COVID-19 continues to have a disruptive influence on our society. At the end of 2019, few of us would have considered just how damaging this emerging pandemic could be. Yet, the challenges have been many and intense. Most of us have had to make significant alterations to our lives in some fashion.
One of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus is the economy. According to the World Economic Forum, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S. saw its deepest decline since records began. Yet, the wealthy minority of big business owners are benefiting from tax breaks and relief funds, even as their newly unemployed workers struggle to make ends meet. The upshot is that many Americans are starting to point their careers in a new direction.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what is happening to the current job market. Where are the challenges and opportunities? What can we expect moving forward?
The Current State
Most of us know that, in a very generalized way, employment in the U.S. has taken a hit from the coronavirus. But to make practical decisions about our careers, it’s also important to examine the challenges a little closer. It might feel like we’re focusing on the stressful and negative, but we can benefit from placing our attention on this area.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the hardest hit have been low-income families. A Pew research report found that lower-income workers are more likely to still be out of work than their middle- to upper-income counterparts. The same report also shows that many workers have also seen their hours reduced. Why is this statistic important? Not only does unemployment affect low-income workers’ ability to eat and pay rent, but it also makes expenses such as healthcare and education more difficult to afford, potentially resulting in mounting debt. In effect, business owners kicking downwards will always more greatly damage those on the lower rungs.
One of the key causes of this unemployment following the pandemic has been termed “reallocation shock.” It’s a change in the priorities of consumers in turn affecting business practices, which then affects what roles are most needed by employers. COVID-19 has forced consumers to find alternatives to in-person shopping experiences, therefore employers are reallocating their resources to employees that can operate in online environments. This means that part of the challenge for American workers is examining how to shift their skills to match the types of jobs that are in demand now. No mean feat in a climate where education and training can be a financial obstacle to those very low-income workers that need it most.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of doom and gloom surrounding COVID-19 that we all have to acknowledge. That said, to move forward positively, we must get a clear sense of how we can be proactive. This means taking a closer look at how these challenges can present opportunities. When the primary career issue surrounding the coronavirus is reallocation shock, the solution to unemployment isn’t applying for the same type of role at another business. Even if there are roles available, the competition for them is likely to be intense. It’s more effective to examine the jobs market to see where the pandemic has created demand.
- Remote Work. Social distancing has seriously impacted in-person workplaces, forcing many traditional offices to move to remote operations. The result has been that many companies have discovered the benefits of this way of working, and are making it a more permanent feature. This has created a demand for those who have the skills, mindset, and discipline to be productive from home. This means not only possessing the technical skills for the position, but also the soft skills — drive, good communication — that make the candidate a good match for this way of functioning.
- Tax and Accounting. The business world has gotten more financially unstable and complex. As a result, there is an increasing demand for accountants and tax associates who can help companies to navigate the choppy financial water. According to one report, the need for tax associates rose by 600% in August alone.
- eCommerce. In an environment that has pushed us to avoid crowded places, it is unsurprising that eCommerce has seen a boom. While many of us might want to avoid helping to line Jeff Bezos’ pockets any further, there are opportunities in the industry for those with customer service skills. Whether in warehouses, online customer care, or even starting a new business, those who have lost jobs in stores can find positions here.
While there are opportunities available, part of the key is understanding how to best take advantage of them. It’s not practical (or affordable) for all of us to simply head back to school and retrain for a couple of years. Instead, focus should be placed on how you frame your skill sets in your resume.
Some of the most successful resumes are geared around achievements. Look into the requirements of your new role and craft your resume to highlight those achievements that best reflect the needs and values of the company. If the role requires responsibility, give examples of times you’ve successfully taken the lead. Note how your achievements practically affect those you worked with.
It may well be a little premature to imagine our world without COVID-19. Indeed, it could be the case that we need to find ways to coexist with it — at least for the next couple of years. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that many of us didn’t predict that our lives could be upturned in this way. Or, worse; that our government would be quite so ineffectual in helping those of us that needed it most. Therefore, it’s worth at least considering how to prepare for the future, and how you can make robust career decisions.
Our ability to network effectively and build relationships could be key to stability in the future. When disasters occur, we can be more agile in finding new employment if we have built a solid network of those who can recommend us or point us in the right direction if we’re made unemployed. Engage with your current colleagues in positive personal ways; celebrate their birthdays, and provide gifts that show you’ve considered who they are. Make efforts to network outside of your office; attend national conventions or training seminars. There is an increasing number of online events at the moment, and these can be a key area to make meaningful international connections.
Important too is to consider how your career choices reflect your safety. There are areas, such as healthcare and emergency response, that are innately risky during a pandemic. But the coronavirus isn’t the only type of disaster that could occur. Whether you’re staying in your current role or looking for a new career, look into how the industry is likely to be affected by global and local issues. Ask questions about what measures are in place to mitigate problems, and even be personally instrumental in building safeguards. If we can’t rely upon government and big business to provide protection, we need to start changing the infrastructure of workplaces and industries to make them more futureproof.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a domino effect that has driven many of us into economic hardship. Many Americans are considering career changes. To overcome the many obstacles, though, we need to gain an awareness of the various challenges, capitalize on the opportunities, and discover how we can make our jobs safe and stable for the future.
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