Understanding the work of the Indeed Hiring Lab

November 10, 2020

Indeed's CEO Chris Hyams spoke to Pawel Adrjan, the head of research for EMEA at Indeed. Pawel tells us about growing up in Poland and how he started his career working as an investment banker but suddenly found himself studying to get a PHD in economics.

Pawel also explains how his team track trends in the labor market, and how their predictions were affected by the pandemic.

- Hello everyone. I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed, and welcome to the next installment of "Here to Help". This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today's November 2nd, we are on day 244 of global work from home. At Indeed, as you all know, our mission is to help people get jobs, and this is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up at night. And with more than 250 million job seekers around the world, searching for jobs on Indeed every month, we have a unique view into the world of work. What are employers looking for? What are job seekers looking for? The answers to these questions change constantly, and not surprisingly, the past eight months have been especially illuminating. And here at Indeed, we have a group of economists who utilize our data along with external data, to help make sense of these changes, and we call this group, the Hiring Lab. Today I am delighted to be joined by Pawel Adrjan, who is an economist and a head of EMEA Research for the Indeed Hiring Lab, ordinarily based in London. Pawel, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thanks for having me, Chris.

- So let's start where we always start with these discussions, which is a quick check-in, how are you doing today?

- I'm doing well. I think these are obviously very difficult times and especially here in Europe, they're very difficult because we're heading into a wave of lock downs once again. But at a professional level, it's a very exciting time to be an economist. As we all know, there's a lot happening in the economy right now, and what's happening in society as a whole. There's high demand for economic analysis that my team and I provide, and it feels good to be doing something that matters in these challenging times. I'm also really grateful for the chance the pandemic gave me to work remotely and spend more time with family and also to spend some time in Spain, where my husband is from and to support our family there. And that experience really helped me also see firsthand how the pandemic is having a different impact in different countries, and that's been really helpful for my job as a European economist as well.

- So you are the head of research for Europe and also Australia at the Indeed Hiring Lab, can you tell us a little bit about what the Hiring Lab does, and what your role there is?

- Sure, the hiring lab is a team of economists and other researchers, and we study big trends in the job market that helps people both inside Indeed and outside Indeed understand what's happening, which is especially important when things are changing as quickly as they are now. So we ask questions like how the labor market is performing as we enter the second wave of the pandemic, which sectors are hiring and which ones aren't and why? What are some of the economic drivers of that? And how are job seekers reacting to all these changes? I would say that one of the most exciting things about our work is our access to data on the activity of employers and job seekers on Indeed's platform, where we see almost in real time how some of these trends are developing. And that gives us information about what's happening in the jobs market, weeks or sometimes even months, before official government statistics tell us what's going on. We publish our work on the Hiring Lab blog, which is accessible to everyone at hiringlab.org, so I encourage everyone to check that out. And we also partner with lots of other teams at Indeed, including marketing, sales, client success, and PR, to communicate our research to employers, to job seekers, to journalists, and to other economists.

- Let's back up a little bit and just talk a little about how you got here. You didn't start out your career as an economist, so can you talk a little bit about how you developed your career and how you ended up where you are today?

- Sure, it's correct that I didn't start out as an economist. My first degree was actually in business. I grew up in Poland where the jobs market is quite rigid. So when I was deciding what to study, I wanted to go for something practical that would be sure to get me a job. So I went to the US, I got that business degree. And with that degree, I spent over 10 years working in investment banking in New York and in London, which was kind of act one of my career. It wasn't necessarily my passion, but it was a great professional experience. I got to work with really smart people, I got to travel as part of my work. I focused on Latin America for a few years, so I got to see clients in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, sometimes speak to them in their language, understand how they do business in those countries. And I think that has helped me understand the nitty gritty of the global economy a bit better. But at some point I did want to do something deeper a bit more analytical, so I decided to completely switch careers. I went back to grad school and after six long years, I got a PhD in economics and now I can finally call myself an economist. That's has been a fantastic experience. During the PhD I did lots of new things including teaching students, which I really enjoyed. And now at Indeed, I'm lucky to have a job that has both an analytical component and educational components. So I really enjoy doing both things, analyzing the economy, but also communicating to people, explaining to them what's going on in the jobs market, and it's a really big part of my job. So it's really kind of like an act two in my career, and I still often get a chance to speak to university students at various events. And my advice to them is always to think about their careers as a series of acts or experiences that they can switch to over the years.

- We're going to dive pretty quickly into what's happened over the last eight months. But when you look at what you do, as the head of research for EMEA, Australia, just talk a little bit about some of the trends that you were seeing in the labor markets prior to COVID, and what were some of the signals that you had seen around, how 2020 might be shaping up?

- Sure, I think the time prior to the pandemic feels like it was a really, really long time ago, but if we do rewind back to 2019, and at the beginning of 2020, we were in a very strong labor market. In many countries, we were seeing record low unemployment rates or unemployment rates near record lows. There were some signs that the jobs boom was already starting to slow. So for instance, in the US job growth in 2019 was slower than it was in 2018 and 2017, in the UK as well, employment seemed to be picking, but it was really hard to see any specific signs of a crisis or signs of a recession. So some of the things we were worried about then was precisely whether employment is plateauing, wage growth was relatively weak. But overall, those were pretty good times for the vast majority of the workforce. And the global pandemic has always been in a way on the list of potential things that could trigger a global crisis, but of course we had no idea that COVID-19 would happen when it did. And so when it did, it was a very, very rapid switch from thinking about what's happening to wages or whether employment is peaking, to really trying to understand immediately the impact of this, very happening crisis.

- So then, we turn to February, March, as things were starting to unfold and outside of Asia, Europe was the next place where COVID took hold, talk a little bit about that first wave and what the impact on the European economy looked like.

- Yeah, Europe was one of the first places outside Asia to be affected. We saw infection start spreading in Northern Italy, and then that had a knock-on effect on other European countries as well. So thinking back to March, most countries in Europe went into lockdown shutting down various sectors of the economy, including non-essential retail, travel, restaurants, other face-to-face services. People were asked to work from home if they could, and if they couldn't, most governments essentially wrote them checks to stay at home and maintain at least part of their income. So it was a very sudden change. And in the hiring lab, we switched very quickly to trying to understand the developing crisis. We were actually lucky to have access to all the Indeed data that I mentioned earlier, which showed the impact almost immediately. So the main effect that we saw right away in Europe was a big hit to job postings, to the volume of job postings. And that was really important because there was really very little other data available showing the economic impact of COVID-19 and the lock downs and social distancing at the time. And job postings are really important because there are a kind of barometer of the economy and of the labor market. And looking at the hit to job postings really helped us frame the impact of those lock downs on the economy. One really interesting thing that happened was that the impact on the labor market in different countries in Europe was very different. And that was a bit surprising because on the one hand, it was kind of a global crisis caused by the same event, a global pandemic, a virus that doesn't know borders. And it had similar implications everywhere for things like social distancing and travel and working from home. But we saw that for instance, in the initial weeks of the pandemic, UK job posting volumes were hit 60%, so they were down 60%, which is a massive number, whereas in Germany, that hit was only 25%. Now I say only, in quotation marks, because that's still a huge negative impact, but obviously much smaller than we saw in the UK, for instance. And we learned very quickly that the labor market impact of the crisis in Europe and around the world really depended very much also on the structure of each economy. So kind of pre-existing structures that made different countries more vulnerable than others, and also on the government response to the crisis, which differed quite a lot. So for instance, we found that in terms of pre-existing economic structures in countries where working from home was more feasible even before the pandemic, like Germany or the Netherlands, the hit to the labor markets was much smaller than in countries which were very heavily based on face-to-face service jobs, where working from home wasn't as feasible. So countries like the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, those countries were much more heavily affected. The US was more or less in the middle, actually, among these countries. So overall the first wave, just to summarize, huge impact on the labor market and on economic output as entire sectors of the economy were essentially shut down, at the same time, Governments responded very quickly with support for employees, for businesses, to preserve jobs and to preserve incomes. And it largely worked, so job losses in Europe in the first wave of the pandemic were actually quite small.

- So can you talk a little bit about actually, the difference in the government response, and obviously it has a significant impact, how different was the US response to the various European approaches?

- Very different. So from a labor market perspective, essentially, European governments just deferred the impact of the crisis by paying people's salaries. And that way they kept them formally in their jobs, even though they weren't working. Whereas in the US and Canada, also to some extent, the governments relied mainly on supporting people who lost their jobs and became unemployed, and therefore were many of them received unemployment benefits, which became more generous. So in the US for instance, more than 20 million jobs were lost at the outset, and those workers then received those more generous unemployment benefits, or at least many of them did. Whereas in Europe, tens of millions of people kept their jobs, but were furloughed. So basically just not working or working reduced hours, and getting some proportion of their salary paid by the government. We can see the results in the unemployment rate trends. So in the US, unemployment went up a lot, whereas in Europe, unemployment was pretty much flat. Now that doesn't actually mean that the European approach was necessarily better than the US approach, because when the US economy reopened, it also started to recover faster because employers who are trying to hire for restaurants, bars, shops, were hiring people from unemployment. Whereas in Europe, those employers were just recalling people from furlough, not necessarily hiring new workers. And we saw that right away on Indeed as well. So we saw those trends in recovery, job volumes really recovering pretty briskly in the US, and remaining fairly stagnant or recovering quite slowly in many European countries. So both US and European approaches were valid, but they did affect people in different ways and at different times. And I think that the jury is still out about which of these approaches will end up being better, because unemployment is starting to rise in Europe right now. For instance, young people who are entering the labor market are facing fewer opportunities because that recovery in hiring has been a bit stagnant, whereas in the US we're seeing overall unemployment come down. So who knows, maybe we'll end up eventually in a similar place when the dust clears.

- So in terms of dust clearing, we obviously don't know when that will be. So it's hard to say where in this process we are, other than to say that we're deep into it right now. So we're certainly beyond the first wave, what's going on in Europe right now, and how is Europe coping with the crisis at this moment?

- Well, it's not coping particularly well. As you say, we're well into the second wave of the pandemic, and we're seeing infection rates growing all over Europe. And as a result of that, we're also seeing many governments putting in place new restrictions. So just in the last week, we saw new lock downs announced in places like France, Germany, and the UK. Ireland, where Indeed has a lot of employees has actually been in a pretty tight lock down for a couple of weeks now. And we're seeing a similar pattern in other European countries. So each country is slightly different in terms of the rules, but the general direction of travel is the same, which is more restrictions on businesses, on people's ability to socialize and travel. And again, the timely nature of Indeed's data is actually helping us see some of that effect on the job market already. So for instance, in the UK, the summer was quite good for the food and hospitality sector because the government essentially gave people money to spend on food and drink in August. But once that ended, and once we started talking about new restrictions, job postings in food and hospitality started to come down again, really diverging from some of the winning sectors like driving, loading, and stocking, which are really, really crucial and even more crucial when restrictions are tightened. We're seeing a similar pattern in France. So we're seeing this kind of diverging labor market now where the recovery is slowing and some sectors are winning, but some sectors are being heavily affected once again. We're also seeing a lot of changes on the job seeker side, which is particularly interesting to Indeed's clients. They always ask about what job seekers are doing when we speak to them. And for instance, we're starting to see a kind of second wave of searches for remote work in many European markets, especially in countries like Germany or Ireland, there's this renewed interest in working from home. People are typing those keywords into Indeed. So that shows again, a very quick reaction to the lockdown. I think in terms of the future, I would be very wary of predicting where European economies will go, and you alluded to that in your question. So much really depends on the virus, there's a lot of uncertainty. We're really not going to see sustained recovery until we're safe from the virus. But if what we're seeing right now continues, and we do see these temporary lock downs and the easing of restrictions and renewed lock downs, then we might be seeing a fairly flat trend in the labor market or a kind of up-and-down type recovery. And that means the recovery is likely to be long and slow, and many people will probably be on the sidelines of the jobs markets for quite some time.

- So one of the common themes and something we've explored in various different episodes of this podcast, is the disparate impact on the communities that are most vulnerable. Can you talk a little bit about what the economic data demonstrates about the impact on people?

- Sure, we do see already in the employment and unemployment rates that inequality is growing within many countries, with especially low paid workers, young people, and people in ethnic minority groups, being most likely to lose their jobs and either be unemployed or drop out of the labor force. That really reflects our economic structures and the reality of the face-to-face service jobs that people in these groups were most likely to perform before the crisis, and the contrast with higher earners who are more likely to be in sectors that haven't been shut down and are more likely to be able to work from home, and weather the pandemic that way. We're also seeing that the experience of the crisis is different in different places. So for instance, in our data, we can drill into specific locations and look at how different cities and towns are performing in terms of the labor market recovery. And we see, for instance, that bigger cities are suffering more, and that's a pattern that we actually see across most of our major markets. That seems to be related to a few things, so on the one hand, there is a greater concentration of jobs in kind of knowledge intensive sectors in cities, there is more work from home as a result of that. And more work from home, less tourism and business travel means that traffic and footfall in city centers is very slow to recover, especially in big cities. And as a result, there is a pretty big hit to jobs in those sectors that serve people in person in big cities. Whereas some of the smaller places are actually recovering relatively well. So that's kind of another way in which we see from economic data that different people in different places can be impacted in very different ways, especially those who are most vulnerable.

- So in the early days of the pandemic, one of the phrases that we heard over and over again was this idea that we're all in this together. Although, what you're talking about demonstrates that it doesn't necessarily hold up to what we've experienced. Can you talk a little bit about that concept?

- Yeah, it's certainly something that we heard quite a lot, especially at the beginning of the crisis, but as this thing drags on and it takes longer than what most people had expected, it's not exactly true everywhere and in at all times, I think on the positive side, as you mentioned, by alluding to the previous "Here to Help" episodes, we have seen more discussion of the unequal impact of the crisis. And I think that's a really good sign, because acknowledging the problem is the first step towards actually trying to solve it. We've also seen amazing displays of solidarity at the individual level, at the societal level. And essentially we've been shutting down entire economies or entire sectors of economies to protect the most vulnerable. And I think that is a great example of the solidarity that societies have shown. We've also seen some solidarity across countries. So for instance, in the European Union, there's been a recovery, a package with money for all member States, except the UK, which is leaving the European Union, and that's been also another good sign. But are we really all in this together? I think it's not completely true because there has also been a lot of discord. So for instance, different countries have been following different public health policies, perhaps not learning as much from each other as they should have. We've also seen some tension within countries between national governments and local regional or state governments, and party politics is still very much alive, despite the fact that though we are all in this together and we're in a global crisis. We've also seen global poverty rising because many of the poor countries don't have the funds or the policies to deal with the virus. And as we've just said, even within countries, the impact has been quite unequal. So I think for us to feel like we're all in this together, we really need to do something about these inequalities that we're talking about. Personally, I'm definitely very happy to be working for a company that I think is doing something about these inequalities. On the one hand, we inform people about what's going on in the markets so they can make better decisions in these challenging times. On the other hand, our partnerships with the likes of Goodwill and other organizations we're speaking to around the world are also an example of our focus on helping those who are most vulnerable, and helping people get jobs when it's really, really hard to get a job in some cases. And I think one of the takeaways for us all from this lived experience of the crisis is that we need to keep on thinking about this, and we need to keep on asking questions about who needs help and how we want the economy and society to actually look like when the dust clears and the pandemic is over.

- I think, one of the clear themes here is that when things are good and when economies are booming, it's very easy to miss some of the structural issues. And what we're experiencing right now is a very real stress test of the system. And under stress, you start to learn things that you might not have been able to see. So what are some of the lessons that we can take of this view of the labor market as a result of the pandemic?

- I think we basically found out that we cannot get the economy back on track until the virus is under control. And I think one of the big lessons from that is that health and the economy are very closely linked. Now that is actually a lesson that development economists, for instance, have known for a very long time. Economists who study developing countries have always flagged that for a country to perform well economically, people need access to health, to basic nutrition, so that they can work and get an income, otherwise they're stuck in poverty if there's no safety net. But the crisis has really highlighted how important that is in the rich world, too. Going back to the positive impact of the pandemic, I think we have seen greater attention paid in the media and in academic conversations to this topic and to people who are vulnerable, but the big question remains whether that's just lip service or whether we'll actually do something about it. Many of the people who we think are now really key workers, who are essential to the functioning of our society, are actually very low paid. So those are people who work in restaurants, in deliveries, in healthcare and social care. And actually our research in the hiring lab, both in the us and in the UK found early on in the pandemic, that advertisers pay for these essential roles didn't really grow massively even though we were appraising people who were in these jobs. And of course there are some economic drivers for that. Even though there was demand for workers in those roles, a lot of these jobs have relatively low barriers to entry, they don't require a very high qualifications. There are lots of people willing to do them, those jobs, despite the risks, and perhaps that's what kept we just relatively low. But it is a big question going forward and a decision that will have to make us a society. So I think one lesson from this link between health and the economy is that, are we really going to invest in in health systems around the world going forward? Are we going to make healthcare and social care careers more attractive to people? And it's not just about pay, it's also about other working conditions like stability, like reducing risks. And also are we going to train enough workers to meet the needs of our society as it ages, as it becomes more exposed to future pandemics? So depending on how we society answers these questions, I think that may have an impact on the economy and on politics in the future.

- So one of the interesting challenges here is we have this crisis that we're in the middle of right now, and we have to make decisions right now to change the tide. And then a lot of what you're talking about are really very, very long-term issues. And so what is the balance between the short and the long-term and how are you looking at that right now?

- I think we need to address both. Certainly some of the things I mentioned are quite longterm, but we're also seeing that the crisis is lasting longer than most people had expected at the beginning, and the economy will take awhile to recover. So in the near term, if we continue to see more infections and tighter restrictions on economic activity and people socially distancing also on a voluntary basis, that will continue to affect how people spend their money, that will affect the revenues of various businesses. That means the economy may be below its level of pre-pandemic activity for awhile. So I think in the near term, it is quite important for governments to continue to support businesses and households, and they can do that in lots of different ways. So in Europe, for instance, many governments have said that they will extend a lot of the very low schemes and grants for businesses that have been in place this year. So that's the case in the UK and France and Germany, for instance. And I think that's important because we want businesses and people's livelihoods not to be permanently damaged by the pandemic while we wait for the recovery, because if that happens, then the recovery will probably be even slower. So I think we do have to address this near term challenges. Certainly, governments are overwhelmed with what's going on, but we can't take our eyes off these sort of longer-term challenges either.

- So one of the big questions is, what is the role that our education system can play in helping to build a more equitable recovery?

- I think that's a good question, I think that the education system is also an investment in the economy just like healthcare is. From the perspective of education, I think we do need to keep on growing the pipeline of people with the skills and qualifications and interests that are needed for all these essential jobs that we've been talking about, so for instance, nursing or home care. And I think we need to pay special attention to attracting people to those careers because they are expected to grow, both in the near term because of COVID, but also in the longer term, because of trends like aging societies in a lot of the rich countries around the world. We do see on Indeed that demand for people in healthcare also is quite quite solid. But we also see that when we measure, for instance, the number of clicks that these job postings receive, they're still below lots of other jobs, they're still below average. And that suggests that we do need to either train more people for these roles or attract them in various ways to these roles, so that these jobs can be filled a bit more easily and society can actually benefit from those services. One thing that recent surveys found in the UK is that job seekers are still not very well aware of the sectors where there are job opportunities in this crisis. So for instance, many people from the hardest hit sectors like food and hospitality still say, when asked, that they would be most interested in applying to food and hospitality jobs, which are few and far between. And so while we have seen those job seekers click increasingly on the areas where we do see growth, I think there's probably more we can do in terms of informing people about these trends and informing them about what's going on in the job markets. That's what we try to do at Indeed, in the Hiring Lab and another teams, and hopefully that's the way we can contribute to give people some steer during this pandemic.

- So to wrap things up, one of the things that you would like to end on is just sort of looking towards the future, and in particular, obviously the last eight months have been extraordinarily challenging for everyone around the world, but it's also been an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective. And so my question is, is there anything over the last eight months that has given you some optimism for the future?

- Certainly, and I think that as an economist, I can often fall into the trap of talking about data, which right now isn't looking that great. And I can often sound pessimistic, but I think that one of the things that really does give me a lot of optimism for the future is the fact that spending more time with family and keeping in touch with people during the pandemic, has really shown me kind of how close you can feel to other people, despite all these barriers, despite all the social distancing and despite all the rules, you can really engage in acts of kindness and solidarity. Many people have been helping out older family members, neighbors. I think that's really something that's been amazing, and it's definitely one of the things that's making me hopeful for the future, despite all this grim near-term data. I think we will recover from all this. We are making a big sacrifice right now as a society. We are protecting those who are vulnerable, including older people. And that does give me hope that we will remember these lessons and that we will remember the importance of supporting people who are vulnerable, including people who are vulnerable to economic shocks, not just health shocks, both during and after the pandemic.

- Well, thank you for sharing that. And Pawel, thank you so much for the conversation today, for sharing your experience and your insights. And thank you for everything that you do to help people around the world understand the global economy a little better, and help more people get jobs.

- Thanks for an interesting conversation.