Careers beyond Covid-19
Published on: Monday, June 14, 2021
By: K Krishnan
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MANY traditional careers have changed after Covid-19.  Teachers, Lecturers and Trainers who were used to teaching face to face in classrooms were forced to conduct on-line classes. Bank Officers who used to work long hours in banks were suddenly asked to work from home.  Many sales assistants who were promoting products also lost their jobs in shopping complexes. What is happening around you? Have you noticed? 

To avoid the spread of the virus, the government has imposed a “lockdown” It has also introduced many new rules and regulations. This is restricting many businesses from opening their shops.  Social distancing has closed entertainment places like hotels, clubs, cinemas, coffee houses and restaurants. To ensure the spread of viruses, travelling is banned. Overnight tourist buses, trains, cruises and flights have been temporarily asked to close down. 

No body can safely say when things will come to “ normal.”  No body can confirm when this dangerous virus will be permanently be wiped out.  With different types of viruses emerging all over the world, the situation may not change so fast.  We are not going to go back to our “normal” lives. 

Many companies and individuals are thinking about the future of work post Covid-19. How will careers be affected? What different skills will be needed in the future? How can companies and individuals best prepare for the future ?

Many people are already convinced that there will be more disruptions in the future. Whether you are a student, working adult, housewife or a pensioner, you have to learn new skills to survive.  In fact, in the U.S. alone, McKinsey Global Institute’s research suggests that 17 million workers may need to change occupations by 2030 – not just changing employers but fully switching occupations, which typically takes longer, causes more disruption, and is more likely to require reskilling. 

The pandemic has introduced us three things :--

(a)  Remote Work

Working in offices, factories, schools, etc will slowly shrink. The future workplace is going to be from “ remote .” People are not going to work from their office.  They will either be working from their home or a remote center away from their office. There will be more zoom classrooms and virtual meetings. People will travel less. Businesses will go towards e-commerce and virtual transactions (including buy online–pick-up in store, restaurant delivery, online grocery, online education, and telemedicine); and greater adoption of automation. This included automation in warehouses that enabled companies to cope with higher volumes of e-commerce, or in manufacturing plants to ramp up production of items that saw demand spikes, such as food and beverage, consumer electronics, and masks and other personal protective equipment.

Remote work has seen particularly dramatic change.  The future will be working from home. Many businesses have already started adopting permanent remote-working models. According to a survey in the US, 70 per cent of employees say that being able to work from home for at least part of the week is a top criterion in selecting their next job.

(b) Automation 

Automation may also rise in indoor production and warehousing as companies strive to maintain social distance, replace sick workers, and adjust to surges in demand for manufactured goods. 39 per cent of business leaders surveyed in the manufacturing sector, in the US,  said that in response to the crisis, they had leveraged digital solutions such as nerve centers or control towers to increase end-to-end supply-chain transparency.

The skills that workers will need will also be quite different over the next ten years. For example, across occupations today, physical and manual labor and basic cognitive skills (basic data input and processing) take up roughly half of all time. We will likely need much less of that work in the future, as robotic process automation and related technologies could automate much of that work and do it faster and with fewer errors. On the other hand, we will need much more depth in social and emotional skills (interpersonal skills, leadership, etc.) and in technological skills (programming, interacting with technology effectively, etc.). Those two skills areas together make up less than a third of the time spent across occupations today, but are projected to grow by about 20 per cent over the next ten years. To help in shifting these skills over time, workers will also need to build their capacity to adapt and build an ability for lifelong learning given the increasing pace of change.

(c) Reskilling and upskilling 

As many consumers embraced digital interactions much more broadly over the last year, companies without digital channels to reach customers quickly built them. In some cases, essential workers in manufacturing and utilities learned to use virtual reality headsets to guide maintenance and repairs from a distance. However, the challenge of retraining and redeploying workers into new occupations long-term is much longer-term than adapting to the crisis as it unfolded. It will require a successful reskilling and upskilling effort on a scale that we have never done.

The first step is to proactively define the future workplace that we want to return to – not let it be a reactive approach. This can help ensure that workplace culture and connections to other employees can continue to be strong. The second is to identify areas where reskilling will need to take place – at the national, regional, and local levels in terms of education, skill-building, and reskilling programs. Within companies, there is an urgent need to identify where there are opportunities are to reskill and upskill groups of employees for jobs that will be more needed in the future. For example, can some employees in Finance be retrained for analytics roles as some areas of reporting become automated? Some companies have been testing and scaling reskilling programs that can effectively build skills and help in new career pathing. Individuals can also invest in keeping their skills sharp and deepen their social and emotional skills and technological skills.

What we hope

While a common way to describe this last year has been “unprecedented,” the amount of change to occupations, skills, and workers over the next ten years will be significant. The objective is to prepare for that change and minimize disruption and long-term unemployment for as many people as possible – particularly for more vulnerable groups, who will likely take even longer to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels of inequality in jobs (let alone to reduce the gender and racial gap in employment). To achieve that objective will require bold action and in many cases coordination across governments, companies, and individual workers.

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