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Developing your career in a difficult economic year

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During times of slow economic growth, there is increased competition for jobs, as new workers enter the job market every year, but available work does not grow at the same rate. Despite this, times of slow growth present ample career-building opportunities for those with the courage and foresight to take them. Manpower South Africa’s MD, Lyndy van den Barselaar, provides insights into building a career path in difficult economic times.
There is no doubt that the world is currently undergoing economic strain, with the World Bank GDP growth projection for 2016 at only 0.8%, the lowest since 2009.
“The first step towards career building in tough economic times is recognising the economic cycle and taking the correct career steps. During economic boom times, career building can be surprisingly easy – new positions are created, people progress up the corporate ladder and usually get on-the-job training for their new responsibilities,” explains van den Barselaar.
In downturns, promotions happen less frequently, and training budgets are cut. In this environment, the career-minded individual can get ahead of the pack by taking proactive steps.
“During difficult economic times, we see a reduction in people looking to change employment due to two reasons,” she explains. “Firstly, their current jobs become more demanding as companies shed jobs, leaving them too drained to embark on a new career path. Secondly, they value job security in an uncertain environment and hang on to their current jobs.
“Economic downturns provide a good opportunity to re-evaluate one’s career paths, as it clearly shows which industries are under pressure and might remain under pressure for a while. In addition, the rate of technological advances means that many new careers are created that did not exist before. Employees and job seekers should project into the future as far as possible and gauge whether their jobs will still be around in a few years.”
If job seekers find that their industries are under threat, they can start acquiring new skills to make a transition to another career. Because of the rate of technological change, the days of having to work at the same job for decades to be considered experienced are gone. “The modern business environment is constantly evolving, and this means that those employees or job seekers who take the time to constantly upskill, will be at an advantage when looking to advance in their career path,” explains van den Barselaar.
Perception is also important when looking for a new career. It is therefore a good time to update one’s CV and ensure that it catches the eye of a prospective employer.
Successful job seekers know their key strengths, and they make sure their prospective employers are aware of them as well. Therefore, if you are targeting a particular job, think of everything you have achieved in your career that could be an asset to a new employer and be sure to mention it in your CV and/or covering letter.
“You could also look at adding other impressive skills to your CV that could set you apart,” advises Van den Barselaar. “If you learn another language, you could impress multinational companies who require employees with multiple language abilities.
“There are many short courses available to add skills to your résumé, and many are not prohibitively expensive. In addition to languages, you could study project management or coding, which would be of great help in a variety of career fields. In fact, in today’s environment, upskilling in computer literacy should be a lifelong endeavour for any career-minded individual.”
Individuals who are not able to afford additional training, or simply do not have the time, can attempt different channels, such as displaying ambition and urging their employer to send them on career-building courses. You might be able to identify needs or shortages in your own company, and convince your employer that training will help you to address those.
There are also free online courses available that can coach individuals in a certain discipline, which allows them to write an exam for a qualification once they have mastered the skill. Manpower PowerYOU, for example, is available free of charge to all Manpower staff and associates. The online training platform provides access to thousands of online courses, to ensure users are able to update and increase their skills, in order to stay successful in today’s competitive work environment.
Another career building strategy in a challenging economy is to focus on employment in growth industries. This can be done regardless of your qualifications. For instance, if you studied bookkeeping, you could apply for an accounting position in the mining sector, if that proves to be a current growth industry.
“According to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, the most extensive, forward-looking employment survey in the world, the Electricity, Gas & Water Supply sector is expected to grow the most in the second quarter of 2016, making it lucrative for jobseekers,” says Van den Barselaar. “Other sectors to keep an eye on are Finance, Insurance, Real Estate & Business Services; Restaurants & Hotels; and Construction.”
The power of networking should also not be underestimated.
“Companies have become wary of employing the wrong person, as this can be a costly mistake,” says Van den Barselaar. “Therefore, just having a positive interview is no longer good enough. Employers are looking for references from people they can trust. Therefore, the more relationships you can build with people in the industry, the more people you have who can put in a word for you and vouch for you personally. Go through your stack of business cards that is gathering dust in a drawer. If someone can help your career development, give them a call.
It could also be helpful to build strong online networks through LinkedIn. If employers can see that you are part of a successful network, it would reflect positively on you, and a comprehensive and up to date LinkedIn profile can be a positive resource.
“In a thriving economy, people are often promoted simply for doing a decent job. This leads them to believe that they are managing their careers well. However, during a downturn, career management has to be an active undertaking. There are two benefits to this. Once the downturn ends, you are able to find employment much easier than your peers. In addition, favourable conditions may mean that new positions are created in your current place of work, where you will enjoy an advantage above your peers. Active management of your career path will give you a greater chance of achieving your goals, no matter the economic conditions,” concludes Van den Barselaar.