Human beings are creatures of habit, and as usual, we are currently at the crucial stage where creating resolutions, planning and setting goals is the order of the day. From weight-loss initiatives to personal development plans, we are operating from the realm of self-betterment.
Rightfully so, I am not against New Year resolutions. They bring with them renewed optimism and a desire for fresh starts. The only problem with most of our resolutions is they tend to be too ambiguous and generic and worst of all impossible to measure. Many do not get to see past the dreaded month of January nor stick around long enough to see the Valentine’s Day dramatics.
Our career life is a key aspect in our lives that we need to keep track and yearn for improvement as it is, that which ensures that we have bread on the table and that we are living our life purpose. However, for many, it is a source of pain and disappointment, strife and struggle in getting the opportunities we have always hankered for.
This year, at the top of the list of many employees and the jobseekers, is the hopefulness for better employment prospects. Therefore, I believe that an in-depth look at the shifting sands in the employment sector in the past few years while projecting to what's in store in 2020 will help us know how and where to cast our nets for the opportunities that we think we deserve.
A glum reality paints the employment arena today. According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2019, unemployment stood at 9.3 percent last year, with the gross domestic product at Sh8.56 trillion. Since July last year, over 2,000 employees were laid off as companies struggled to stay afloat and scale through the torrid economy. The slow economic growth also meant a sluggish absorption of job seekers into the market. It is estimated that about 50,000 youth graduate each year from local public universities.
The mass staff layoffs across different sectors paint a grim reality for many households this year. From the banking sector which was the biggest casualty of job losses to manufacturing companies such as East Africa Portland Cement to telcos such as Telkom and Airtel all spent millions in laying staff off and keeping their operations lean.
Apart from the decline in purchasing power of consumers and the poor economy, technology continues to play a key role in diminishing job opportunities. Some industries have already been fully disrupted and the aspect of human control is almost non-existent.
In a world that is investing heavily on research and development to improve efficiency and lower manpower costs, the bleak future for employees and employers alike requires more insight into remaining relevant in a constantly volatile environment. For example, NCBA Bank has implemented new ATM machines that almost entirely handle all the work of a cashier.
So begs the question, in a constantly competitive and unforgiving work environment, how can one position themselves for job success?
First, we need to be to realise that qualifications nowadays will only take you so far. Employers are keen on transferable skills and not entirely on a string of qualifications. Over time, employers have learnt the hard way that mere good grades do not necessarily translate into good employees. So for a job seeker or officeholder in the search for relevance, the million-dollar question this year is, “how can I add more value to my job qualifications to tip the scales to my favour?”
Recently accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced that it would end the university degree requirement while hiring. This is due to the recognition that we now have a saturated job market with qualified graduates, but unqualified workers. The yardstick has changed and more employers are laying greater emphasis on soft skills such as leadership, emotional intelligence, public speaking, communication, confidence etc. It’s now more important to possess the soft skills than have an MBA.
Secondly, as individual parts of the work ecosystem, we must always strive to be professionally visible and fathom that working hard is not enough. We must ensure that for us to be indispensable, we must let decision-makers, be it immediate boss or directors, know of the impact and success we are creating. This year let it sink deep that it’s not the people who work hard that get promoted, it is those who work hard and promote themselves. Professionals should learn the art of self-promotion by working on their brand.
Third, it is crucial that we keep up with the trends, not only those in our company or area of work but regional and worldwide trends that are defining the workplace. For example, marketing has now almost entirely shifted to the digital space. It is important to acquire such new skills to remain relevant. You don’t want the intern to take over your job simply because you haven’t bothered to upgraded your skills and consequently lost relevance.
Casting an eye on the events to come, we expect to see more and more companies trimming their workforce to stay afloat and competitive. Whether triggered by external forces such as a struggling economy, political infringement or self-disruption, more mass layoffs will become the new normal.
As hinted earlier, we expect technology to continue disrupting the workplace. Already, because of automation many of the traditional profession such as accounting, HR and even marketing is now automated and workers have to update their skills or be declared redundant.
A silver lining however, there’s a tough competition to retain high performing staff and I expect this to continue. That‘s why you see the same individuals changing one employer for another with ease. Employers are spending a lot to retain such staff, whether it’s through offering shares, membership to exclusive clubs or paying rent and school fees. The demand for high performing employees is at an all-time high and employers won’t have a choice but to spend more to retain their best.
Therefore in a nutshell from a recruiters’ point of view, jobseekers should focus on enhancing their soft skills such as public speaking, emotional intelligence. They should also invest in their professional growth and keep their skills updated and relevant. They should also strive to be visible in the workplace because it’s not enough to work hard.
Lastly, work on your CV to showcase not only your education and experience but why you are the best fit for a role. Recruiters and HR professionals spend less than 60 seconds to determine whether you are worth engaging. A professional CV will help you stand out every time you make an application.
The writer is Managing Partner and head of recruitment at Corporate Staffing Services Ltd. A HR firm based in Nairobi.