Do Comet’s Redundant Workforce Face a Brighter Future than Woolworths Staff of 2008?

Sadly the last couple of weeks have been somewhat of a chilling reminder of 2008 when we witnessed the collapse of Woolworths. With store closures announced the outlook for whole group looks very bleak and as was the case with Woolworths, the collapse of Comet really couldn’t have come at a worse time for all those involved, so close to Christmas. As I drove into work this morning I started to think, from a recruitment perspective, about how it may be different for those Comet employees coming to the market now, in comparison to four years ago.

Actually, I believe for many reasons those people involved with Comet are in a stronger position than in 2008. Firstly the retail recruitment market, whilst challenging, is more active than late 2008, a time when many businesses were going through redundancy programmes simultaneously and the market was flooded with applicants. Secondly, the future is looking more positive. Whilst the news streams change daily about the level of growth we can expect in 2013, we are at least talking about growth and this a much more positive picture than in 2008 when we were heading into deep recession.

I think for many reasons the recruitment market is much better prepared to help and support those coming to market than they were back in 2008. Sadly one reason is experience. Both recruiters and other prospective employers have seen a number of retail businesses collapse and are more proactive and systematic in accessing this pool of talent. It was great to see the response that Dixons gave in trying to provide employment opportunities wherever possible and this is an example of how retailers often react to the closure of these large businesses.  However, for the volume of store staff it is going to be particularly challenging to find alternative employment. Whilst a number may be able to secure temporary roles over Christmas, come January, the competition will be intense for a limited number of roles. For Head office staff, it will be dependent on their area of expertise and the extent to which their skills are transferable.  Natural competitors of Comet like Dixons, John Lewis, Amazon and Argos all have their head offices within striking distance of Rickmansworth and hopefully they will represent an opportunity for some of the Head office staff to find other employment.

With much of the headlines dedicated to the way in which the business had been run over the last year I think the market is also very sympathetic to all of those involved. Unfortunately it is still going to be incredibly challenging as the competition for roles is as intense as ever. For many of the long standing Comet employees, they will be experiencing the recruitment market for the first time in many years and the market has changed dramatically. Their ability to quickly get to grips with the market and understand the many tools and routes available will be the key to finding another position.

When I look back over my 15 years in retail recruitment, the methods have changed substantially. The days of paper applications and pages of advertising in the press are long behind us. The growing use of social media, large in-house recruitment teams and a large and fragmented recruitment consultancy market reflect the current landscape. The market is vast and confusing and knowing how to access roles and who to talk to is the first step in finding a new position. For Comet employees unfortunately it is not a case of one size fits all; where you sit in the market will determine the best strategy for you to employ.

In the mid to senior market where AdMore recruit, LinkedIn is a critical tool in assisting people in their job search. Both agency and In-house recruiters use it as a major sourcing tool and so having an up to date and accurate profile which will allow individuals to be “found” is critical.  The use of Twitter for posting vacancies is also on the increase. It is certainly a case of using every avenue available including your own network and contacts as well as those around you. Certainly with the collapse of JJB, I know a number of the Senior Managers were very proactive in supporting their teams with recommendations and introductions to their network of contacts. I cannot emphasis enough how important it is that candidates understand how the market works and how to get the best from it.

Overall, whilst the market is still tough out there, it is arguably not at the depths it was in 2008, with a brighter future hopefully ahead. However, as the economy continues to struggle, with consumer spending under pressure and the on-going structural changes which continue to affect retailers as they become more multi-channel focused, my fear is that unfortunately, this won’t be the last major retailer to collapse.

Russell Adams


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