COVID-19 is Changing the Applicant Pool

Over the past five years, the vast majority of applicants to healthcare systems and senior living providers have been using smart phones when they apply for jobs. Only about 37% of all applicants were using a desktop or laptop. 

That all changed this June.  

Over 95% of applicants used laptops or desktop computers to complete their job applications in June. Since that height, the percentage of applicants using these devices has varied, averaging 70%, but has not dropped down to the long-time statistic below 40%.  

Why the change?

Possibly, applicants had always owned non-mobile devices but had been out and about, perhaps working at a job site. And so they completed applications while on the move, on their phones. Pandemic-related lockdowns might have meant these same individuals who normally used their smartphones were now at home, near their larger devices. Therefore, they simply used those devices instead.  

However, there is data suggesting another possibility. These are not the same applicants.  Individuals who would have been working different jobs or attending school may now be pursuing frontline jobs in healthcare. These are individuals who own laptops and desktop computers. In comparison, the majority of frontline workers in healthcare before did not have the same range of devices at their disposal. 

What has changed?

Arena Analytics has seen unusual trends in the applicant pool that suggest attitudes are changing, and the applicants themselves are different.  Prior to the pandemic and its related economic impacts in March, for example, applicants to frontline healthcare roles were not likely to have ‘done any community service’ in the past 3 years. The trend line increased dramatically toward ‘yes’ on this particular data point. By May, and continuing still, the majority of applicants have taken part in community service activities in recent years.

How does this different applicant pool fare on the job?

Arena’s questionnaire is not a test with right/wrong answers assessing skills or comparing applicants to a theoretical, or employer-specified, ideal. Arena’s questionnaire is only a part of a bigger data analytics platform that collects and analyzes data from employers and the local labor market. The platform applies machine learning techniques that remove bias and continually update with new data sources. The algorithms then match applicants to specific jobs, locations, departments and shifts where they will achieve outcomes such as retention and engagement. 

The exact answers to a question do not determine a definite ‘fit’ to a job category or even to a specific job type. The pattern of questionnaire data combines with additional data sources to create a ‘data picture’ of applicants. A variety of ‘data pictures’ can be predicted for success on a job. As new data patterns emerge, such as the current changing applicant pool, the algorithms adjust and discover new ways to match applicants to jobs.

At first, the algorithms provided a ‘neutral’ prediction upon encountering this new applicant pool. Within a couple months, the algorithms ‘learned’ and made predictions with more certainty. As the data shows at left, the changing applicant pool in March – May produced more neutral predictions, but then re-adjusted as the applicant pool continued to evolve.

Arena continues to dig into this data and conduct conversations with applicants and healthcare workers in order to better understand the new applicant pool. We have met recent high school graduates whose plans for working their way through college have been upended. We have met veterans who have experienced being patients in rehabilitation centers and now wish to pursue careers providing the care they appreciate receiving.

We still wish to learn why applicants ‘prefer NOT to interact with others in person.’ Is this a concern over contracting covid-19, or a general acceleration of a pre-existing trend toward more online and less in-person activities?   

How should we interpret the steep turn from neutral to yes responses for the statement that ‘any job is better than no job at all’? Is there a fear of contracting the virus which could mean one does not take a job? Maybe this is about being selective about what job one takes. Maybe one needs a good reason to take a job. The jobs that are attracting these applicants are important and essential – caring for the most vulnerable people in our society.

It’s not just ‘any job.’ And it’s better than ‘no job at all.’