2021: Disrupting job search in AsiaPacific’s impacted employment market

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According to various analysts, although each country’s economic and talent challenges vary, the COVID-19 pandemic has broadly impacted AsiaPacific’s employment market during the last 12 months.

In mid-2020, ratings firm S&P Global noted that unprecedented employment challenges would result in job losses doubling in the region. Counterbalancing this scenario, we have seen an extraordinary uptake in digital adoption, including a scenario of fundamental changes in workforce dynamics.

Disruptive.Asia recently hosted an exclusive interview with Ramesh Rajandran, SEEK Asia CMO, on its digitalisation approach and to elicit insights into APAC’s employment market.

SEEK Asia combines two giants in job portal brands, jobsDB and JobStreet, under one roof. Both portals are considered to be the leading online employment marketplaces in Asia.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested businesses’ limits as never before,” opened Rajandran. “At SEEK Asia across the region, when we hit the pandemic lockdown across Southeast Asia in the month of March 2020, we went back to the drawing board. Whatever we had planned for the preceding six months really didn’t make sense any more — with businesses closed, people stuck at home.”

As a partner to both job seekers and businesses, SEEK Asia, together with JobStreet and jobsDB, is committed to its role in helping rebuild careers and the economy, while revamping the whole employment experience to be more dynamic and relevant, he said. “We are also working with global partners to help job seekers stay relevant with their careers.”

Ramesh Rajandran, SEEK Asia CMO

Back to the data, back to the passion

“Consequently, SEEK Asia went back to data to find out what was driving intent at that time,” explained Rajandran. “One major finding that came out quickly was that, in a downturn, employees could be displaced or even lose their jobs. We then focused on how it could help solve this challenge, from both employer and employee perspectives with everyone in the organisation constantly brainstorming for solutions.”

“Our team came up with a brilliant idea; if you had lost a job due to the pandemic, we wanted your profile to be visible to employers who needed immediate help. As a result, we launched a programme called #WorkNow and took it to market in four countries, including Malaysia.”

“This initiative got an overwhelming response, with over 100,000 people tagging their profiles with #WorkNow, which showcased the fact that people actually needed jobs,” he continued. “We wanted to have a sense of purpose about helping the surrounding community, and I’m happy to say that more than half of those people surveyed found new jobs to date.”

Interestingly, job seeker behaviour and engagement has changed in the last couple of years, he confirmed. “Job seekers today look for more than just jobs-they are looking for inspiration.”

“Passion and purpose at work has become more important, and inspiration is especially important today as we face a pandemic that has impacted so many lives and forms of livelihood,” Rajandran continued.

“Furthermore, with automation threatening various existing jobs coupled with a shortage of qualified talent in emerging roles, there arises an immediate need for the upskilling of present employees to become what the industry terms as ‘workforce of the future’,” he said.

Digital tools for a dynamic ‘normal’

SEEK Asia’s own digital disruption story reflects the moves being taken by many organisations at this time.

“We have completely revamped our search experience on both the website and our new mobile app that enables job seekers to experience more relevant search results based on their search behaviour,” Rajandran said.

“Our new mobile app, also powered by AI, now comes with a new and refreshed look. People who are interested in exploring and applying for new job opportunities can now sign up, create a profile and use the app anytime, anywhere. These are just a few of the many innovations that have been deployed to enhance the job seeker experience, which matters above all.”

Naturally, pandemic-related changes have also been made to IT processes. “As an internet company, the option of working from home was something we could enable quickly and effectively. Video-conferencing was already very frequently leveraged prior to the pandemic. Of course, for many employees, it was still a significant change.”

“At SEEK Asia, we pride ourselves in having a large team of dedicated account managers and customer care personnel to serve the needs of our customers, together with both employers and job seekers,” he revealed. “They were among the most impacted, and we had to ensure that each of them was equipped with a portable computer, access to a reliable Internet connection back home, secure remote access to the company’s internal network and databases, and easy access to work emails or corporate messaging systems on their computers and smartphones.”

As more and more employees crave a work-life balance and demand flexible arrangements in the workplace, working from home is no longer an option that companies can ignore.

“Managing work from home may be challenging, but technology has made it easier, and we embraced this in a huge way and continue to evaluate ways to improve our remote working effectiveness,” agreed Rajandran.

To address any shortfalls in the technology tools and infrastructure used at SEEK Asia, JobStreet and JobsDB, the team worked closely with both job seekers and businesses to understand what they are looking for from a career and talent partner.

“For example, we know from our Asia-wide surveys that having the most up-to-date job listings and having relevant jobs continue to be the most important drivers for people in choosing an online partner, so we doubled down on artificial intelligence (AI) and invested in providing the best algorithms and matching technologies,” he said.

“We also learned from our surveys that there is an increase in demand for convenience in the application process and career-related insights, so we invested in a new mobile app and in churning out hundreds of new articles every month to provide expert insights and advice.”

The ‘new normal’ is also being forged by automation and related technologies, which disrupt the job market in almost every country. Traditional jobs are rapidly disappearing, while roles involving the ‘workforce of the future’ are fast emerging.

A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) study also supports this view. The percentage of core skills that would change by 2025 is 40%, with some 50% of all employees needing re-skilling by that time.

“According to our studies, the top three industries looking for talent is led by IT, followed by manufacturing and banking/financial services,” Rajandran said. “We are also seeing growing demand for emerging roles like data analysts together with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics and cybersecurity specialists.”

Consequently, job search has become an ongoing activity for the workforce in today’s dynamic normal.

Finding jobs that matter

According to a recent study by professional networking site LinkedIn, the top 10 most in-demand jobs currently show the top three unchanged — salesperson, registered nurse, and software engineer. However, IT and logistics jobs have seen an upswing.

Although hiring was down, there has been an upswing in learning and development. Applying for new opportunities will entail online interviews, and this would be an ideal time to up-skill and enhance both technical and people skills.

Discussions about the ‘new normal’ partly hint at the reality of constantly changing ways of doing things. Predicting how we may work and play calls for more dynamic planning to address multiple scenarios often hinging on whichever frontier technologies best gel with evolving processes and ways of working.

Digitalisation, automation, and increased fluidity in the ways we work and live will continue beyond recovery regardless of how long recovery and immunisation programs may take.

Rajandran stressed that: “Due to rising demand for digital tools and processes, there is an urgent need for the working population to appreciate the need to continuously upskill themselves with digital technologies, digital literacy and transferable skills. The reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to build a ‘digital first’ workforce progressively. Given the current employment situation, every member of the workforce — from frontlines to the C-suite — needs to continually enhance their digital skills to survive and thrive in the ‘new norm’.”

“Against a recovering employment market, the mission of the SEEK Asia Group is to help people discover their ‘passion’ before landing ‘jobs that matter’ for that ‘sense of ‘purpose’. We aim to be the talent and career partner for people and organisations.”

“As a steadfast partner to employers and job seekers, we have also launched the campaign #TogetherAhead, with a specially set up Covid-19 Jobs and Resources Hub to offer guidance to both businesses and individuals through this challenging period.”

“During 2021, SEEK Asia is undergoing a transformation to become even more customer-centric, more digital savvy, and more insights led,” Rajandran said in his concluding comments. “We will continue to engage with businesses and job seekers through different touchpoints, both online and offline, and we will be investing time and effort to conduct market research to equip them with better knowledge and insights, to help businesses find the right talent, and to help job seekers find jobs that matter.”

Related article: Tech leaders weigh in on how Malaysia’s Budget will impact transformation

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