The Recession and Employer Branding
Robyn: I can’t tell you how much I learn about human resource management every time we tackle issues around an employer’s brand. And I know it’s the same for HR professionals who are on a just-as-steep learning curve about branding and brand renewal. The great thing about teaming up with Holly is that we bring two sets of expertise to the table for our clients — we weigh, we consider, we teach each other— and we end up with employer branding strategies that work in the real world of talent management AND further the corporate brand.
This is the first in a series of Q+A’s about employer branding. In this one, Holly explains something to me. Maybe next time I’ll teach her something…?
Q: How is the recession impacting employer branding?
A: Well, first off, I think I would strongly encourage all organizations to be strategic with their human resources, not just in times of economic uncertainty. Some sectors have a continued need for highly skilled workers, and one evolution that we’ll see is more global supply and demand. Let’s not forget, that employer branding is driven in large part by demographics and the shrinking labour pool within North America. Take the health care sector for example, where both the supply for health care workers is shrinking, but the demand is also steadily increasing. Future health care workers may come from offshore, which means employer branding needs to be cross-culturally relevant in order to attract and retain workers.
Secondly, I would say that economically, the recession is one factor to consider. For BC, a lower dollar and a stronger trading relationship with Asia as well as the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics, means that other economic factors may have a different effect than just the recession. When our news media delivers recession-related messages day after day, we may begin to think that this affects all organizations, regions, sectors and industries the same, but it is not the case. Consumer driven organizations may be hit hard, but low-cost providers (Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc) are benefitting from the economic climate. Moreover, some organizations, are choosing to invest in their people and expand their business, and are scooping up great people who are let go by nervous employers.
In North America there is a short term and long term impact from the recession. In the short term, there will be more of a “supply” market, which gives employers a slight advantage, and those with strong employer brands may not have as big of an advantage over those that don’t. However, strong employer brands are still important to ensure that new hires are well-suited. Organizations are also finding that this is a time to hone their employer brand with their internal /existing employees, through development and retention programs. Some equate the employer brand solely with attraction and recruitment activities, which is only part of the story. Many organizations are envisioning programs where their next generation of leaders are “home grown”.
Some industries are not as impacted as others by the recession. Government, education, health care, energy, environment and security industries are less affected by the ups and downs of market economy. Banking is also an industry that has been affected, however as the first casualties of the recession (banks were hurting in 2007/08), they will be the first to bounce back and Canadian banking industry is considered very sound by the rest of the world, which may create an export of our home-grown solution. Entertainment is also an area that BC firms will benefit from, as the lower dollar brings productions back to our province. Gaming is anticipated to be stable, and BC is home to a number of world-class gaming companies. Organizations in these sectors should have stable or even growing employment needs, and need to develop strong talent management strategies and employer brands. In emerging nations, many organizations are putting more emphasis on their employer brand. Due to the massive off-shoring that has happened in countries like India, organizations there are finding that they need to stand out from the crowd to attract the growing middle class workers.
What about the long term? Demographically, things have not changed, although we may see fewer retirements en masse as anticipated, since the retirement portfolios of some baby boomers in North America have been negatively affected. The effect will be that the need for employer branding will be less acute or urgent, but no less important. Organizations that did have to lay off sizable staff will need to put effort in employer brand recovery, to ensure that the branding message did not become overshadowed by the recession-based job losses. Organizations that slashed internal spending on areas like staff development, marketing/branding, and R&D may find that their competitive position is compromised by those actions. Thirdly, there is new opportunity as organizations may be forced to work differently and it will provide a reason for refining the work environment and open up different value propositions for prospective employees.
Holly MacDonald is the “Spark” at Spark + Co. She is a seasoned Human Resources Strategist with demonstrated success in developing learning, talent management, and employer brand strategies, coupled with solid project management techniques, to craft workable, scalable, business oriented solutions. Holly has over 15 years of experience in organizations with leading-edge people philosophies and strategies and has a reputation for being very resourceful and for “getting things done.”