How COVID-19 disrupted the Job Market (and how to take advantage of these changes)?
COVID-19 upended our lives in all aspects. The job market was not left out. Job descriptions underwent various revisions to fit the new narrative. For some, the changes were only about location. While for others, it was drastic changes like a total rework of the nature of their jobs.
The choice of what to do with our lives is now a function of many factors because of the pandemic. Therefore, the current state demands that prospective job applicants analyze the situation and identify ways to leverage it to achieve their aims.
Hiring managers, corporate circles, and even society need to do this assessment. The economy is akin to the lifeblood of a community. A healthy job market is indicative of good economic prospects. Understanding how we can mitigate the adverse effects and amplify the good is required to navigate the current landscape of the job market and aid the economic recovery.
In this article, we hope to outline an objective assessment of the impacts of the disruptions in the job market due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disruptions in Job Market due to COVID-19
In many countries of the world, a large chunk of the year 2020 and parts of 2021 were spent in lockdowns. Though the lockdowns were to curb the rapid spread of COVID, the economy was a casualty of that decision.
Many industries were left next to nothing. The travel industry, for example, was on total shutdown. Airlines and tour agencies had little or no business to do. It was estimated that over 15 million airline flights were canceled as of December 2020.
Small businesses that provide utility services like food, accommodation, and laundry also suffered significant losses. Restriction on gathering or movement in the streets resulted in little or no patronage of these businesses. Business travel ceased.
In a study conducted in the United States, 41.3% of businesses temporarily closed their doors because of COVID-19. Another study posited that more than 25% of businesses could shut down permanently without intervention.
However, newer ways of working had to be adopted for the industries that later thrived. Ironically, many of these ‘newer’ ways are not new. They existed in the fringes before the pandemic. The pandemic created the perfect situation for their widespread adoption.
Some of these changes in working methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic are described below.
Remote/Hybrid Work Arrangements Over Physical Presence
This is the enormous legacy of the pandemic in the job market. The pandemic made working remotely a norm. The job market has witnessed a fourfold increase in remote jobs during the pandemic.
The volume of jobs done remotely or at home may reduce, but it will remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. This is because instead of a total return to physical presence in the workplace, employers and employees are now adopting a hybrid working system.
Some big companies have made announcements that their workers can work either from home or in their chosen offices. Thus, employees have flexible schedules and manage their time as they see fit. The pandemic may have caused the (time) emancipation of the modern worker.
Faster Adoption of AI/Automation to Lessen Contact and Increase Efficiency
AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been a threat to the job market long before the pandemic. However, the pandemic allowed us to glimpse what work would look like after AI takes over.
During the pandemic, AI was deployed in exciting ways. In some workplaces, workers benefit from the assistance of artificial intelligence to carry out their work. In contrast, some workplaces develop robots that replace workers. In other scenarios, a hybrid model was adopted. The human worker either plays the role of a supervisor or works in concert with AI to complete their tasks.
AI and automation helped reduce workplace density and allowed increased efficiency. Many companies, especially ones with warehouses and stores, call centers, and manufacturing plants, are typical examples of where AI/Automation was used to these ends.
A McKinsey Survey reports that many CEOs are setting up significant investments in AI and automation as we advance. The pandemic helped identify how automation can help increase efficiency even in unexpected industries. As a result, we can look forward to a future of work where AI plays a significant role in industrial processes.
Increase in Diversity of Talents in the Hiring Pool
One of the accompanying effects of remote working is an increased talent pool. Location is no longer a significant factor to consider when hiring. This opens up previously location-specific jobs to many applicants. And this doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.
The job market is getting genuinely globalized. As a result, anyone with the requisite skills can get an appropriate role regardless of location. As a result, competition for many job openings is almost double what was pre-pandemic.
Greater and Faster Adoption of Digital Tools and Less Business Travel
The World Bank reported a 1.3% and 7.5% increase in internet usage in low and middle-income countries in the first quarter of 2020. Work shifted from traditional workspaces to digital workspaces.
The use of video-conferencing tools skyrocketed during the pandemic. Business travel was almost impossible, and workers had to employ digital tools to fulfill their communication aims.
Also, the Use of Collaboration tools surged too. Workers were scattered across different geographical locations. These tools enabled them to synchronize work and complete various job tasks.
Though this is expected to be temporary, it significantly affects working conditions. To stem the tide of the pandemic, workers are now subject to more workplace scrutiny. COVID Vaccination is an essential requirement for returning to work in many workplaces. Unfortunately, this puts a wedge between public interest and private desires.
Now, more than ever before, employees must bend their will to their employers’ or government’s wishes or risk losing their livelihood. This trend may consolidate in mandatory job screening for workers. Thus, job onboarding processes get longer.
Reduced Working Hours
The agitation for reduced working hours has been ongoing before the pandemic. Though unfavorable for many, working hours were reduced drastically to adjust to the circumstances. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that the global working hours declined by 17.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020.
Reduced working hours may be unfavorable to some industries, and it may not go away with the pandemic. Theoretically, remote work makes it possible to work at peak hours of productivity. Thus, reducing time for task completion. Some firms are already adjusting their workweek calendars to fit this narrative.
These disruptions are causing a rethink of what we call work. If work is all about productivity, then location and duration might not significantly determine how it is done. The widespread acceptance of remote work has significant consequences for the job market and society.
Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Job Market.
When people say COVID-19 disrupted the job market, the picture they paint is somewhat fragmented. The consequences of these disruptions are not fully grasped because of this. A job market comprises the job providers, the job seekers, and those who make job providing and seeking possible. All these stakeholders had their fair share of the ripple effects of the pandemic.
Each stakeholder in the job market had to adopt better systems and processes to achieve their aims. And if these changes may be permanent, the nature of work has been forever altered by the pandemic.
Employees need high-level skills to take advantage of the more economic power and free time
The restriction on commuting and gatherings – enclosed or open– has made working a quandary for workers. Remote working seemed to solve that problem. As a result, flexibility became more than is usually available. Workers now have the freedom to choose when to work. The quality of work output is expected to improve significantly because of this.
In addition to that, employees now have more economic power. Commute fees and other associated spendings are virtually nonexistent because of remote work. Not only that, but workers also have much bargaining power to get paid more than usual.
However, the side-effects of remote working are somewhat surprising. More time means more work. There will always be more work to fill that free time. This is eating deep into the mental and physical well-being of the workers. The great resignation reported in the US in the past year is a manifestation of this. Employees now put more value on employers that respect their well-being.
High-level skills position employees to reap the benefits accompanying these disruptions. However, low-skill workers are losing their jobs to machines and other factors in many nations. The skills gap is difficult to navigate, especially at the rate they are becoming necessary.
Reports have indicated that many workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic are not actively looking to find new ones. The pandemic also makes it challenging to find new jobs. According to Indeed.com, there was a more than 50 percent decrease in job postings at the end of 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Right now, job seekers either skill up or risk losing any hope of getting a good job. Acquiring skills is a relatively expensive investment. For the job seekers, this is the precarious situation they find themselves in.
Employers need to identify better ways to do business and still be relevant.
Employers have somewhat the biggest headaches of all stakeholders. Remote working may help employers reduce the cost of operations; however, a big headache is productivity. Employers are still unsure how to measure the productivity of their remote workers without being a pain. Though productivity levels seem unaffected during the pandemic, research indicates that adverse consequences may be imminent in the future.
The proposition of hybrid work seems plausible. However, lots of economic and technical investments go into that. These put huge burdens – financial and infrastructure demands – on the employers. Moreover, the cost of running a business keeps rising.
For small businesses, it was not easy to survive. Services businesses are crushed the most. Without access to sophisticated tech, demise was inevitable. The ones which could adopt digitalization were the ones who were able to thrive despite the pandemic woes.
One implication of the digitalization of business is the necessity of acquiring new skills. Therefore, employers have a responsibility to ensure their employees can cope with the changes. These reskilling programs are quite significant investments. Big companies may be able to stomach such costs; however, small businesses lack such capacities.
Employers are constantly grappling with their fundamentally biggest business problem: how to make a profit. Unfortunately, these disruptions make it more difficult to provide answers without jeopardizing business ethics. So instead, the question is changing to how can we give value to clients and employees and get the most return?
Policy Makers need to identify pain points and ensure the smooth functioning of the economy.
Policymakers are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that policies and infrastructure that enable a functional economy are in place. However, the COVID-19 pandemic found the policymakers playing catch-up. The pace at which the job market transformed required thoughtful but quick steps by the policymakers.
In developed countries, the government dished out relief packages for employees and employers. For example, in the US, the government provided aid to employers and employees through the CARES Act, PPP, and other fiscal policies. Sadly, the case was different for developing countries. The response in these countries was either not sufficient to sustain the economy or not available at all.
A level ground of play for the employers and employees in this post-COVID-19 age requires much input from the policymakers and government. The pandemic has made it evident that digital infrastructure is key to maintaining a healthy job market and thus a functioning economy.
Also, policies that will support employers and enable employees to create a sustainable work environment are required. The onus now lies on the policymakers to make this happen – to facilitate an equitable and enabling job market for society.
What these disruptions mean for the society
The job market represents the limbs of the society – the technical and economic capacity of the society. Therefore, societal development hinges on its job market’s growth and healthy functioning.
Disruptions in the job market lead to significant societal changes. This pandemic seemed to amplify existing problems. Now more than ever, there is a strong emphasis on how to solve the inequality problem, ensure economic prosperity and social order of our society, and establish the continual existence of the human species on this planet.
The impact of the pandemic on the economy has been unequal on the global stage. Developing countries have suffered more severe economic downturns. Workers in these countries are reported to have about a 43 percent larger reduction in working hours and labor income than high-income countries.
According to the ILO, these reductions in working hours were accompanied by a drastic decrease in income. As a result, the global economy lost about USD 3.7 trillion in income. That is about 4.4 percent of the global gross domestic product.
Loss of jobs due to adoption of AI/automation and other things equates to no income for the affected. Interestingly, low-skilled workers were the principal victims of job loss during the pandemic. These workers will find it challenging to get new jobs because they lack the means to acquire the required high-end skills. Thus, poverty levels will keep rising.
Eradicating poverty is a top priority for the global society and an important goal to building a sustainable future. However, the pandemic has caused a significant setback in achieving this goal. According to a new study, the pandemic may cause over half a billion of the world population to go poor. One of the ways the pandemic did this was via massive job losses.
Some have argued that the pandemic worsens the inequality gaps in the job market and, consequently, the society. In addition, several reports in various countries have reported that the pandemic exacerbated the existing inequality gaps in gender and racial groups.
Women were the most affected. In the United States, Pew Research Center reported that more women left the workforce than men. Women make up less than half of the US labor force, yet there was a 3.1% drop in their activity. In the same report, more Hispanic and Black women accounted for the decrease in women’s participation in the workplace.
Remote work (or telework) makes it possible to work and live in different places. For the city centers, this isn’t good news. The concentration of business activities would shift from the center and spread to the suburban and local areas. This way, the economic power of cities weakens. However, this should lead to the infrastructural development of the suburbs.
Though the pandemic worsened the inequality gaps, it also presented opportunities to reconcile these gaps. If the location barrier no longer affects the prospects of getting a job, more capable people can apply. Marginalized groups will benefit a lot from this. Thoughtful and well-executed policies can ensure the provision of infrastructures that will make this a reality.
The flexibility that remote work allows could also help usher an era of greater women’s involvement in the workforce. Work-life balance will be much easier to attain. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 women with children under 18, 31% said they took a career break they didn’t want because of a lack of job flexibility. Earning a living won’t be a hindrance to good parenting. This is another plus to society.
The pandemic saw the rise of e-commerce, video conferencing and streaming tools, and many internet enterprises. These new industries will require a robust workforce to grow and remain relevant. In the United States alone, McKinsey predicts that over 800,000 new transportation jobs could be added due to the rapid growth of e-commerce. Considering the widespread appeal of these industries, there is greater hope of job availability for those who seek it. The e-commerce industry alone was reported to be responsible for over 5.1 million jobs during the first of 2020.
Also, the travel and leisure industries took a big hit. These industries’ current pace of recovery indicates a shift in societal values. The job market is also witnessing massive job shifts. However, whether these trends will last, time will tell.
The damages done by the pandemic will undoubtedly take years to make amends. However, there lies an opportunity to make those thoughtful changes in the social order. Some governments have undertaken commendable actions like increasing minimum wages and mandating more thoughtful workforce regulations. More of this is expected in various nations of the world.
Employers will also play significant roles in making the best of these disruptions. For example, they might need to critically analyze job roles, identify the best way the job can be done, and create innovative processes to measure productivity. This is how we will build sustainable and resilient workplaces.
Also, companies should commit to diversity in their workforce. Commitment to building a diverse workforce helps close the inequality gaps and set the global society on the path of a gender-balanced economy.
These changing perspectives happening across all frontiers on the job market mean a lot for society. We might look forward to a future where work is less contact, more efficient, sustainable practices, and equitable. First, however, every hand must be on deck to make this a reality for the whole society.
How can you leverage these disruptions?
These disruptions present opportunities to get ahead of the pack and build the best career possible as employees or prospective ones. You can live the life you want on your terms, doing the work you love and still making relevant contributions to societal development. First, however, you must position yourself to reap these juicy benefits.
The pandemic has given us time to step back from our usually busy lives and chances to recalibrate our lives. We got the opportunity to do this while massive disruptions were taking place in the job market. Positioning yourself to be on the upside of the situation requires knowledge and understanding of how to do so.
Understand What You Want
The first question to ask yourself is: What kind of job do I want?
Answering this question means you know the kind of life you want to live and your priorities. Then, with this understanding, you can picture which job roles would help achieve those goals.
The next set of questions you will have to answer will help you map out specific traits of your desired job. Your job search becomes easier if you have identified all these traits. These questions include:
- Location: Where do you want to live? Are you open to moving?
- Job Benefits: What are your salary expectations? What specific benefits do you want? (Health Insurance and others)
- What are work/life balance expectations?
The services of a career coach can also help a long way. Their insight and honest feedback can be an excellent place to start. In addition, external influences help identify biases and qualities we are not aware of. This hindsight is valuable to the process of defining what you want.
AI suggested career paths are another way to utilize external influence to kickstart self-assessment. The algorithm takes the information you provide, and outlines suggested career paths you can explore.
Invest in transferable and digital skills
The amorphous nature of the job market invests in acquiring transferable skills as the best thing to do. Transferable skills are helpful across many industries and transferred from one job to another. Digital skills and soft skills are mainly transferable skills.
One thing that is known for sure is that the future of work will primarily be digital. Digital skills are the currency of the future job market. These skills make you competitive and increase your chances of a successful job search.
Basic Digital tools like the use of messaging and collaboration tools are essential. However, advanced skills like programming, data analysis, digital audio-visual communications, and the use of project management software give you an added advantage.
Soft skills are another set of skills that employers would be looking out for. They will want employees who can already communicate effectively in every medium, lead themselves and work well in a team.
Do a skills inventory to assess your current skill set and identify the skills relevant to your dream job. Then, acquire relevant skills that you don’t have. Online platforms like edX, Coursera, MasterClass, and LinkedIn Learning are great places to start your skill acquisition program.
Top 5 Valuable Skills Employers Are Looking For Post-Covid
A formal leader, say a manager or CEO, that possesses leadership skills is valuable.
But employers are coming to realize that informal leaders—the ones who can quickly brace through a storm, design, and communicate a strategic vision and plan well, and are open to listening to others—are essential to keeping a business at the top of its game.
- Critical Thinking
Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are a requirement that about 40 percent of employers look out for in candidates.
Not to be confused for something magnanimous, critical thinkers can dig deep into information placed before them and then, precisely and objectively, evaluate to make the best decisions.
- Flexibility and Adaptability
Before the pandemic, flexibility and adaptability were focused on how well you could manage in a new geographical environment or how easy it was to move to a different location for work.
Now, this skill translates to people who have an open mind towards their job and are willing to do what it takes to get it done. It could be working under pressure, setting and meeting a deadline, or taking on extra tasks.
- Creativity and Innovation
After the setback of the pandemic, every employer wants to be a step ahead in their industry/sector. Hence, a creative individual needs to increase efficiency and advance industry evolvement.
Creativity encompasses out-of-the-box thought processes that bring a fresh perspective to solving business challenges. Employers seek people ready to think up alternative solutions, experiment, and reiterate the process.
Yes, you have all the digital skills in tow, but can you communicate and express yourself well? And in a world that is transitioning from fully working onsite to working in a hybrid environment (a mix of remote work and onsite work), communication is at the top must-have list of employers after the pandemic.
Being an effective communicator requires that you are an ardent listener, your language is tailored to suit specific audiences, and you understand and respect other people’s opinions.
Stay agile and flexible
Transferable skills are not enough. An agile mindset is also necessary to achieve your aims in the current job market.
To be agile means you are open to changes and respond accordingly to make the best of them. An agile mindset focuses on the long-term gains, learns from the current situation, and applies it immediately to achieve defined aims.
This approach positions you to adapt faster to changes that might rock the job market. You become resilient and flexible.
Agile mindset values continuous and active learning. The ability to receive feedback and integrate it immediately. This constant improvement sets you up to remain relevant and reliable in the workforce.
Build Networks and Leverage them
The value of a great professional network cannot be overstated.
And building such valuable networks requires enormous investments. However, the pandemic has made it evident that a good network is as vital as your curriculum vitae in the job market.
Referrals and insider information increases the chances of getting a job. Therefore, cultivating horizontal and vertical relationships across industries is crucial.
Horizontal relationships are formed with peers and distant colleagues in the industry. Vertical ones are cultivated with senior colleagues, mentors, and junior colleagues.
Do not limit your network to just your industry peers. Connect with people in various industries. Your scope widens, and the value you get multiplies.
To build a valuable network, you have to offer value. You must be ready to give back value for every relationship you obtain value from.
Online platforms like LinkedIn are great places to build a professional network. You will increase your visibility in the job market and learn of new professions and vacancies. The hidden job market is real. Your professional network is the key to tapping into it.
Take Advantage of Volunteering Opportunities
According to a study, a volunteer’s chances of getting a job increase by 27% compared to a non-volunteer. Volunteering provides an avenue to gather relevant experiences and build expertise. Not only that, but it also expands your professional network.
Volunteering can provide first-hand experience of what your dream job looks like. This exposure will help evaluate your priorities and prepare you for outstanding performance.
Also, volunteering signals initiative and a commitment to helping others. These are traits you want your future employer to highlight about you.
Plan For The Future
The pandemic taught individuals one thing—that the future can be uncertain. And in the same vein, planning for the future may not be a hundred percent accurate and flawless.
However, drawing up a personal career plan—akin to a business strategy—can place you above a vigorous ‘shaking up’ that any future may offer.
The best way to do this is to stay atop trends and news, understand where the demand for work will flow, and how best to prepare for it.
For example, finding the best type of skill that cuts across different futures you can think of (or which the media poses) and learning is, puts you at an advantage.
In the article, we discussed significant changes in the job market because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The job market has been changed forever by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, society will have to respond to these changes to ensure the continued growth and development of the human species.
Some of these disruptions in the job market will most likely disappear over time. However, the societal changes they leave behind will be forever. Jobs were lost, and others opened. The lost jobs require skills that have become redundant. As a job seeker, you must develop high-level skills and stay agile to benefit from these disruptions.
We all want workplaces where everyone has fair chances to live their best lives and contribute to societal development. However, this can only be possible if we all decide to do the required work.