What COVID Did to Employment

The last year has been a major challenge and upheaval. April marks the 13th month in British Columbia since Covid cases ramped up the point of a soft lock down, causing massive economic disruption, not to mention disruption to the mental health and well being of the population. Employment tanked all over the province as businesses shut down and people anxiously waited to see what would happen next.

One year later, we are still grappling with variants and many businesses have closed their doors (particularly in the hospitality industry which has likely been the hardest hit of all). And of the businesses that continued on, Stats Canada found that 40% of all workers shifted to remote work, across multiple industries. Some businesses are even shifting entirely to an online model, such as Shopify and the Conference Board of Canada. Many other businesses are looking at doing a hybrid model with a greater degree of remote work. If nothing else, it’s likely that the five days a week in the office may have come to an end for many workers.

So, what does this all mean for job searchers? A few key trends stand out for 2021 and beyond.

Digital Literacy is More Important than Ever

The ability to work with computers has been important in the last decade or two, but it’s now more important ever. Employees have to be able to use things like Microsoft Word, Outlook (or equivalents), file uploading software such as Dropbox, video conferencing tools (Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc.), and anything else that their employer may require. In order for remote work to be viable, employees will be required to be very comfortable using webcams, word processors and any other relevant software to do their job.

There will likely also be a stronger focus on automation and digitization of tasks and information. This means a greater demand for things like security, online media, and of course, programming, coding, and software design.

An Even Stronger Focus on Soft Skills

The ability to be creative, empathic, solve problems and work with others (even remotely!) has become even more important than ever. With automation continuing to be on the rise to handle the day to day tasks that never change, there is an increased demand for flexible minds that can think outside the box, jump tasks quickly and easily, and help others.

Soft skills have always been important, but with computers taking the brunt of the tedious tasks, they are paramount for most employers who are now, as the saying goes, hiring for ‘fit’ and then training the hard skills.

Tied to this is the fact that there is now a stronger push for more awareness around mental health. More employers may have to deal with the fact that they need to offer things like mental health days (equivalent to sick days but to deal with burn out, depression, anxiety, etc), cover counselling services in the benefits package and/or be more ‘boots on the ground’ on the managerial side to keep connected with employees. Keeping connected will require creative solutions when many employees are working from home!

In any event, the ability to be empathic, solve problems, be creative, and be able to read body language, even through a screen, is going to be more important than ever before.

The End of Downtown?

One of the concerns that is floating around is that there will be a strong migration out of urban centres into more rural communities with more space and larger houses (so that people have the space to work from home!) If this comes true, there will be two consequences:

A lot of the ‘downtown commercial district’ may shrivel up. This is because these businesses – largely cafes, restaurants, and coffee chains – service businesspeople. With no businesspeople, no businesses that service those customers. This can have a serious impact on those looking to get into entry level hospitality work, in particular. It can also have an impact on small time retail since again, there will be fewer window shoppers perusing on their lunch time or breaks.

The second thing is that there could be a drop in prices for real estate in urban centres. This has less to do with job search, but it could impact housing situations which of course, have an impact on work.

Was Covid-19 a Blip or a Gateway?

The big controversy now in business is whether C19, and the associated rush to remote work, is a blip or a gateway. There are many businesses, particularly financial, which expect that once everyone is vaccinated and the crisis is largely over, everyone in their sector at least will go back to work and remote work will be an uncomfortable shadow of the past. Education is another one that will likely see a majority of employees (and students) return to the classroom and remote learning will be regulated back to a minority of adult learners.

But many other industries are going to the opposite extreme and flipping to entirely online. This includes some retail, like Shopify, but also many tech businesses are flipping entirely or at least mostly online and remote. And what about other businesses like restaurants and retail? We wouldn’t think of these things as being found online with no storefront, but with so many businesses crashing as a result of people no longer shopping – and so many consumers now accustomed to doing all their shopping at home – one has to wonder what the traditional ‘entry level’ position in retail or hospitality will look like in 2022 and beyond. Will restaurants and retail simply go back to their pre-2020 days or will they maintain a strong online presence?

It’s likely that industries such as financial, hospitality, and medical will go back to largely being face to face, though apps such as Uber, Doordash and Skip the Dishes are never going to go away. But other industries have embraced the remote life – or at least their employees have – and forcing people to go back to the way things were could be a hard sell. Companies such as Dell for example, have already saved millions of dollars by giving up office space and utilities and it would be awfully tempting to stay the course, as it were. And what about consumers? Will the majority go back to face to face or will they enjoy doing more shopping from home and saving money on frivolous purchases? If the pandemic proved anything about the average spender, it’s that people can save a lot of money if they don’t go out all the time. (Canadians are currently sitting on about $90 billion in savings right now due to government compensation during the lock downs, not being able to spend as much on goods and services, and trying to keep money safe in case of prolonged unemployment). Will consumers, having seen how much they can save by not eating out as much be tempted to keep their austerity? And if so, to what extent?

Job Search In the Post-Pandemic World

In any event, whether retail and hospitality will continue to limp on after the pandemic or come roaring back and whether businesses return to the office, go hybrid, or go entirely online, the landscape for job seekers has definitely changed. There is now more of a demand for employers to make sure their business is clean and safe, a push for recognition of mental health needs, a demand for digital literacy across all industries, and an increased demand for soft skills. All of this means that there will be increased demand for retraining and that the workforce has to be ready to pivot to those needs.

Covid-19 disrupted everything about our lives, from money to jobs, to housing and food. Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to reflect on what has changed in the last thirteen months and what that will mean in the future when it comes to employment. Digital literacy is more important than ever before, as is the ability to collaborate with others, possibly from all over the province, country or even world! If you’re looking at your job prospects now, it’s a good time to take a look at your digital skills and your soft skills and see if you need some training up before everything opens their doors again – if only online.

Charlene Mattson is a Microsoft Instructor and Program Developer for Canadian Vocational Training Centre.

Related Articles