It’s not all gloom in the job market

5th May 2020

By Debbie Sheldon, CEO

Who doesn’t love a David Attenborough documentary?  Panoramic shots of the last remaining wildernesses of the world, perhaps the Antarctic where we see endless ice sheets apparently untroubled by any form of life, animal or plant.  And then David speaks to us in his unique sonorous tones to tell us to look again, because perhaps all is not quite as it seems.   And amazingly, beneath this hostile and forbidding landscape, life does exist, ingenious, adaptable and often tested to the limits.  But life nevertheless.


Please forgive my creative analogy, but this is exactly what we are finding during the COVID19 pandemic. When the lockdown happened, although the preceding weeks had left us pretty clear as to what was impending, when it happened it felt swift, brutal and fairly hopeless.  Our uppermost thoughts obviously went to the health and safety of loved ones, but our next thoughts pretty soon turned to how we would all cope.  The situation looked pretty bleak for all those who found themselves job seeking, and also for the huge number of entrepreneurs who had worked so hard to get an enterprise off the ground and found that their efforts were for nothing as trade ground to a halt.


However, look again, and there are definitely still reassuring signs that people are finding work, and businesses are finding a way to thrive.  Take, for example, WE Hub members Sam Feller and Laura Jackson, founders of gourmet popcorn brand Popcorn Shed, which has seen online sales rise by 250% since the lockdown.  Until that time, most of Popcorn Shed’s business was wholesale, B2B and direct cinemas, shops and distributors.  Almost overnight this revenue stream dried up as these customers closed their doors.  The Popcorn Shed team quickly pivoted to online channels and launched a digital marketing campaign to spread the word about the Popcorn Shed and its vegan Mini Pop! gourmet flavoured popcorn range.  Additionally, they are looking to hire new team members to cope with demand.


There has undoubtedly been a large increase in people talking to us about job search since the lockdown as many have already sadly been laid off and others fear for their future.  And whereas previously, we would habitually place around ten people or more directly into jobs each month that we had advertised for our employer network on our own jobs board, since the lockdown the number of job vacancies has plummeted. But even in these most testing of times, there are still vacancies and job seekers are still finding work.  Let me give you some examples.


Clive, an experienced data analyst, had struggled to find work over the past year.  He had attended possibly twenty interviews and had tantalisingly reached the final two on a number of occasions but had failed to secure his next role.  Perversely, since the lockdown, he was finally successful in securing a data analysis role with a major global charity.  Sara had enjoyed a first career in a healthcare role but wished to transfer to an office-based role working in a charitable environment, and ideally within the community.  We were actually advertising such a role on behalf of another communal organisation and we put her forward, thinking that perhaps they would recognise what she had to offer despite her lack of specific experience in the field.  They did, and Sara has since started employment, from home of course initially.  And finally Rebecca, a qualified and experienced bookkeeper who has started a part time role in a property business, again during the lockdown.  All three have bucked the trend and have demonstrated that although times are undoubtedly challenging for many, the landscape is not entirely barren for those who are seeking work or for entrepreneurs looking to develop their business.


We have now been under lockdown for eight weeks.  Thank goodness, we are seeing fewer headlines about the death rate, and more journalistic comment about how the Government will shape the pathway forward out of isolation.  We do not yet know when that will be or what it will look like, but we do know that things are very unlikely to look the same.  Inevitably, there will be an increase in people seeking work, and equally, many small businesses (and some large ones) will be under immense strain to continue trading.  But what we do know is that businesses will find a way to flourish, new ones will be launched, and people will find jobs.  Even in the most inclement and hostile of environments, this will be so.