Through the looking glass: What the post-COVID-19 world of work might look and five ways to prepare
Buckle-up everyone, we’re about to begin a tour across the post-COVID-19 recruitment landscape. Your guide will be Dr Terri Simpkin, HR specialist, Associate Professor and Head of MBA Programmes (International) at the Nottingham University Business School.
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Over to Terri…
For some, the world of work has changed forever. Like Alice stepping through the looking glass and into a world strangely familiar, but unexpectedly flipped and unpredictable, we may find ourselves wondering: what’s next for the workplace, what does work mean, and how is work done? Let’s get into it.
COVID-19 and the acceleration of change
Prior to the pandemic the global employment landscape was changing rapidly. Consequences of the fourth industrial revolution were gaining pace with a rise of different business models that offered scale but not necessarily the need for a large labour force.
The accelerating adoption of automation, machine learning and other technologies like augmented reality underpinned shifting ideas of the split between the work that ‘robots’ could do and what humans could do. While it was once thought that complex work such as driving would never be within the scope of artificial intelligence to do well or safely, advances in technology have illustrated that this is not the case. Innovation has moved beyond manufacturing and agriculture into support services and high-knowledge work that was once thought to be within the sole remit of human employees.
The pandemic will not change the global shift in what work will look like. Research published by McKinsey suggests that around 26 per cent of jobs in Europe are at risk in the short term. However, some of these roles were already vulnerable pre-pandemic and include jobs in customer services, sales, accommodation, food services and building occupations. A perfect storm of changes to how work is done and the consequences of the pandemic increases the risk of displacement.
Is there any good news?
Yes, a bit. Preconceptions of how work is done and where it is done from have been proven malleable by the rapid shift to ‘working from home’. Siemens, for example, recently created a ‘work from anywhere’ policy for 140,000 of its workforce, allowing them flexibility for a proportion of their work week.
This opens up opportunities for people who may have been geographically disadvantaged by being distant from a place of work or sector and people with who find that working from home allows the flexibility they need to manage childcare or eldercare. The commute for many has been reduced and so the work-life balance may be improved once a workable routine is established.
But of course, this is not necessarily a consistent picture across occupations, or for everyone. There’s still the divergence of those who can work from home and who have access to the ‘kit’ that facilitates it.
Many do not have the luxury of choice.
Inclusion, innovation and post-pandemic recovery
The key to really embedding some of the benefits of changed ways of working, relies on organisations heeding a wake-up call.
Reimagining organisational activities, structures, and operations through a new lens, relies on amplifying the voices that may not have been previously heard. These include: those who want to work differently (for example, parents or those with caring responsibilities), those who want access to greater opportunity but who may have been locked out due to gender, disability, neurodiversity or social background and those who bring different, more creative, status quo-challenging ideas.
Leveraging the capacities of a workforce displaced by redundancy, shifts in demand and the re-calibration of sectors, means reimagining how capabilities are built, enhanced and redeployed. Many sectors have been lamenting labour and talent shortages, so transporting skills and capabilities from those sectors hardest hit is a smart move. Engineers displaced from construction may find opportunities in the digital infrastructure sector where labour shortages have been rife for many years.
But this will mean that employers must be prepared to recognise transferability of skills. Where wish lists of ideal skills and experiences once narrowed the labour pool during recruitment drives, creative and inclusive practices can recognise how capabilities can drive innovation, change and post-pandemic recovery by transposing useful skills from one role or sector to another.
Where are the jobs?
Taking into consideration pre-pandemic factors such as demographic change, advancing technology adoption, change to business models, political complexities and shifting demand profiles, the global post-COVID-19 landscape is complex.
However, McKinsey’s work highlights some of the occupations and sectors that will be in demand and those that are already in decline.
On the up – human health professionals (health aides, technicians and wellness workers), social work, professional, STEM professionals, scientific roles, technical services education, managers/leaders and creative arts.
On the out – office support roles, production jobs, low-wage customer service roles, sales positions (e.g. cashiers), administrative secretaries, mechanical/installation and repair workers.Roles that require mainly physical, manual capability and basic cognitive skills will be in decline.
Sadly, many people have found themselves suddenly in a position where their usual job or occupation is unavailable to them. While the jobs market is highly volatile and uncertain now, here are some suggestions to broaden the opportunity for a role change or finding new work.
- Be clear about your abilities
Your ability to bring value to a role is not only measured in years in the job or certifications/qualifications. Sit down and examine what you bring to a role. Is it the proven ability to be creative and innovative? Is it the ability to work well in uncertain times or changing teams? Can you see the big picture but work with detail too? Get someone to help you if you find it difficult to identify your strengths and past achievements.
TIP – often people are too close to their own experience to see where they’ve added value to their work. Thinking “it was just my job” or “anyone could have done that” often camouflages a range of successes or achievements that others may see as extraordinary or exemplary. Get someone to be honest and clear about identifying your past achievements and how they might be taken into a different role or sector.
- Think outside the box
Some sectors were always going to be in decline and, sadly, the pandemic may have hastened the demise of some occupations. Get used to looking beyond what’s usual or comfortable, and search for other roles that might accommodate your abilities. Ask those you know about what opportunities might arise that would suit your suite of experiences, skills and knowledge. Do your homework and look to job websites for selection criteria and get to grips with the transferability of skills.
TIP – Look to the selection criteria of jobs that you may not have considered previously. For example, people who have worked in frontline retail or hospitality are often good at dealing effectively with people. They could therefore apply for other roles that have ‘high people’ contact demands.
- Get specific
Be prepared to tailor your applications to fit the role you want. Your application may not even be seen by an actual person until after the initial screening process. Automated methods are often used to whittle down the number of applications and artificial intelligence tools may be looking for certain phases, terms and content that matches the selection criteria for that particular role.
TIP – Avoid quirky terms like ‘Microsoft Word Guru’ or ‘service all-star’. Given that your application is likely to be assessed by an automated process, use the language used in the job advertisement or terms used in similar roles.
- Get up to speed
Applying for jobs has changed markedly recently so if you haven’t been in the job market for some time, get familiar with how it works now. Use the resources that many online job sites offer. There are whole libraries full of good advice, examples of cover letters and CVs, as well as hints and tips for interviews. Best of all, it’s freely available.Many recruitment practices are now online which demands some digital skills. You may need to develop your skillset in these areas to better your chances of finding the job you want.
TIP – Become comfortable with different forms of recruitment practices. Some firms will use intermediaries, others will have internal teams for recruitment and selection activities. Some will use tests so be prepared. This presupposes that applicants have access to the kit required to engage with these processes. If you don’t have adequate broadband or IT resources, ask around and see if you can borrow them from a friend. There are community groups that can provide assistance too. Know where to find help and don’t hesitate to use what’s available.
- Get your online self in shape
Digital recruitment practices are just the beginning. Remember that recruiters will have access to your online presence too. Make sure that what you have in the public domain, across all social media platforms, is consistent with your job seeking message. Check your privacy settings on personal accounts and brush up your LinkedIn profile.
TIP – Remember if it’s online, it’s searchable. Do a bit of a Google search on yourself and see what pops up to get an understanding of what others might be able to see about you. Check out who and what you follow – you might have moved on in your ideas or alliances so remove any that do not represent you as you are today.
Delete any material that might detract from who you are and what you can do today. Scrutinise your public profile shots and update those that may not be showing you in your best light. That boozy weekend in Ibiza might have been fun, but do you want potential employers seeing you with your underwear on your head?
Use your social media presence to your advantage. Join networks that may be of help to you or that might get you noticed in the right circles. Follow companies that might be hiring or where you’d like to work, and remember that job ads or opportunities may appear on non-traditional platforms such as Instagram or Twitter.
Ask Terri a question!
Are you a temporary worker, facing furlough or redundancy? Angling for a promotion during difficult times? Figuring out what to do next? Struggling to find a job? In a leadership role and making big decisions that affect others? Are you struggling to keep your business afloat? Ask Dr Terri a question, and she’ll to endeavour to reply in her upcoming alumni newsletter Careers series. Please send in your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dr Terri Simpkin is an Associate Professor and Head of MBA Programmes (International) at the Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham.
She is an industry experienced academic and former Human Resources Director. She has worked internationally with corporate entities, industry associations and SMEs.
She has advised governments on labour and skills policy as well as workforce development.
She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Certified Practitioner, Australian Human Resources Institute.