The Biggest Upheaval in the Jobs Market since Thatcher

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2021 is the moment for many young professionals to rethink their career choices and for companies to tap into new sources of talent

The current press coverage of Margaret Thatcher has made me realise that we are seeing the biggest upheaval in the jobs market since she closed the coal mines, accelerated the privatisation of state utilities, and transformed financial markets with the ‘Big Bang’. Today’s transformation is similarly being felt across many sectors, roles and geographies.

In 1990 while Margaret Thatcher was wrestling with the unions and the EU, I was a Sales Personnel Manager at Mars in Slough; one morning I was surprised to find myself interviewing a mining engineer for a job as a confectionery salesman. Mars needed a better educated salesforce with enterprise, problem solving and influencing skills. That engineer, Alex Selwood, got his timing right to move out of the mines and into sales; Alex progressed to be an Account Manager and then to set up a successful sales training and leadership development company ‘Expression for Growth’ who are now celebrating their 20th anniversary

Go for growth

The 26 year old Alex made a brave and smart move- identifying a growth sector and acquiring transferable skills, even if it resulted in a salary reduction and drop in status in the short term. Today there will be many young professionals who through no fault of theirs find themselves in sectors which are suddenly declining or have an oversupply of employees – careers in retail, hospitality and events are unfortunately going to have a different, lower trajectory for the foreseeable future.

The good news for the ambitious and restless young talents in these sectors is that there are emerging areas of growth–software and the digital environment, logistics and supply chain, cyber security and the mental health, care and medical sectors to name just a few.

Just as there was no longer a need for mining engineers and copy typists in the 1990’s, with the arrival of AI there is going to be much less need for auditors, customer service teams and executive administrators; but the demand for instructional designers, data analysts and digital product managers outstrips supply as we enter 2021 and is likely to do so for years to come

Location no longer a barrier

Moreover, the global market for talent which has been predicted for the last decade has suddenly become a reality; roles in attractive locations were largely limited to traditional remote workers such as software developers and call centre operators, but now with the acceptance of long term remote working many other types of workers find they can move to desirable locations too. In 2021 and beyond companies can access a much wider global talent lake, and workers can move themselves anywhere served by high speed broadband. Why have the cost and restricted lockdown lifestyle of Shoreditch when you can base yourself in Barcelona, Aix en Provence or Valencia? And those who choose to remain in the UK for family or school reasons can move from the London suburbs to towns with a higher quality of life and lower cost of living and housing.

Time for a rethink

Careers advisors in schools and universities now need a major rethink; advisors need to move their thinking on the sectors, geographies and roles where emerging talent can get experience and forge rewarding careers. Businesses and recruiters need to be open to bright talents moving from very different sectors. And many of those already in the early stages of their careers who are now facing lower growth prospects in their chosen fields should take the bold Alex Selwood way.

Tony Bainbridge has extensive international HR and organisation transformation experience gained over more than 30 years in a range of sectors including consumer, healthcare, business services, technology and hospitality. He is a co-founder of CEO Whispering, a programme to develop the confidence and credibility of new and inexperienced HR Directors.

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