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Post-lockdown: Challenges and opportunities in the new job market

The reality is that a huge portion of the job losses are going to be permanent post-lockdown.


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Pre-lockdown, the key question that was on most people’s lips was, Will robots take over my job? In the midst of all the hubbub caused by the pandemic, it is easy to forget that we are at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or as others would like to call it, Industry 4.0.

Ironically, The World Economic Forum touts it by saying, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another… We do not yet know just how it will unfold… You would be forgiven for thinking that this was a prophecy.”

The current pandemic is beginning to look more and more like a catalyst to this revolution. The pandemic, instead of smart technologies, is disrupting almost every industry in every country and creating massive change. Post-lockdown, life as we know it — the way we live, work, and relate to one another — will fundamentally change. Jobs will be lost and new ones will be created.

Post-lockdown life: The new normal

Smaller aftershocks will definitely sequentially follow this pandemic. These will continue over a period of weeks, months, if not years. As with earthquakes, generally speaking, the larger the main shock, the larger and more numerous the aftershocks will be, and the longer they will continue.

It is often said, you will never understand how a system works, how effectively it does so and its flaws, until you throw a spanner in the works. The pandemic seems to be such a spanner for the current business, educational and political ecosystems. By nature, crises expose systems. If we are to avoid converting this health crisis into an economic crisis which in itself will morph into an extended humanitarian crisis, we will need to understand and appreciate the reality.

Especially in Africa where we for a long time sat by untouched and watched as this disease ravaged the rest of the world, we seem to be more optimistic than maybe we should be. A total of 81% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people have had their workplace fully or partly closed. The reality is that a huge portion of the job losses are going to be permanent. With almost 40 million US unemployment claims in nine weeks, the Becker Friedman Institute of the University of Chicago reports that 42% of US layoffs will result in permanent job loss. What we have to come to grips with is that most people are not only going to be unemployed post-lockdown but most of the job types are going to be organically phased out just as Industry 4.0 is set to do.

Professions That Are Safe

The short-term impacts from the coronavirus will spare jobs in agriculture, management, finance and insurance, scientific, technical industries and low-vulnerability occupations. Low-vulnerability jobs include jobs that can be done at home, have limited physical contact with others, or are considered essential.

Professions That May Not Be Safe post-lockdown

The jobs most at risk of being eliminated permanently include those lost due to demand shifts, jobs that involve a lot of physical contact with others, or are not considered essential. This ranges from almost all part-time jobs to restaurant and catering jobs. With the Western Cape — especially Cape Town — largely servicing this sector of the economy having half of all the total cases in South Africa, people need to start using the time still left in this lockdown, to reinvent themselves and businesses.

With more employees working remotely, commercial real estate and jobs in this space are going to take a knock. If this work-from-home trend holds, a lot of expensive leases in pricey buildings are going to be discontinued to save money.

Other jobs linked to these commercial real estates like cleaners and maintenance work will be impacted.

New Job Opportunities post-lockdown

New jobs are being created, mostly at low wages for delivery drivers and warehouse workers. Shipping, couriers and delivery companies are going to increase.

Re-skill and up-skill. The new skills required by industry and employers post-pandemic also encompass short courses and skill sets that are targeted. Find a path of interest and build a skillset that you continuously add soft skills to rather endlessly. Fortunately enough, from a simple Google search, you will find that there are many online platforms that provide these for free.

Try to learn things like Excel. Microsoft Excel is a powerful program that is largely under-utilised by organisations who are unaware of its potential capability. It is so capable that others are still using it for data analysis even in the presence of more modern programming languages like Python.

Due to the uptake of remote work, many are going to purchase necessary supplies for their home office spaces including desks, chairs, PCs, cameras and the like. If you have the means or if you can pool resources together with some friends or family you can supply to meet this growing need.

Fitters are going to be needed for these home office spaces. If you are technically astute, most people are going to need help setting up their PCs, cameras, softwares and networks.

With face masks set to become more or less a socially mandated accessory post-lockdown, fashion-ready face masks could become a wardrobe staple. We are already seeing some new designs popping up on social media, transforming face masks from the drab requirement in a surgical or factory environment into a fashionable everyday accessory. If you can design or sew, maybe look into this. This could be an opportunity to innovate how to make masks more protective, comfortable and stylish.

Even before the pandemic there was already a transition to distance education, training and e-learning. The crisis has resulted in massive shifts to online platforms and tools for the continued delivery of learning and skills development. The challenges of this move are going to provide some opportunities.

Instructors not properly trained and prepared to deliver online courses are going to require training on how to do this.

Difficulties in adapting TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) curricula and training to online formats are going to need graphic designers, photographers, videographers and content creators for the web and mobile.

Students unable to access the resources necessary to continue their training because they were not familiar with the online platforms are going to require training.

If the remote work and remote learning trend becomes an established reality of life, the isolation is going to make most people socially incompetent. This will open up a new need for relearning peer interactions, intercultural communication skills, debating abilities, public speaking and engagement skills.

Some online MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) platforms like Codecademy offer great content and learning and development environments for the web in which you can code and get feedback in real-time. However, they do not, for now, work properly on mobile. If you have higher skills, you can look into adapting these web tools into more mobile-friendly ones.

With kids not going to school and most people staying at home, the gaming industry has seen sales hit records in recent weeks as more people turn to their entertainment services for recreation. If you are an avid gamer, consider becoming a professional gamer. SA’s video games market is on a strong growth trajectory, and is projected to generate a total revenue of R6.2bn by 2022.