This coming March will mark the second anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns. This virus has persisted much longer, and has been far more extensive, than any of us would have imagined.  I’ve lost track of which wave we are in, and frustration with life in the virtual environment has now morphed into apathy and disillusionment bordering on hostility.  I turn on CBC, CNN or FOX now and almost welcome the opportunity to hear about news so long as it doesn’t pertain to vaccinations, variants or lockdowns.

More bewildering than COVID has been the impact upon the labour market.  When the pandemic first hit I, and I suspect many others, expected huge spikes in unemployment.  Governments at all levels, to their credit, intervened to provide support programs and payments to minimize the impact of layoffs.  However, as the economy has opened up and businesses are re-starting there are worker shortages everywhere.  From retail to distribution to warehousing to long-term care facilities to hospitals every employer seems to be hiring.

How did we get here? More importantly, where are we headed?

Taking Stock

At the start of the pandemic I wrote two blogs on what I thought were the long-term implications of COVID-19 on the job market.  In April 2020 I talked about what I thought would be the long-term employment impacts of COVID-19.

I predicted this crisis would last until September.  It has obviously lasted much longer, and many experts are telling us it will be with us for years to come.  I predicted many retailers, both large and small, would disappear.  I was partially right.  I correctly predicted extensive government intervention in the economy, the difficulties many employers would have in enticing workers to return, as well as a significant challenge many employers would face in recruiting workers.  The jury is still out on my other predictions.

In a blog the following month I offered my best guesses as to what industries and occupations would provide the best hiring opportunities.  I would say most of my guesses were probably “bang on”, although time will really be the ultimate determinant.

Clearly, what I didn’t anticipate, and what has proven surprising, has been the response of employers to dealing with those employees who have refrained from getting vaccinated.  Some have been laid off, some have been terminated, and in several instances those who have balked at returning to the workplace have simply resigned.

All of this begs the question:  where will we be going from here?

One impact of the pandemic has been individuals re-evaluating their career choices and shifting to more promising fields (Photo courtesy of Fauxels from Pexels)

One impact of the pandemic has been individuals re-evaluating their career choices and shifting to more promising fields (Photo courtesy of Fauxels from Pexels)

Peering into the Crystal Ball

I believe there is a strange confluence of factors underway within our society that will profoundly impact employment openings and job search in the coming months.  In some cases these are inter-related, but in other cases they are merely coincidental. Here are my “best guesses”:

1. So Long Big City Life.  Self-isolating within the confines of a 2,000 or 3,000 sq. foot home is a considerably different experience than living in a 400 sq. ft. shoebox in a major metropolitan centre.  Similarly, working from home is significantly more onerous if you have no space to stretch out.  In the next five years we will see a renewed trend out of major cities to smaller urban and even rural communities.  Homes are not only more affordable but the quality of life offers significantly more amenities.  In the United States another factor accelerating this trend will be the rising crime rate that is now exploding across cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Portland.

2. Hybrid means more than just cars.  A major consideration in many applicants’ hiring decisions will be the option/expectation of working from home at least one or two days a week, maybe more.  Applicants recognize the costs associated with not just commuting but also, the additional time, stress, etc.  Employers in industries without the need for direct public contact, and who are unprepared to offer this as a condition of employment, will be paying a huge price in terms of lack of competitiveness and high employee turnover. 

3. High Interest Rates = High Debt.  The inflation we are now experiencing is the highest in nearly forty years.  Governments have boosted the money supply and incurred huge debts in order to support industries and citizens during the pandemic.  Interest rates are forecasted to increase as a means of containing inflation. This places additional financial burdens on many people, particularly homeowners looking to refinance mortgages.  If your salary has remained stagnant, and the house you are living in has appreciated in value, but your ability to pay the increasing financing on your home is compromised, you really have only two choices:  a) divert additional income to pay the costs; or 2) sell the home, downsize, or move someplace else (See point #1 above).

4. Supply Chain Havoc.  There are goods shortages everywhere.  Go on any retailers’ website and search for products, and chances are you will find something that is out of stock, back ordered or unavailable. I’ve driven by several car dealerships and lots that were once filled with the latest models now have less than five in total.  It will take months to restore supply for everything from vehicles to household goods.

5. Time to Travel.  A pandemic weary citizenry is “chomping at the bit” to get out of the house.  The novelty of self-isolation has long passed.  People want to meet others again and engage in social activities, and not in a virtual sense.

6. China is officially the New International Pariah.  Companies that once outsourced product manufacturing to countries overseas are now witnessing the debilitating consequences of that strategy.  The lack of product availability has frustrated consumers.  Add to this the increasing global outrage with the widespread human rights abuses of the Communist Part of China, coupled with their belligerent approach to international diplomacy, and you have all the prescriptions for a paradigm shift.  Expect to see more companies shift operations out of the People’s Republic of China, either back to North America, or to countries with better human rights policies or established track records of social responsibility.

7. The Environmental Chasm.  The widespread forest fires in British Columbia this past year, followed by the horrible floods in the interior, are an ominous sign of the impact of global warming.  As a society we can no longer take the environment for granted, and governments everywhere will begin making huge investments to promote greater environmental sustainability.

Putting the Pieces Together

What do all these trends mean, and particularly, what is the impact upon job seekers?

In terms of industries, these are my best guesses as to industry sectors that are poised for noticeable growth in the next ten years:

  • Travel and tourism;
  • Real estate in small to medium sized locales;
  • Warehousing and distribution;
  • Home construction and renovations;
  • Restaurant and hospitality;
  • Long-term care facilities, health care and retirement homes;
  • Pharmaceuticals and diagnostics;
  • IT security;
  • Ecology and environmental sustainability;
  • Manufacturing.

Here are the occupations that I believe are best positioned for significant employment growth:

  • Skilled trades (i.e. electricians, plumbers, millwrights, etc.);
  • Information technology (i.e. security);
  • Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery;
  • Facilities Management;
  • Event Planners;
  • Personal Support Workers;
  • Medical Professionals (i.e. nurses, gerontologists, rehabilitation therapists);
  • Human Resources (i.e. health and safety; talent management);
  • Accounting & Finance;
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Management.

A Final Thought…

I said in a previous blog that every challenge and setback also provide opportunities.  Learning to pivot is an important business skill, ranking right up there with resilience.  

One of my favourite movies from the 1990’s is a fascinating film called “Other People’s Money” starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck.  If you have never seen it, I would encourage you to check it out.

The film is about a Wall Street hedge fund operator, played by DeVito, who makes a hostile bid to take over an old, established New England company that makes wires and cables.  The business was the backbone of the local community, but had been losing money for years.  The culmination of the film is a raucous shareholders’ meeting at which the company President, played by Gregory Peck, and the hedge fund President, played by Danny DeVito, make a pitch for shareholder support.  Gregory Peck gives an impassioned speech that extols the value and contribution the company has provided over the years.   Suffice to say it is an incredible performance from one of the finest actors in American cinema.

Just when you think you have heard the most amazing speech Danny DeVito gets up and launches into an incredible evisceration of the company’s financial and marketing performance.  His comments and delivery are astounding:

What is especially noteworthy is a reference made at about 1:30 into this clip.  DeVito reminds shareholders that the best way to go broke is to “keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market”.

This sage advice applies equally to today’s job search.  If your industry or profession are in decline and prospects seem grim you have a choice:  either hang in and hope for the best, or pivot to where opportunities lie.  The choice is pretty clear.

By the way: the movie has a really interesting twist at the end that closely aligns with the theme of this blog.  Definitely worth a look!