With airlines grounded, non-essential businesses closed and people forced to stay at home, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is sparing no one in this global health crisis. Jobs, too, will likely take a severe hit. S&P Global Ratings estimates that across APAC, total and permanent income loss due to COVID-19, will hit US$620 billion between Q1 2020 and mid-2021. 

If you have unfortunately been retrenched from your job, this is not the end of the world. After all, recovery is not a matter of ‘If’, but ‘When’, and now is a better time than ever to review your skill sets, plug the gaps and ready yourself for the rebound. If you are unsure of where to begin, start with the following steps. 

1. Perform a stocktake 

For many of us, climbing the career ladder means to focus on a specific path and map out the skills you need to reach the next higher rung. That is part of the reason why retrenchment can be a disorienting experience — suddenly, there are no more rungs to reach for. After the initial shock, however, it is important to assess the skill sets that you have acquired over the years. Ask yourself these questions: what skills have I picked up so far? Which ones are transferable to the next role? What do I still lack? 

One handy way to do this is to group your skills into three categories: hybrid skills, transferable skills and job-specific skills. Hybrid skills are skills that combine both hard and soft skills, like customer service, for example; transferable skills are skills that apply to any job, no matter the level or industry, such as problem-solving, teamwork or communication; job-specific skills are skills that apply only to certain positions and/or levels. Doing this allows you to have a bird’s eye view over the skills you have and the skills you lack. 

If you are having trouble identifying the skill gaps, one trick is to pay attention to descriptions in job postings. If you are a programmer and there is a coding language that a job description specifies, then you have just found a job-specific skill set you want to brush up on. 

2. Keep up with the trends

These days, employers are less concerned with how ‘tall’ your career ladder is, but rather how many of them you have stacked up against the wall at the same time. It is the depth and breadth of experience that they are looking for here. As such, diversification of your skill sets is extremely important. 

Take some time to observe where your industry is heading and consider the complementary skill sets you need to enhance your effectiveness or add value to the work. For example, in the realm of financial services, technical accounting, project management and proficiency in fintech systems are all skills that are in high demand. There are several ways to keep up with industry trends as well. 

Lean into your existing network, talk to those inside and outside your industry and make connections that were otherwise nonexistent before. This helps because staying within the same role and/or company can sometimes be an isolating experience, and reaching out broadens your knowledge and perspective. Your network could also include mentors from the same field. Since they’ve worked their way up to the positions they are currently in, talking to them saves you the trouble of going through trial and error. 

If all else fails, there are numerous podcasts, webinars and live events to consume — some of them are free! — which should give you good indications of where the holes are and how to plug them. 

3.  Taking action

According to research from Deloitte, the lifespan of a specific skill set is growing shorter every year. In fact, the consulting firm says that even as careers now span 60 years and beyond, the half-life of learnt skills are falling to only about five years. 

As such, when you are looking for formal courses out there to acquire new skills, it is important to make sure that the curriculum is still relevant to your industry in the first place. Also, consider short courses, such as specialised certificates, that are aligned closely to developing trends within your specific sector. If there are hardware- or software-related skills in hot demand, there are even free online tutorials that will teach you how to operate them. Furthermore, with one third of the world’s population on lockdown and people working from home, e-learning is the most effective — and safest — way to upskill yourself. 

4. Consider contracting 

Losing a permanent job is one thing, but have you considered contracting instead? While contracting is fairly commonplace in Europe and the US, certain markets in Asia are still catching up with the trend. The misconception that contracting doesn’t apply to C-suite people, too, is slowly changing. In fact, an economic slowdown is high time for those retrenched to consider contracting as a career option, even if it is a short-term solution. 

Angela Chan, Director of Page Personnel Hong Kong, explains that periods of uncertainty mean that it is difficult for businesses to make long-term decisions — such as hiring permanent staff and increasing headcounts. As such, contractors, especially those with relevant skill sets and are available on a moment’s notice fit the bill perfectly. 

“A lot of people misunderstand that, because there’s a slowdown, they want to be a permanent staff because of the stability. However, the cost of hiring a permanent staff is way higher compared to a contract staff.” Aside from cost, Chan added that contract professionals tend to have shorter interview and onboarding processes, because they already have the necessary skills to jump on board and fix problems. 

Ultimately, the greatest currency you possess is not the previous job or job title you held, but the skills you have picked up along the way. As much as the pandemic and retrenchment are two sudden left-hand turns that blindsided many of us, it doesn’t change the fundamental value of the skill sets that you have acquired.

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