As the nation braces to take on the massive cost ($120 billion) of the 21-day national Covid-19 lockdown, staffing and headhunting firms are preparing to face the worst.

The hiring outlook for the first half of the upcoming fiscal year 2021 is dismal, considering that all hiring of temporary and permanent employees has ground to an abrupt halt.

“Recruitment cycles are typically a 100-120 days cycle. The January-March 2020 quarter was a total write-off for us because some who were given offer letters are reluctant to quit their current jobs because of the uncertainty by the Covid-19 shutdown. For others, interview dates and joining dates have been indefinitely postponed. Even new, positions that were sanctioned for hiring by companies are now on hold,” said BS Murthy, CEO of LeadershipCapital Consulting.

His expectations for the first quarter of the April-June are low. “There will be no hiring but only firing, and things will only get from bad to worse because we are a country that runs on Ram Bharosa and not on planning and foresight,” he rues.

Kelly Services India registered a 10 per cent growth in hiring in January and February 2020. “Over the next 30-45 days, both temporary and permanent hiring will take a severe beating. Organisations have deferred hiring for permanent roles and are hiring for expansion of their businesses in phases, at half their initially proposed numbers. Demand for temporary staff, largely from e-commerce firms, is expected to bounce back in full force after 45 days,” said BN Thammaiah, Managing Director, Kelly Services India.

“We are expecting a 30 per cent drop in hiring in March and a 50 per cent drop in the April-June quarter. After June, the hiring outlook will depend on whether the lockdown will be effective in flattening the Covid-19 curve or not,” he said.

‘Expecting a steep drop in hiring’

Expressing similar hiring sentiments, Kris Lakshmikanth, Chairman and CEO of executive search firm Head Hunters India Private Ltd, said: “Prior to the lockdown, we registered 50 per cent growth in hiring in the January-March 2020 quarter over the same quarter last year. However, the hiring outlook for H1 of FY21 looks bad as I expect a steep drop of 50-70 per cent, because organisations are clamping down on making major hiring decisions on non-essential roles, and are only going ahead with hires that are directly linked to their topline growth, like sales but, with a much lower quota. If a company was looking to hire 10 senior sales executives, they now want just two-three..”

Rituparna Chakraborty, President of Indian Staffing Federation, that has a member base of over 110 organisations employing between them a little under 1 million flexi-workers who get paid an average of ₹23,500 per month, refused to speculate on the hiring outlook for the next two quarters.

“The primary focus for staffing firms right now is to get this month’s (March) payroll running without a hitch. Till February end/March beginning, companies had prepared business plans for the next financial year in a non-Coronavirus scenario. But, now they have gone back to the drawing board to plan based on assumptions, as no one knows what the future holds,” she said.