The Thomas theorem in sociology says when people “define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” So, if everyone continues to believe in a “new normal” instead of a “return to normal” after the impact of the pandemic on businesses and jobs, then that belief will make those changes real and permanent. What does that mean for your career planning up to 2030? Let’s look at trends that will affect your work, income and choices.
The single largest long-term impact of the pandemic on working professionals is stress. Widespread job losses or cut in salary, hyper-competition for every job opening, absence of social contact, continuous work from home and employers focused on cost control and efficiency has taken you outside your comfort zone. Thus, the biggest skill you need for the next decade is managing your anxiety to remain productive. The antidote to long-term anxiety is three fold. Firstly, know yourself well including your triggers for stress and happiness. Secondly, be in action, to simultaneously strengthen your career and reduce anxious thoughts. Finally, manage stress through exercise, meditation, counseling, relationships or any other medium that works for you.
The biggest impact of the pandemic on businesses worldwide was to speed up the penetration and adoption of technology. Digitisation penetrated to the extent of eliminating travel for business, replacing it with virtual meetings everywhere. Adoption shot up when elders at home overcame their resistance and embraced online activities and small kiranas adopted the latest “dukaan-tech” to go online. Thus not only did the digital consumer base increase, but also all kinds of business processes were replaced with digital alternatives. As this continues, your job is not going to last in the way you know it. Wherever there is a physical product or a process involved in your industry, there will be multiple changes creating a few new opportunities while disrupting your current job. Digitisation also leads to a winner-take-all effect because now an industry innovator can directly and instantly reach customers eliminating middlemen, layers and costs. Will you be on on track to be that winner or part of that winning team? “In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products but above all to reinvent yourself again and again.” says Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens.
Moat of human connection
Businesses define a moat as a barrier that keeps them safe from competition. The biggest moat for your career now is human connection. Firstly, if you are in a job or profession where human connection is critical then you will not be replaced by technology anytime soon. This works well whether you are a physical therapist who provides a human touch service, an online hobby coach or a salesperson where the sales is differentiated by your interpersonal skills. Secondly, your network of human connections is your personal safety net for mental health and for new income opportunities.
Geography becomes bi-polar
Are you a knowledge worker? Then, where you are doesn’t matter any more. Earlier if you were a coder, the best thing was to migrate to Bengaluru to look for jobs. Now, you could operate from a beach shack in Goa and still get accepted into the same jobs in a brave new work-from-home world. On the flip side, now your competition is not restricted to local coders commuting from Koramangala but from all across the world from Kochi to Kanpur to Kyrgyzstan. If you are not a knowledge worker, then you are sitting on the opposite pole. From manufacturing to hospitality, work-from-home is not for you. With trade barriers going up across countries, the focus is on hyper local manufacturing, delivery and service. The customer base of your SME employer may reduce risking your income and yet your job has lesser competition being restricted to local job seekers.
Your counsellor suggests you let go of your past to reduce stress. That advice has become relevant in careers too. Your past work experience is losing relevance. With rapid digitisation, your employer’s business model could be decimated by the next startup and similarly your experience in old ways of doing business doesn’t count for much. You cannot expect your salary to go up if you remain in the same function or profession and simply add years. Every time you lose a job or get replaced, your income will drop sharply and start rising again only when you pick up a new set of skills and deliver vastly different results. On the other hand, you might find yourself riding a wave of success with the right employer in a changing industry leading to rapid gains in income. Choose work wisely.
In the past 30 years, the average tenure at a job has come down from 10 years to 2-3 years because professionals switched jobs to gain new learning and growth. Now the tables have turned. Employers keen on maximising survival and success, have learnt to respond quickly to both cut jobs and to hire rapidly at low cost through faster selection, contract labour and temporary projects, using technology. Your job tenure will reduce further and uncertainty of income will increase. Be prepared for the change and plan your life and finances accordingly.
Time-tested career strategies
Can you become just 1% better than the rest of your competition? In the winner-take-all context in a digitally connected world, that marginal difference helps you get that job, that promotion and be the last to get laid off. A competitive strategy where you strive to be better than others keeps you ahead but only until the skill or job has value in the market.
Why have only one source of income? Your strategy is to maximise and protect against income loss by creating multiple income sources by say converting your hobby of baking into a side business or coaching students during weekends? By trading your current free time to build multiple incomes and investments, you protect against sudden shocks.
Either you have learnt to value your time over money or your personal commitments take priority over your career. Your career strategy is to protect your personal time while you understand that your long term income will take a hit. Self employment, temporary projects, part-time work and professions which do not change rapidly are your choices.
You do not like the rat race and the ever changing world of jobs. You know what you like and are not afraid to lead that customised life. Choose your vocation for the next decade, whether you are a writer or growing flowers at your farm. In return you give up the society’s standard definitions of success and wealth.
Irrespective of which path you choose, constant learning as a parallel strategy will pay tremendous dividends. With structured online education and unstructured information available cheaply, it will be easier than ever. Read, take courses or teach every day. The compounding effect of knowledge pays off extremely well over the long term.
(The author is a career coach, mentor and the author of Yoursortinghat.com.)