In the Face of COVID: How is the Job Market Shifting?
By tradition, the year-end season that begins with Labor Day is a time that celebrates the American Worker. But what does this year's celebration of workers mean at a time when more than 16 million American workers are now unemployed?
For perspective, I spoke this week with Lauren Herring, the CEO of career management company The Impact Group, headquartered in St. Louis and the author of Take Control of your Career Search. Here’s what Herring had to say about some of the questions on all of our minds:
How does the current job crisis compare to other challenges in the past?
Herring: As CEO of one of the largest woman-owned global career coaching companies, I’ve seen all types of job markets over the past 19-plus years. During the last few months, companies have been forced to slash staff, cut hours, and redeploy workers. Meanwhile, they also worked tirelessly to help furloughed and laid off team members find a soft landing. I’ve seen people struggle in the flooded labor market, and I’ve rejoiced with people who’ve landed dream jobs.
In no other time have I seen people more open and willing to step up and help. The help may range from making introductions to hiring managers at targeted companies or even setting aside time for an informational interview.
We’ve all heard stats about networking being the #1 way people land jobs. Well, that is never more true than in a crowded job market. Employed or not, we are all stretched in challenging and unexpected ways right now. But it seems we have all regained some humanity as we struggle to move forward from the current challenge. It is heartening.
What are the biggest challenges at the moment?
Herring: I would say it is the feeling of total loss of control. Change of any kind is hard. Right now, many of us feel like the change is happening to us, instead of allowing us to be calling the shots. The feeling that so much is out of our control is forcing us to think differently about our careers and job searches.
Despite what we hear in the news, there are jobs to be found, even in some of the worst-hit industries. For example, how did a five-star chef land a new position in Seattle in the middle of a pandemic? He posted pictures of his expertly prepared, home-cooked meals on Instagram; he built a modest following and before long someone tapped him for a new opportunity.
Herring: Now, more than ever before, job seekers have the power to be proactive. With the federal unemployment supplement in question for the long term, adding a portfolio of gig work can be a bridge to the next long-term opportunity. While the Gig Workers in America study indicates those who rely only on the gig economy earn less and have less access to benefits than traditional full-time employees, a “side hustle” may help some people make ends meet until the next right opportunity comes around.
In an achievement-oriented society like America, we align our identity to what we do for a living. So if we are what we do, who are we if aren’t doing it any longer? Work gives many of us a sense of purpose and worth in addition to just a paycheck, and the World Happiness Report has shown that the #1 driver of happiness worldwide is a good job. Between gig work, part-time openings, consulting, and entrepreneurial ventures, the American economy rewards those who take control of their own career destiny.
What can each of us do?
Herring: I’ve heard it said that a recession is when your neighbor is out of work; a depression is when you are. But as I pause on this year’s unique version of the Labor Day season, I’m inspired by the empathy I’ve seen. Americans are helping each other through this crisis – job search is not an individual sport, after all. So this Fall, let’s celebrate American style: neighbor to neighbor. Take a minute away from the picnics, pools, lakes, or barbeques and offer to help a job seeker. Be a reference, offer to proofread a resume. Help someone with their first Zoom call or set up their first LinkedIn profile. Reach out to your contacts on someone’s behalf.
And as we continue to support each other, let’s celebrate American ingenuity and entrepreneurship as people push beyond their comfort zone to get back into the labor market.
"Perhaps a 'good job' will look different in the post-COVID world," Herring mused at the end of our visit.
“Will we see more gig work and other entrepreneurs emerge?” I asked.
"Probably," she believes. “Will there be more opportunity to telecommute to a job outside your current geography?”
Yes, she believes this will happen as well.
But some things won’t change, Herring believes. “Americans will continue to rise to the occasion, help each other and either find or create meaningful work,” she concludes. “The successful careerist will always be ready for the next change.”