The challenge to attract and engage high-quality talent is especially acute in Latin America (LATAM). Cultural differences, disparate legal systems, and shifting politics play a significant role in recruiting and hiring practices. These challenges have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a substantial impact on the region.
In June, the Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association (RPOA) launched a new initiative for global RPO leaders who operate in LATAM. The forum’s designed to bring RPO peers together and provide them a platform to connect and share experiences and perspectives on current talent issues.
We recently hosted the group’s first virtual event; a panel made up of experienced LATAM RPO leaders. Topics ranged from how hiring has changed during the pandemic to how organizations deal with inter-country issues. The exclusive forum was moderated by Cynthia Cohen, an RPO veteran and Founder & Managing Director at Mynt Consultants.
How Global Labor Markets are Changing
COVID-19’s effect on global labor markets is unprecedented. In the U.S., the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 11.9 percent for the week ending July 4. In LATAM, a region that’s become a coronavirus hotspot, experts predict the health crisis will push the number of poor and extremely poor up to 96 million. Unemployment in some areas has soared to over 50 percent.
There’s no doubt the pandemic brings enormous difficulties to LATAM labor markets. But it has also sparked innovations in recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. RPO leaders continue to adapt to these changes and provide a sounding voice to their partners in navigating the uncharted waters of this pandemic.
How LATAM Hiring Has Changed During the Pandemic
“It’s going to take LATAM a lot longer than the rest of the world to go back to ‘normal’,” says Christian Scandella, Cielo’s Senior VP, Latin America. It’s a sentiment shared by the rest of the panel who all agree that though Brazil has been hit the hardest, it’s a general slowdown across the region.
Florencia Megy, VP Latin America RPO at Korn Ferry agrees with Scandella. “We’ve definitely seen a decrease in hires, especially in Brazil” where there’s a lot of reluctance to move forward with hiring plans. It’s a situation affecting RPO agents as well, she says, and she’s confident she’s not the only one.
For better or worse, says Maria Castro Nevares, LATAM RPO Practice Leader at Manpower, “the model many clients are asking for right now are for temporary employees.” She says those organizations still required to hire but want to do so temporarily, not full-time. It’s a shift that could cause higher risk and uncertainty for millions of workers.
Some industries, such as the health, pharmaceutical, and other essential sectors are faring better and even increasing their hiring. But, says Valeria Stupenengo, Sr. Ops Director LATAM at Cielo, what her company’s seeing is “most clients are looking for ways to boost the emphasis on technology.” A region that prefers traditional practices like face-to-face interviews now finds itself having to rely much more on tech than they did—or wanted to—pre-COVID-19.
Are there any bright spots? Yes, says Darren Findley, President at Engage2Excel, a U.S.-based global recruitment organization that helps client partners in over 100 countries. Countries like “Chile and Colombia are not near the level they were,” he says, but “there’s a lot of hope, and you can hear people talking about how even if won’t be the same, there’s a movement towards getting closer to whatever normal is.”
How Are LATAM RPO Organizations Responding to These Changes?
Many clients had to adjust overnight to remote work. Those who weighed in on this topic echoed Findley, who said, “... it didn’t take us any time at all to adjust because we were already at about 80 percent virtual as it was.” Nevares seconded that, saying that what they needed to focus on was client changes. That involved “upscaling teams, reshifting resources from one organization to another whose business was increasing, and helping clients adapt to a tech-driven world her company had been advocating for all along.
Paula Antonelli, LATAM TA Head at IBM, believes there’s a silver lining to all this, too, and technology is vital. “Our job as consultants is to become that true partner when our clients need us most,” she says. In trying to be a true advisor to their clients, they discuss other possibilities, such as branding. “Our mission is to help them make sure the impact is as minimal as possible.”
And what about employers? How are they adapting during the pandemic? What are they doing well, and what are they doing not-so-well during the health crisis? The panelists agreed they were fortunate to have clients who supported what they were going through. Everyone came together and understood that the underlying goal must be to keep as many people employed as possible.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Inter-Country Regional Work
Just like individual states in the U.S. are setting their COVID-19 policies, LATAM countries are making independent, country-by-country decisions that impact global or inter-country regional work. For example, Brazil never really had a lockdown. But even there, says Scandella, “it also depends on the state you’re working with. Each one is taking different steps.” It’s the same in Mexico, he says. It’s a complex issue that will require a lot of pivoting and adapting by RPOs and employers alike.
Talent acquisition success in LATAM has always been challenging. Still, the region has experienced massive changes over the last several decades, with many of its economies experiencing significant growth. A strong understanding of the talent landscape and each area’s nuances can help RPOs present themselves as savvy, experienced partners who can help their clients mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and thrive during these unpredictable times.