Job Market and Impact on Job Securities

The short-term and long-term implications of the COVID-19 virus on the job market and impact on job securities?

Both locally and globally, unskilled and semi-skilled labour has been hit hard through mandatory furloughs, salary cuts and redundancies. The sectors that have been hit the worst have been hospitality, wholesale and retail, tourism, manufacturing and real estate and transport, especially aviation. Lifting the lockdown is aimed at redressing this, but the impact on unskilled labour is likely to be sustained even post COVID.

The ILO considers the pandemic to be the ‘worst global crisis since the 2nd World War’. Although the battle against the spread of COVID is likely to succeed with sporadic flare-ups and a distinctly possible ‘2nd wave’ towards the end of the year, governments are keen to see a return to work. Nonetheless, unemployment is likely to be a growing problem in the medium term.

Where there has been government protection of jobs and salaries through borrowing at historically low-interest rates, the worst impact of the global recession has yet to be felt even as conditions are ripe for recovery. Supply chains are being reconnected, but the investment may remain sluggish, in spite of the historically low cost of borrowing, due to uncertainty.

Reducing social distancing from 2m to 1m will definitely assist restaurants and the leisure industry, where capacities can return to some 70%, rather than the 30% under current regulations. It will also assist the return to schools, where social distancing flies in the face of both a natural inclination and the values we teach. Collaborative learning is far harder when you cannot ‘huddle’. But these are a matter of adjustment and ways and means will be found to accommodate the regulations. However, if there is a significant flare-up of new cases, the optimism could be short-lived.

The expectation that science, government and the law can ‘cure’ a growing list of 21st-century ills – whether COVID, the environment, social injustice, discrimination, global inequalities – is giving way to an understanding that “we are all responsible” and that through social media, popular sentiment can engage popular action, whether in protest or inaction to effect positive change.

Those able to adapt to remote working have experienced exponential growth in hands-on proficiency and development of practice. There is a greater understanding of the range of apps and software that comprises the new virtual office toolbox.

Labour mobility through traditional job search and recruitment is changing with much of the process of research gathering, communications, interviewing, testing and evaluation now being embedded online with a larger potential market place. This is an extension of existing practice where jobs are contracted out to overseas providers.

In the longer term, and bearing in mind the severity of the economic crash, we are likely to see the following:

  • Severe job losses due to a contraction in global GDP of from 2.5% – 9% reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The speed and lack of compassion that accompanied the lockdown will mean that workers may hear of their job losses online.
  • Those who do retain their jobs are likely to face salary cuts of anything from 15% – 25% depending on the industry and how far employers value their human resources.
  • Older workers and those less open to changing work practices and the use of technology are likely to be at greater risk as medical insurance premiums are likely to be loaded against them, at least until a vaccine is available.
  • Middle management employees may be rather more vulnerable in the next phase than low-level workers who can be replaced and there will be a rush to ensure they acquire skills that fit whatever profile is on offer. This change may favour the young and hungry. Senior executives will try to insulate themselves by taking more decisions at the middle level.
  • There will be far more stress and anxiety about job security and this will postpone major purchases on credit that will add more friction against swift recovery.
  • Jobs, where there is significant contact with others and in the ‘front-line’ of the caring professions, will take a hit if there is a 2nd wave. There will be greater emphasis on the good health of new hires.
  • Entrepreneurs and start-ups will face a harsher landscape, but those who understand the psychology of customers seeking affordability and reassurance may thrive.
  • Jobs in the ‘informal’, zero-contract sector including unskilled migrant workers may find scarce, but those who are ready offer their skills freelance to complete short-term tasks, the so-called ‘gig’ economy and/or are willing to work in a range of part-time jobs may be to exploit employer’s needs to cut overheads and start to thrive.
  • Teaching in the private sector has adapted well to distance-learning and this is likely to develop further as schools offer online curriculum options that could change the face of the industry, particularly in upper secondary.
  • There will be new opportunities in data literacy, analytics and building and promoting software to support remote working. This will also apply to AI, machine learning, blockchain and cyber-security.
  • Those with highly-developed Emotional Intelligence for deployment in customer care, logistics, tracking, counselling, are likely to be in demand, at least until AI develops beyond being a simple and irritating FAQs robot.
  • ‘At home’ services will be popular at the outset for more than just catering, but will include hairdressing, beauty, maintenance and repairs.
  • Flexitime working will become more the norm rather than the exception.

The Coronavirus lockdown has brought with it an array of side effects – and some of them are surprisingly positive, what is one good thing in the job market during this pandemic?

A developing responsiveness of both employers and job seekers to new concepts of working and a recognition that upskilling, innovative thinking ‘outside the box’, effective communications and adaptability are essential but also achievable qualities.

What is one thing candidates/job seekers should be cautious of or concerned about?

  • Their own self-worth and pre-conceptions about their position in the job market as seekers of job offers, rather than providers of skill, commitment and loyalty.
  • Promises of employment by those who offer contracts that are based on flat-rate commissions, rather than a revenue share, i.e. the risk-reward trade-off is unevenly shared.
  • Unscrupulous recruitment consultancies that promise the world for a premium fee and deliver nothing of substance.

Post-pandemic, what jobs and which industries will be higher in demand and lower in demand?

  • Opportunities that require a blended approach to working, i.e. flexibility in working from home and in the traditional workplace.
  • Those skills and functions that can be automated and/or accommodated by AI will continue to erode clerical and semi-skilled occupations, but this should not be overstated.
  • There is the recognition that workers in health-care and education with the requisite skills, training and soft skills of empathy and resilience are worth more market forces alone would indicate.

There is a need to apply the lessons learned in terms of the value of social entrepreneurship and CSR, with governments and the corporate sector seeking to make social cost/benefit and long-term planning and investment critical to the ‘bottom line’ rather than traditional goals of profit and market share. Public-private sector collaboration is as important as competition.

How can job seekers address their skill gaps to meet the realities and requirements of a post-COVID-19 job market

One benefit of the lockdown has been providing time and opportunity to reflect on one’s own personal and professional development. The excuse ‘if only I had the time…’ rings a little hollow. The first task is to identify what the skills gaps are and how to use time as a resource. This is not as easy as it sounds because it requires a critical understanding of which skills will be in demand in a post-COVID, or ‘second-wave’ environment, rather than those deficits you are already aware of in your profile. Both employers and job seekers need to become more adept at ‘skills mapping’.

Developing a Skills Map

Identify your hard and soft skills needs and how you might address them through self-study and access to online assistance from friends and established providers rather than opportunists.

Critically assess and prioritize key skills, e.g. using Zoom and MS Teams for presentations as well as face-to-face oral communications tools; re-designing your CV to ensure that your new skills profile is more prominent than your career history. Develop a visual focus in your CV, especially online, focusing on the learning journey you are undertaking during the COVID lockdown.

Optimize your personal and professional development timeline so that the focus on upskilling is focused more on breadth than depth, i.e. more on transferability or adaptability of skills to new contexts rather than on advancing existing skills. An example might be developing your social media skills and profile for marketing rather than just making connections or contributing ad hoc to online forums.

Re-assess any KPIs you have and re-design them using benchmarking and SMART targets to evaluate personal and professional growth.

Focus on measuring Return on Engagement, i.e the effective use to time rather than Return on Investment, the effective use of funds. This focuses less on the efficiency of your spending on self-improvement and upskilling but on the use of valuable time.

Re-design your remote work/office space in the same way that you might organize your living space, kitchen; i.e. make it fit for purpose with easy access to the tools and resources you need to make effective use of your time.

Develop an awareness using time and time zones more effectively; i.e. thinking less about ‘ 9-5’ working hours and more about when you can make the most effective use of time throughout a 24 hour period. This is already common practice when online streaming and global trading.

What strategies should the job seekers employ to find and successfully acquire emerging job opportunities remotely?

  • Ensure registration with online recruitment agencies and social media, e.g. LinkedIn and those with a focus on your profession, trade, or interests.
  • Your focus should be on local, national, or international media depending on your context.
  • There are established specialists that provide personal recruitment and job search, but avoid being reliant on others.
  • Visit company webpages to register your interest and CV with HR departments and follow up with a call to ensure that they respond.
  • Ensure that your CV is fit for purpose for the kinds of openings posted rather than being generic.
  • Ensure that the CV demonstrates your presentation skills by embedding a good up-to-date head and shoulders photo of yourself that is not a passport photo. Head and shoulders, well-groomed, giving a degree of facial profile, and smiling will help.
  • Design the CV to focus on your skills and accomplishments to fit the job profile rather than on your qualifications and career history.
  • Keep it to 2 pages in length. Use colours judiciously. Use Arial or Calibri and avoid elaborate or script fonts. Include contacts of referees (you can provide your current employer’s contacts when under offer).

The creation of virtual organizations and remote work practices has grown many folds during this pandemic. What is the scale with which work is being detached from traditional fixed places of work and what are its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance?

The growth of virtual environments for study, work and leisure has been growing steadily, and now exponentially and entrepreneurs working in cyberspace will be more aware of scale than any researcher. One example is how distance learning in Dubai schools has led to an increase in providers offering freebie support during the height of the lockdown emergency in April.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – the suspension of international aviation has led to astute event organizers not canceling conferences, exhibitions and job fairs online, where they have been able to reach a far wider audience.

The future implications are huge.

  • Wellbeing policies will extend to the remote working as well as the traditional workplace.
  • Remote working can lead to productivity gains. The degree of transition to remote (home-based) working will be less determined by lockdown than to develop and extend the remote working experiment, which will also significantly reduce overhead costs for rented office space.
  • MS Teams and Zoom can increase engagement in meetings and control time-wasting.
  • Large conferences, exhibitions and fairs have been required to go digital – and they reach a wider audience at a lower cost and with environmental savings as a consequence.
  • AI and automation will put de-skilled jobs at risk. It will be important to diversify and upskill to avoid displacement. That being said, AI is still very limited in its scope in terms of dealing with complex problems where human contact remains critical to consumer confidence.

What is the future of remote work?

It is a mistake to either understate or overstate its importance. Blending home-based and office-based working will become increasingly embedded, but this will not apply to manufacturing, leisure services and transport.

Blended learning in education is likely to become an embedded feature of post-COVID education. No school on bad weather days will become a memory. For the more able and diligent students, distance learning has liberated them from the constraints of teacher-led classroom learning. Online communications between home and school may challenge the traditional parent-teacher conference.

People enjoy real rather than online interaction and so being able to ‘go to work’ to make face-to-face contact in real-space is unlikely to be displaced entirely.

In response to today’s rapidly changing job market due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how can job seekers stay focused and energized during this period?

Ensure that they give time to themselves and focus on activities that provide a good balance between physical wellbeing, recreation and work-related activities, including job-seeking. Be systematic in maintaining a routine that engages you in a variety of activities and make time online for family and friends until restrictions are lifted.

Use this time to review and upgrade and personalize your CV and personal profile online, including links to digital evidence of your achievements and suitability for new positions. Take opportunities to upskill and retrain with an accredited online provider, while avoiding ‘quick fix’ solutions.

What is the best piece of advice for job seekers during this period?

  • Take time to know yourself and question your preconceptions about career pathways, the job market, the workplace, employment terms and conditions and strategies to safeguard your long-term financial security.
  • Register your CV and profile online with a range of established recruiters and be discriminating about what you pay for when approached by those who promise everything but deliver little.
  • Develop digital proficiency, online team-working, and both oral and written communication so that you are adaptable to blended working.
  • Take advantage of the growth in online training to upskill existing strengths and build new ones. Skills need to be re-focused and refined so that they are more transferable and able to take advantage of new opportunities.
  • Be conservative about your expectations as the economies navigate through a recession that is likely to be deeper and longer than anticipated.
  • Negotiate contracts that provide flexible working practices while ensuring greater equity between employer and employee.

Learn the lessons of experience and adjust your mindset to be resilient, innovative, adaptable and critically aware of your self-worth and value on the open market