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As the year 2020 draws to a close, IMS People Possible reflects on the year’s events and how the pandemic has affected the American staffing and recruiting industry.

We will explore what trends were predicted for 2020 and how the year actually turned out including unemployment rates, the role of technology, remote working as well as a close look into the hiring trends of different industries.

Key Points:

  • Unemployment in America down from 14.7% to 6.7%
  • Vacancies in hospitality and travel industries plummet amidst changing market
  • Advances in AI produce skills shortages
  • 70% of talent professionals say virtual recruiting is here to stay
  • Nearly two thirds of employees want to continue with remote working indefinitely

Unemployment rates

At the start of 2020, America’s unemployment rate was at 3.8%. Nobody could have predicted that it would experience its highest peak since 1948 when it rose to 14.7% at the height of the pandemic.

Similar to the UK however, job vacancies have been increasing month on month since the peak and America has succeeded in recuperating approximately half of its job losses. This has brought the unemployment levels down to 6.7% in November 2020.

Although America experienced a sharp freeze on hiring, it seems the staffing and recruiting industry is now on its way to recovery. Despite this, the recruitment industry today is a completely different market and staffing agencies will need to evolve with the changes to survive this period.

Recruiting into new industries

Research has shown that employment in the food and drinks industry was down by 2.8million vacancies from February to September 2020. Similarly, the travel and hotel industries are struggling to recover due to the current social-distancing and travel restrictions.

Therefore, agencies who previously specialized in the hospitality and travel industries will need to adapt their recruitment niches to survive this period. Given the uncertainty of the future of these industries, it’s possible that recruitment agencies will need to change their niches on a more long-term basis

Industries worst affected by COVID in America

  • Leisure facilities
  • Airlines
  • Restaurants
  • Oil & gas drilling
  • Auto parts and equipment


Tech skill shortages

It’s been long known that AI will come to play a more essential role in modern day businesses, and it’s fair to say that the pandemic has only accelerated this trend.

With the introduction of social distancing regulations and remote working policies, businesses have been forced to innovate in new ways and develop their technology at an immense speed. This is particularly true for factory-based work which has taken an increased liking to using artificial intelligence, robots and automation to replace workers and compensate for workers lost due to the regulations.

Although IT vacancies have declined in general, there has been a new surge in demand for certain tech-related positions in response to the pandemic. A study showed the top 5 tech skills shortages to be the following:

  • Change management
  • Cyber security
  • Enterprise architecture
  • Advanced analytics
  • Technical architecture

It would appear that these new skill shortages are a direct result of the pandemic, and it would be reasonable to think that the need for such innovators will continue into 2021.

The presence of AI in recruitment

Not only have recruitment agencies had to adapt to a changing labour market, but they’ve also had to innovate their own use of technology.

Prior to the pandemic, Randstad USA predicted that there would be an increased use of technology in recruitment in 2020. Not only has this become a reality, but the heightened use of recruitment technology has exceeded all expectations. It hasn’t just been a question of using AI in recruitment as a means of innovation, but it’s become a necessity for many.

Ways in which AI and technology have advanced in recruitment:

  • Video interviewing software
  • AI to decrease screening times
  • AI for candidate profiling
  • AI to improve application completion rates
  • Chatbots to shorten enquiry response time

It seems that the pandemic has changed the way recruitment works forever and these changes aren’t just a temporary fix. 70% of talent professionals said that virtual recruiting will become the new standard.

The increase in remote working

Although remote working isn’t as popular today as it was at the start of the pandemic, 33% of American workers say they are still working remotely all the time, which is down from 51% in April.

Interestingly, the same research showed nearly two thirds of US workers want to continue working remotely following the pandemic.

What does remote working mean for recruiters?

Since recruiters have historically provided guidance to employers about their hiring strategies, recruiters will need to use their power of influence to open more employers up to offering remote working positions as part of their standard package in order to remain competitive.

If not, recruiters will face challenges in sourcing the best candidates on the market since remote working is likely to become a new priority for many Americans.

At the same time, the boom in remote working has widened the candidate pools for many recruiters, enabling them to source better quality candidates.

A year of intense transformation

The year 2020 has brought about unprecedented changes, challenges and innovations for the US recruitment industry. In the short-term, it’s clear that staffing and recruitment has taken a huge knock. However, the challenges have also forced the industry to refine and adapt itself at an incredible rate which could easily pick up momentum once the labor market regains stability.

Despite the challenges, AI and technology will continue to advance, arguably at a quicker rate than pre-pandemic times. As a result, it’s clear that recruitment firms will continue to technologically revolutionize their processes in order to succeed in 2021 and beyond.

IMS People Possible has been supporting US staffing agencies throughout the pandemic. To learn more about our outsourced services, contact Bryan Tweed on +1 646 459 4260 or mail him at