Recruiting in a Recession: Close the Skills Gap to Thrive in the New Labor Landscape

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email


Job seekers often feel limited to searching for new opportunities in the specific industries in which they already have experience. However, thanks to pandemic-related economic slowdowns, those industries may no longer be viable options for some candidates. Similarly, employers often default to recruiting candidates who already have industry experience — but, again, it’s not always possible to find such candidates in the new labor landscape.

The great imbalance in today’s labor market is in part caused by massive layoffs in nonessential industries and a simultaneous rise in demand for candidates in essential industries. This kind of dynamic often occurs during a recession, and when it does, it amplifies the existence of any perceived mismatches between the skills employers need and the skills that job seekers possess. We call this mismatch the “skills gap.”

As we face record-high unemployment numbers, recruiters are once again looking for ways to overcome existing skills gaps and fill important positions with the right candidates. To do that in today’s economy, they’ll have to start paying careful attention to candidates’ transferable skills.

Employers may feel their options are limited when looking for specific industry experience, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t qualified candidates. In fact, experienced candidates may hone their skills in different industries, but their skills can still benefit your organization. That’s especially true in the age of automation: Across many industries, repeatable, high-volume tasks that humans once performed are now handled by some sort of technology. That opens up demand for employees whose skills are not limited to one narrow function but a broader set of tasks. Furthermore, candidates with unconventional experience can bring fresh perspectives to the table.

To find top talent today, recruiting teams must understand how to evaluate transferable skills. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

From Brick-and-Mortar Retail to Online Brand Management

By late May, retail jobs  had hit historic levels of loss, leaving tens of thousands of workers jobless across the country. While this was no doubt a tragic turn of events for many workers, it also represents a powerful recruiting opportunity for organizations that know what to look for.

One may think the customer service experience retail workers accrue is applicable only to sales associate positions in brick-and-mortar stores, but that’s not true. For example, if a candidate has past experience as an in-store cashier or sales associate, they’ve likely cultivated communication skills, customer service skills, negotiation skills, and an understanding of general business operations. These skills can be easily transferred to roles in online community management, such as community outreach specialist, brand communications coordinator, or social media strategist. An online presence can make or break a brand in any economic environment, and retail sales associates often have the consumer-facing skills necessary to keep an organization’s digital footprint engaging and inviting.

From Construction to Supply Chain, Warehouse, and Maintenance Operations

Another industry deeply impacted by the pandemic is construction. Everyone on a construction site has hard-to-find technical skills such as heavy machinery operation, building maintenance and renovation, and familiarity with important industry regulations like OSHA and the International Building Code. Moreover, these workers have also honed soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, collaboration, and decision-making.

Candidates with experience related to construction can be redeployed to warehouse or grocery supply chain positions. Additionally, construction workers’ typical skill sets can be easily mapped onto jobs as building maintenance staff in essential industries like healthcare and grocery.

From Hospitality and Event Management to COVID-Response Teams

In-person events are essentially a no-go for the foreseeable future, but hospitality and events management employees have a host of transferable skills, including teamwork, experience in special events and operations, budgeting, production, and planning. These skills are applicable to a wide range of high-demand roles today, from COVID-19 contact tracers to essential retail and healthcare positions.

For example, event management specialists are often required to manage large budgets, work with colleagues from various departments, and facilitate smooth operations and logistics — all skills that can translate to receptionist and administrative positions at hospitals, nursing homes, and other related healthcare institutions.

Additionally, at Mya, we worked with one of our partners to redeploy event specialists to grocery stores. In this redeployment campaign, candidates had already been vetted, so they could easy shift from one role to another rather than going through the entire hiring process. Even though employees’ job duties were different, many of their skills and experiences translated smoothly between roles.

COVID-19 contact tracing and case investigation initiatives vary by state, but they may be viable options for candidates with experience in managing teams, maintaining organization under pressure, and excellent people skills — all of which are skills events management professionals should have.

While organizations may not be able to find exactly the experience they’re looking for, they can certainly find the skills they need in the new labor market. If you find yourself losing the war for talent, it’s time to make transferable skills a key hiring consideration.

Kristin Hunter is director at Mya Systems.

By Kristin Hunter