Making career changes – COVID-19 and the future of work

I was on Australian Channel 7 Sunrise television yesterday talking about the future of work, and what it means for career changers – thinking about where the opportunities are, and what can people do to make the most of them.

I only had a few minutes on TV and I had a lot more to share, so I’ve written up this blog post.

The topics I’ll cover in this post are:

  1. Why is it that so many people thinking of changing careers?
  2. Where are the job opportunities right now?
  3. How do people maximise their career adaptability in order to successfully change careers?
  4. What will work look like in the future?
  5. What about career opportunities beyond the immediate future?

Why is it that so many people thinking of changing careers?

According to survey research conducted by ING Future Focus, about 3 million people in Australia are thinking of changing careers post-pandemic. The research found 35 per cent of surveyed Australians wanted a new job after COVID-19, and 17 per cent were rethinking their career path entirely.

I think the reason for this is twofold. First, the ABS reports that about 1 million Australian jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic, affecting disproportionately hospitality and retail jobs, casual workers, young people, women, and minorities. The rest of us are working differently than ever before – as businesses have moved their operations online, many of us have been working from home. New roles have also emerged very quickly. Back in February, I’ll bet no one would have guessed that they’d be undertaking tasks around crisis management, staged return to work management, or working from home co-ordination. I think working from home is set to continue, as businesses and organisations reinvent themselves permanently as more online and less ‘bricks and mortar’.

The second reason is that while we’ve been experiencing this instability, we’ve been at home with some time and space to reflect, and to think about what our options could be. Some will be prioritising financial safety in their reflections, and others will be thinking about where the opportunities are for them in the new world of work.

Where are the job opportunities right now?

At present I’d describe the job opportunities out there are being about core needs – safety, food, health, and entertainment while at home. The opportunities are what you’d expect – many job roles in healthcare and social care, in essential retail (supermarkets), and in logistics and delivery work. As the economy opens up more, there will be more opportunities in retail again, but hospitality and tourism are likely to be rocky labour markets for some time.

There is also an interesting trend around big companies like banks and telcos returning their global operations to onshore, so there are more Australian jobs in call centres, back-end operations, data processing, and IT. My little sister just last week got her first full-time job working at a major insurance company processing claims because the company brought these functions back to Australia.

How do people maximise their career adaptability in order to successfully change careers?

Career change is a multi-step process. The first step is to make space for yourself to think and act. No one who is under severe financial stress can think strategically or creatively about their careers, so ensure that you have done everything you can to ensure your financial safety first. This might be applying for government benefits, talking to your bank to stop mortgage payments temporarily, or making the most of the job opportunities I’ve described above, even though it may not align 100% with where you want to go.

The second step is to start to think about yourself not in terms of your job title, but in terms of the values, strengths and capabilities that you have. For instance, someone who works in hospitality might have great interpersonal skills and abilities to resolve conflict, and find great satisfaction in that. Engineers tend to be great project managers with well-developed analytical capabilities. It can sometimes be difficult to reframe in this way by yourself, and in this case talking with other people (such as colleagues or friends who are prepared to be honest and up-front with you) can help to help illuminate what your particular strengths are. Professional career counsellors are also great at helping with this process.

From your reframing, you can then go ahead and start to explore opportunities that are out there, or that you might be able to create. Speaking of creating opportunities, now is probably not a good time to throw everything you have into a new venture, but it is a great time to start exploring side gigs if you’ve got an idea for one (virtual clutter organising anyone? With all this working from home I really need someone to Marie Kondo my computer!)

You may also need to upskill or reskill for new opportunities. You can often start the skilling process informally and cheaply / free through online platforms like Linkedin Learning, Youtube, or MOOCs through Coursera. If you want to get a formal credential, and this can be an advantage in the jobs market, TAFES and universities are currently offering subsidised 6-month certificate courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level in areas of national priority such as aged care, information systems, and education. Griffith University, where I work, is offering certificates in cybersecurity and data analytics, which are good areas of jobs growth.

For more on career planning in an era of disruption, you can check out my blog post on this topic here.

What will work look like in the future?

I’ve been involved in several research projects investigating the future of work. While none of them predicted the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, we did predict that there would be major changes to the world of work over the next few years. My research suggests that change is actually going to become the ‘new normal’, and many of us will need to reinvent ourselves professionally multiple times throughout the course of our careers.

We’ve actually got a ‘double whammy’ of change happening right now. We’re in a pandemic, and we’re also at the beginning of the 4th industrial revolution[1]. But the good news is that history suggests we’re fairly resilient to these kinds of changes. For instance, the Plague in the Middle Ages in the late 1300s led to the Renaissance in the 1400s – an unprecedented time of expansion in science, culture and the arts.

Our 21st century post-pandemic expansion is going to be digital. It’ll be about things like artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality, and cloud computing. On the basis of our experiences in the last few months I suspect and hope it will also be about reconnection with community, social engagement, and environmental sustainability.

What about career opportunities beyond the immediate future?

At the moment the economy is in a deep recession. Even while the recession is going on, COVID-19 is driving enormous digital transformation. When the economy recovers, there will be even more digital innovation across many fields.

In the research project 100 Jobs of the Future, we interviewed experts and asked them to identify key trends and advances in their fields, and project what key work opportunities in the next 10-20 years might be. The 100 jobs are meant to inspire and help young people (and not so young people!) see possibilities in the next wave of careers.

There is a digital thread that runs through 99 of the 100 jobs[2] that were generated through the research. But for those of us who aren’t full-stack programmers and have no desire to be, there is good news as well. Only about 20 of the future jobs were digitally intensive – ones around things like cybersecurity, machine learning programming, and quantum computing development.

The rest of jobs rely on the use of digital technology in various ways, particularly to connect with other people – to care, to educate, to persuade or inform – or to help with practical tasks like food production or building or cleaning. Others key themes that ran through some of the jobs were scientific advancement, and advanced use of data.

You can browse all 100 jobs or do the jobs explorer quiz at the website, but here is a sample of them by key theme.

Connection with people jobs – Nostalgist: This is a role in aged and dementia care. Nostalgists work with people to recreate experiences and contexts from bygone eras to help them feel safe.  Other people jobs include: Virtual tourism manager, personal brand and content manager, digital memorialist, 100 year counsellor, cyborg psychologist.

Practical jobs – Biofilm installer: Biofilm installers are a kind of specialised plumber who installs a layer of good bacteria into pipes and waterways to help break down waste. Other practical jobs: Robot or drone mechanic, energy and data systems installer

Organised jobs – Virtual clutter organiser: This one’s for those of us who have ever felt a little overwhelmed about the volume of your email, online photos or other data. You can hire a virtual clutter organiser to sort out your online data, Marie Kondo style

Science jobs – Biomimicry innovator, de-extinction geneticist, terraforming microbiologist

Health jobs – Nutri-gutome consultant, genetics coach, data-informed diagnostician

Outside jobs– Cricket farmer, digital apiarist, agroecological farmer

Creative jobs – Autonomous vehicle profile designer, swarm artist

Jobs I would personally love to do out of the 100 jobs: Trendwatcher, fusionist (someone who brings people from different disciplines together to solve problems and generate ideas), lifelong education advisor (and I’m already doing all three of these!)

[1] Researchers argue that there have actually been 3 other industrial revolutions – the first (and most famous) one kicked off in the 1700s with people moving off the land and the invention of the steam engine.

[2] If you were wondering about the non-digital 100th job, it’s Analogue Experience Guide – someone who helps people disconnect from their devices and reconnect with nature.


The career service is dead, long live the career service? The work of the university career practitioner in an era of graduate employability

I’ve always been interested in career services. Those of us who have enough life mileage 😉 may have visited a career service in high school or university to do a range of aptitude tests, and be matched with an ideal career (mine was ‘lawyer’ – not sure what this says about me??). Others will have visited the career service to talk with a counsellor about changing courses, or how to find a job after they graduate.

The work of the university career practitioner has become increasingly complicated and demanding over the last few years. Not only have careers themselves become more complex and mutable, but the career service’s client base and range of activity has become far more diverse. For instance, I’ve noticed that it is now very common for career staff to be engaged in a massive laundry list of activities at the university, covering: curriculum and learning resource design and teaching; industry brokerage and partner relationship development; staff professional learning; institutional marketing and promotions; and creation of institutional policy and strategy, in addition to ‘traditional’ career counselling activities. Another disruptor is digital technology and social media. The use of digital tools means that the reach of the career service can be far greater than before, but their use is also associated with a range of interesting challenges.

The structural positioning and overall focus of many career services has changed as well. With the rise of the graduate employability agenda and a sector-wide focus on preparing learners for careers (or at least initial career outcomes) (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2018), some career services are suddenly finding themselves in the institutional spotlight, taking on significant responsibility for the university’s approach in this area. Others are capitalising upon burgeoning leadership interest in work integrated learning and employability skills to foreground the possibilities offered by an integrated institutional approach to career development learning. However, in other universities career services continue ‘out in the cold’ as “stand-alone entities, often organisationally aligned with student support services or marketing departments” (McKenzie & Howell, 2005), and are not (yet?) part of university-level conversations about learning and teaching.

University career services: No longer out in the cold?
University career services: No longer out in the cold?

In my keynote address at the Career Development Association of Australasia conference coming up in Hobart in May, I’m going to explore how career services and individual practitioners are responding to the disruptive changes to career development practice I’ve outlined above. I’ll talk about how they’re surmounting challenges, and reinventing themselves and their work to continue to best support the career development of learners.

I’ll share some findings of my Graduate Careers Australia-funded research project with Alan McAlpine and Michelle Grant-Iramu from QUT into the ‘future capability’ of the career service (actually, from a certain perspective one might also think of it as the career adaptability of the careers service!) Through nearly 40 interviews with career service managers, practitioners, institutional leadership, and academic staff across a total of nine universities in Australia, the UK and Canada 2017-2018, this research explored:
– the impact of disruptive influences within and outside the institution on career services and the work of career practitioners
– the big challenges that career services are facing in the current era of ‘career service ultra-super-hyperactivity’ (see also Dey & Real, 2009)
– how career services are transforming themselves in response to, and in anticipation of, ongoing changes
– the different organisational strategies that they using to influence the direction of the university in exciting ways,
– the ways that practitioners are working to integrate career development learning across the institution
– how career services managers and university leaders perceive the future of the career service – what’s coming next, and how can they prepare?

I invite you to join me in discussion on these topics at the conference. I am very aware that delegates will have relevant lived experience in their own contexts and practices, and I’m keen to take the opportunity to learn from you, as well as sharing what I have discovered so far. If the technology is amenable, I’ll lead a structured conversation about your experiences of the disruptors, the approaches you are taking to navigating these, and the ways that we can work together to assure the future capability of career development practice in educational institutions.

Dey, F., & Real, M. (2010). Adaptation of Casella’s Model: Emerging Trends in Career Services. College Student Educators International.

Jackson, D., & Bridgstock, R. (2018). Evidencing student success in the contemporary world-of-work: Renewing our thinking. Higher Education Research and Development. (In Press)

McKenzie, M., & Howell, J. (2005). A snapshot of Australian university career services. Australian Journal of Career Development, 14(2), 6-14.


Career planning in a disrupted world of work

In a disrupted age where we don’t know which jobs will exist in the future, and young people can expect to have 19 jobs across 5 industries in their lifetimes*, how do you plan your career? How do you know which education / training course to choose? How do you know that the choices you are making are the right ones?

When I present about the future of the world of work and careers, these are by far the most common questions I receive from audiences. There is a great deal of anxiety out there about employability and the future of careers, particularly given that course fees are higher than ever, and it can now take 4-5 years for university graduates in some fields to find career roles.

In this post, I’m going to share a simple process for individual 21st century career development. It is based in design thinking approaches, and also has resonance in lean enterprise methodologies, and anyone can do it.

The starting place is this:
People often approach career development like they are opening a McDonalds franchise.

There are more than 37,000 McDonalds restaurants worldwide. Each new franchisee is pretty certain that they will have many customers and turn a reasonable profit, because within reason there are known outcomes. The whole idea of franchising is that if you pay the money and follow the formula, you’ll be successful**.

McDonalds Wagga Wagga: one of more than 900 in Australia
McDonalds Wagga Wagga, Australia

People can often approach career development in exactly the same way. They think about what career success or a desired role might entail for them, and then they attempt to follow a formula to reach it (‘study hard in school, get into teaching at university, study hard at university, finish my degree, become a registered teacher, apply for a job at x school…’ etc).

This approach doesn’t work for a few reasons. The first is that the desired end will almost definitely change, as we learn more about ourselves and the world of work, as we go through our lives, and as the opportunities out there change. The desired end may not even be what we thought it was in the first place (‘I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but now I realise teaching isn’t anything like what I thought’). In actuality, about 6% of adults end up doing what they thought they were going to do career-wise when they were young (Polavieja & Platt, 2014). The second is that lock-step or formulaic approaches and strategies often don’t work either, and can mean you miss out on opportunities***. Careers are never linear — even very successful people (actually, especially very successful people) stumble across opportunities and end up in unanticipated places.

So how should you approach career development?

My answer, based on research with people who are satisfied with their careers (and happily it turns out that most of us are), is kaizen.
Kaizen - change good
The english translation of kaizen is ‘change good’, and it means continual improvement, in an emergent way. Software people might call it perpetual or continuous beta, and designers might call it ongoing prototyping. Here’s the process:

1. Seek to understand
yourself, and also the world of work.
The process is grounded in self-empathy — that is, gaining an understanding and appreciation of who we are as individuals. What is important to you in career? What are your strengths? Where and how do you want career to fit into your life? What interests you and inspires your curiosity?****
It is also grounded in exploration of the world of work. What are the opportunities out there? What skills and capabilities are required for different roles? Do the opportunities fit with your values and priorities?

Understanding happens through exploration (e.g., talking to employers, career consultants, parents, friends; directly experiencing work and workplaces) and reflection. For those feeling a bit paralysed by indecision, a quick tip: Your understanding doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect to go on to the next step, and your understanding will increase as you take action.

2. Make a (small)(provisional) decision.

This decision is about what you’d like to try next. The beauty of it is that there is no ‘wrong’ answer – the decision is provisional, and simply guides the action you’ll be taking next. Because the decision is a small and provisional one, it’s relatively easy psychologically to redirect and explore something else. If you discover through subsequent experience that it’s not a great fit, that’s OK; it all adds to your experience and will enrich what comes next.


3. Take action!
Try something. Take the first small step on the basis of your small provisional decision. Enroll in the course, find a business mentor, apply for the role, sign up for the internship.

4. Test – adapt
Once you’ve started to take action, it’s time to test and adapt.
Do you feel as though you could be on the right track? If so, keep going! If not, you might need to revise your small provisional decision and shift course (accountancy doesnt seem like a good fit anymore?), or maybe shift your approach (not the right mentor? Not the right degree program?). In so doing, you might need to increase your understanding through exploring options, making other small provisional decisions, or trying other actions. You could also decide to persevere for the moment to increase your understanding of the current path.

5. Keep going
The most important part of the kaizen career process is that you keep going. Every decision is small and provisional, every action step is small, and testing and adaptation is happening all the time. It’s an ongoing process of enquiry and growth. We’ll never be ‘finished’, and that’s actually really exciting because we all get to keep exploring******.

*according to the Foundation for Young Australians (2016). As one young person put it at an event I attended recently, “they say we’ll have about 200 jobs across 50 careers – I don’t know how they predict the exact number, or if it even matters. However you think about it, it’s a lot of change all of the time”.

**The irony of this is that even opening a McDonalds franchise is no longer like opening a McDonalds franchise — they no longer have the market dominance they once did, and are changing business models and products to accommodate a market that has different needs.

***don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that choosing an appropriate degree and studying hard aren’t good ways to progress your career – I’m saying that thinking about these decisions and being open to additional opportunities and possibilities is also important.

****following curiosity and interest seem to be better predictors of career satisfaction than following ‘passion’. Elements of intrinsic motivation are important for career satisfaction, but passion puts a lot of needless pressure on people, limits their options, and feeds into the ‘McDonalds franchise’ idea by asking us to overcommit. What if you don’t feel passionate about any career options? What if you are passionate about several at once? What if you feel passionate about a career option now, but know from experience that you’ll have another passion next week? What if your passion doesn’t match up with the opportunities on offer?
In actuality, passion for elements of one’s career often happens after quite a lot of career experience.

******checking my privilege here — I am aware that there are many, many people for whom work is acutely about survival, and managing significant financial/food/housing insecurity in their lives.