in Germany is very low, similar to many parts in Central Europe.” This reduces the number of available candidates sharply. Also, the demand behavior of qualified job seekers has changed lately, with candidates expecting more and more gratifications, benefits or privileges when changing jobs. Thirdly, there is a growing glut of job opportunities posted by online portals, affecting the highly developed and differentiated scope of duties offered to clients and applicants by professional recruiting agencies negatively.
Meanwhile, this development is also reflected in most Chinese cities, posing a new challenge for traditional recruiting companies.
 
Different paces
The personal motivations to change jobs are manifold: they range from candidates longing for further vocational development, their wish to broaden the decision-making latitude, improving competencies or – an often-heard argument by job seekers – to better their income. Further, dissatisfaction with the working environment and the lack of promotion opportunities are frequent reasons voiced by people who seek new perspectives for improving their occupational development.
As far as these and alike claims are concerned, there is no major difference between central European and Chinese job seekers.
However, one distinction exists: In Germany, the F&S specialists need eight weeks on average to recruit a suitable candidate and get him or her into work. Markus speaks of a “respectable result that inspires us to become even better.”
In contrast, filling vacancies in China, organized by the local F&S recruiters in Shanghai or Shenzhen, happen significantly faster.

Recommendations from experts
So what do recruiting professionals Markus Bock and Vivian Ding recommend logistics and SCM specialists who intend to improve their career: Here is their advice:
“Check your credentials. Draw up a personal interim balance in periodical intervals, providing yourself with a clearer comprehension of your vocational situation by asking yourself which are your abilities, where do you want to go from here, and what are you willing and able to contribute to your company or a future employer.”
Conversely, logistics companies should also ask themselves if the working atmosphere and communication climate is positive. They also should check if employees are offered tailored carreer prospects.
“A contented workforce is the best form of advertising for any company,” concludes recruiting pro Markus Bock. Enterprises’ having a positive reputation his agency gladly cooperates with by providing qualified and precisely fitted candidates for filling managerial vacancy, if required.

Heiner Siegmund