LATEST ADVICE TO DE-RISK YOUR CAREER POST COVID-19

I’ll never forget talking to a group of software engineers who worked on special effects for Hollywood movies, including the Harry Potter and Wolverine series.  

To their huge frustration and worry, the software changed very quickly, yet their employers gave them no help to learn the latest versions.  They often worked shocking hours, especially as the movie deadline approached, and then went home to update their skills to maintain their employability.  Further, they were in constant danger of being replaced by younger, cheaper talent.

That’s what you call career pressure! I don’t know how they managed to sleep at night.

Ch-ch-ch-changes ♪ ♫ ♪

This year’s cataclysmic disruption to our careers and lives means that many of us are facing our own career pressures. A 2020 report just released by ING Bank reveals that more than three million Australians are thinking about changing careers once the Corona Virus subsides and 28% have considered learning new skills to insulate themselves from future economic upheaval, including those who actually still have jobs.

Let’s say that you are among this group which is thinking about change, worried about ongoing job security. The obvious question is: which career/sector should you move into and how can you do it as painlessly as possible?

Do you REALLY want to do THAT all day?

I’m not a futurist but Blind Freddy could see that workers in the Essential Services have been largely immune from job losses in the pandemic and that these roles will be around for a long time.

Great minds obviously think alike because 12% of respondents to the ING Bank survey are considering a job in essential services to ensure their roles remain relevant.

Here’s the BUT, though.

Before you enrol in any training, you should assess the type of work that exists in this sector against your skills and interests. There’s no point donning overalls to become an Ambulance Officer, for example, if you prefer to work on creative projects or if you love analysing numbers all day.

My plan when I left my first job of teaching was to work in hotel management. I thought my skills were transferable and I spent 6 months learning Japanese, which was then the hospitality language of choice, to make myself a more attractive hire. I actually moved 1,000 km away to the Gold Coast in Queensland to find work, only to realise some months later that I preferred being on the other side of the counter as a paying customer.

Back I came with my tail between my legs to embark on yet another career change. You really don’t want to make the same mistake, believe me.

Your best source of information lies with the people who actually do the job. It’s time to stop googling and start talking. Find 10 people in that industry and set up a short meeting with each one.

Start by asking them to describe an average day so that you get a picture of common tasks. Next, ask them three things they like about their job. Then, ask them three things they don’t like about their work. It’s important to start with the positive: most people don’t want to admit that they have made a career mistake and may not tell you the truth if you first ask about negatives.

This first-hand feedback should allow you to decide whether the job is for you.  

Sector safety is worth a look

Next in line from a job security point of view, in Australia at least, have been employees across all three levels of government: State, Federal and Local.

Again, look before you leap. Check whether the reality of the Public Sector is a good fit. Some private sector people move across relatively easily. They welcome the possibility of effecting change on a large scale and of working on meaty, complex matters.  Others have no affinity with large, slow-moving bureaucracies.   

One of my clients during the Global Financial Crisis was a self-acknowledged cowboy – a logistics expert whose practical, problem solving nature didn’t get too fussed about protocols. Knowing full well that it was a poor fit, he accepted a job in Local Government but was gone five months later, back in the private sector where he thrived.

If the thought of such quick job hopping is anathema to you, ensure you think things through.

Left versus right brain

Coming back to the ING Bank report, 23% of Australians are unsure they have the right skills for the future workforce post COVID-19, with young Millennials (32%) most likely to feel this way.

There are numerous reports available that list emerging and in-demand jobs. Yet, even here there is doubt with some experts questioning whether the much touted STEM-based education and coding are really the skills of the future.

According to the ING Bank report, ‘the long-term trend suggests that we are better off reviving the at-times forgotten secrets of the right brain. Focusing blindly on STEM (the left side of the brain), would mean that we are skilling for jobs that may not be around in the future, or which will likely be trumped by machines.’

Experts are talking about STEMpathy where we use our creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, emotional intelligence and empathy to decide what to do with the information that the machines will produce for us. The theory is that these skills are difficult for a machine to imitate and are therefore more future-proof.


Hopefully it’s not too late for you to develop/foster these skills. If you have children, start as soon as you can to encourage this right-brain activity so that they at least are well prepared.

Minimise the pain of moving

There’s a neat analysis of key drivers when it comes to career satisfaction that parks us into one of four segments. I’m what’s called a Spiralist – someone who prefers to make regular and major moves across occupational areas, specialities or disciplines.  Ideally, these moves come every seven to ten years, which permits Spiralists enough time to develop in-depth competence or mastery before moving on to new fields.

The ideal move is from one area e.g. engineering or research into an allied area e.g. product development.  The new field draws upon knowledge and skills developed in the old, and at the same time throws open the door to the development of an entirely new set of knowledge and skills. 

For example, one of the Top 20 jobs of the future mentioned in the ING Bank report was a Digital Literacy Coach. In theory, as people are forced to migrate online and digitise their communications (both social and work) there will be an increased need for coaches and course designers who can mentor people through this migration.

If I had to or wanted to leave my current job, I’d investigate this type of work. It would build on my skills in and love of training and helping others in a concrete way. And it would minimise the amount of reskilling needed. That’s what Spiralists do.

So, if you are determined to leave your current type of work with the least amount of effort, this is an approach that is worth investigating.

Don’t worry, Be happy

Let’s say you’re NOT among those who are thinking about a career change. You just want to keep on keeping on without worrying about job security.

The critical question here is: how can you tell whether you should be thinking about future-proofing yourself (even if you don’t want to)?

The Futurist Anders Sörman-Nilsson believes that the jobs, cognitive thinking and skills that will be most valuable have and will continue to change.  But just how long is this transition period between an assessment of whether our current skills will be in demand or whether we need to change?

Five years is all you’ve got

I never ask my clients how old they are. Instead, I find out how many more years they plan to keep working and at what level of seniority/intensity.

Absent a shut-down of society and subsequent immediate recession as per the Covid-19 pandemic, if you plan to work for less than five years, you are probably safe. Technology is unlikely to displace you and workplace norms are unlikely to change.

However, a same-same attitude to work is dangerous more than five years out from retirement. You risk being made redundant and then finding it extremely difficult to find another job.

I’ve been learning Italian and sometimes I tear my hair out at the seemingly-arbitrary rules.  And I really do struggle to memorise the vocabulary.  I persist because the adventure of experimenting in another language is a fascinating challenge for me.  In common terms, the upside is worth the downside.

When it comes to your career, it would be ideal if you relished keeping up with new trends. Regardless, if you have many years of work ahead, you need to keep up with where the world is heading, as it happens. Take charge of your future so that you have a future.

This is not…the end of the road

Even before the pandemic, about 25% of job seekers in the US were worried their job will be automated within five years, according to a 2019 survey by Jobvite. This included half (45%) of all Millennials.

It’s all adding up to a great deal of anxiety and the ING Bank report goes on to state that 32% of Australians believe it will be difficult to find new opportunities.

Modern career advice will tell you to:

  • stay alert
  • keep up to date with modern workplace requirements and norms
  • be self aware
  • be open to non-linear opportunities 

There’s a time for fluidity and flexibility but there is also time for forethought. By all means, join the many Australians who plan to learn new skills. Just ensure that your envisaged future is a good fit, that it is well thought out and that you have a concrete plan to attain it.

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