The revival in hiring sentiment across sectors in the first few months of the year may be shaken by rising Covid cases as a second wave sweeps across several states. Concerns have been spreading among recruiters over the past two-three weeks with companies delaying interviews, search mandates being put on hold and companies adopting a “cautious approach”.

However, there has been no cancellation of mandates, they said. Some industry captains and leading companies are still bullish about hiring plans and the need for manpower on the back of overall economic revival.

“We have seen companies going slow on their hiring plans in the last two-three weeks. Companies are delaying interviews,” said Alok Kumar, senior director for sales, account management and global accounts, ManpowerGroup India.

‘Need to Speed Up Vaccinations’

“Usually we close a mandate in a month but companies are saying go slow and take your time,” Kumar said.

Indian Inc wants the vaccinations to be accelerated to contain the second wave and stop it from hurting the economy further.

“We should do a 10x pace of vaccination,” said Niranjan Hiranandani, MD of Hiranandani Group. “We need to make the vaccine available to all people above 21 and open it up tremendously.”

The impact on recruitments has been uneven across the country.

“Mostly companies from Mumbai and Bengaluru — that have seen a big upsurge in Covid cases — and also places where senior-level white-collar searches are concentrated, are putting mandates on hold,” Kumar said, adding that there has been no cancellations of mandates so far.

Search experts said companies are buying time by delaying interviews, mostly for white-collar searches, especially for senior and middle-level roles. “There is no impact on junior-level hiring as of now,” Kumar said.

Fresh Infections Surge

India saw its sharpest weekly surge in Covid-19 cases last week. On Sunday, the country added more than 47,000 new cases, the highest daily count in 130 days. Maharashtra, the state worst affected, reported over 30,000 fresh infections — the highest in the country.

“Companies are adopting a wait-and-watch policy for middle and senior-level hiring,” said Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO of Ciel HR Services. “Companies are discussing and deliberating if a mandate should be on track… If the rise in Covid cases continues, the concerns could translate into an actual hit to hiring plans.”

Companies are just being careful, said Rituparna Chakraborty, executive vice president, Teamlease Services.

“It is not so much due to the inability of companies to hire but the rising number of cases and murmurs of further clampdowns are making companies cautious because they don’t want to be stuck with a new hire,” she said. “Companies have intent to hire but they don’t want to frontload the hiring as they don’t want to get stuck with a decision.”

Some Cos Stay Bullish

Some top companies said they are going ahead with hiring plans as scheduled.

“The corporate sector is bullish about the future and those that need to be hired will be hired. We are hiring in both white-collar and blue-collar segments,” said Harsh Goenka, chairman, RPG Group. “There is a general optimism on the state of the economy. Demand is good and there is a belief that the second wave will peter out.”

However, Goenka expects the recovery will be K-shaped, where “the strong have become stronger and weak have become weaker”.

“If the economic outlook is strong, hiring will continue to happen because people have factored in second and third waves and are better prepared than a year before,” said Santrupt Misra, CEO of the carbon black business at Aditya Birla Group. “I have not cancelled any hiring.”

Long-term view

Companies will need to take the long view. “It will be important to see how the long-term economic impact will be — will there be more lockdowns over a prolonged period or will it be more precise and surgical shutdowns and in pockets?” he said.

The caution will vary across sectors.

“There is a section of the economy that has sprung back like construction and it will continue to hire,” said Hiranandani. “Others such as steel, cement and IT that are doing extremely well will not have an issue with recruitment.”

Those sectors that are in the process of re-opening may have to go slow once again. “Sectors that were badly hit last year such as hospitality, tourism and jobs in the informal segment that had started reviving could once again get badly affected if the second wave is not contained,” he said.

Lupin global HR president Yashwant Mahadik said, “There are no further concerns about hiring so far… We have to make the vaccination fast and cover as many people as possible.”

Physical retail businesses may witness some decline in hiring but that will be offset by the increased recruitment in ecommerce, said TN Hari, HR head at BigBasket.

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