There have been two big stories for many of us since 2020. The first, of course, is COVID19. The other is a push for our society and our workplaces to be more inclusive and diverse.
It’s tempting to feel that the organizations we work for, or want to work for, have the burden creating a level playing field for us when we apply for new jobs or promotions. Legally, our organization is obligated to treat everyone fairly. We can also step up our game to improve our own opportunities in the new era.
Here are four things to think about, in my view, as we look at a world that is trying to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion:
- Labor shortages open opportunities,
- Soft skills are more important than ever,
- You need technical and professional skills to do the job, and
- Education makes a difference.
Labor shortages offer unprecedented opportunities for those who want to find satisfying work that also pays the bills. You will also increase the likelihood of success in the job market when you have the right skills and education.
Labor shortages can open opportunities.
Historically, worker shortages have created opportunities for those that may not have had an opportunity to enter certain fields under other circumstances. As so well documented in Margot Lee Shetterly’sbook Hidden Figures, African-American women such as Katherine Johnson had opportunities to pursue technical careers during World War II. According to the book, thousands of African-American women found jobs at Langley Field, later part of NASA, during the War, and then remained to play an essential role in the subsequent space program. (Read the book—it’s better than the movie!)
Today, there are reportedly two open jobs for every one applicant. The pandemic and post-pandemic labor shortage may be less dramatic than the shortages during the early 1940s. Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that shortages may create opportunities for you to try a new career.
Regardless of how many openings exist, you need the skills to do the job in order to be successful.
Soft skills are more important than ever.
As discussed in our Guide to the Post-pandemic Job Market, every employee must have soft skills, also referred to as leadership and people skills. People skills could be more important than ever because workforces are becoming more diverse. That means employees will interact with co-workers, customers, and suppliers who come from different cultural and economic backgrounds.
In July 2020, I spoke with Dr. Elnora Tena Webb, a leadership coach, and Tomoko Ha, a certified career management coach, about soft skills and hard skills during a webinar you can watch on LinkedIn. Dr. Webb suggested a list of leadership skills she believes all employees should demonstrate. A few skills on her list included:
- Effective communications,
- Work ethic,
- Problem solving, and
- Continuous learning ability.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) considers soft skills, such as teamwork and communications essential for new graduates entering the workforce. Students, NACE says, should also recognize the valueof equity and inclusion in the workplace.
While employers value soft skills, they also hire candidates with the specific technical or professional skills needed on the job, HR people call these “hard skills.”
You need technical and professional skills.
Each employee also needs the technical skills, or “hard skills” to do their specific job. These are skills you may want to list on your resume and LinkedIn profile. They are also skills employers will test you on to verify your competency. For example, a few of the skills a client and I agreed to include on her resume targeting business analyst positions included:
- Business process improvement,
- Functional documentation,
- Requirements elicitation,
- Solutions design, and
- System implementation.
Both technical skills and people skills can be acquired on the job and in school. While employers place a high value on professional experience, there is strong evidence employers also recognize the role education plays in developing technical skills.
Education makes a difference.
Education pays, according to the Department of Labor. You can improve your competitive position in two ways—long term college and graduate schooling, and short-term professional training.
Department of Labor statistics we reported on in our guide demonstrate the value of formal education. The unemployment rate for workers with doctorates was about 2.5% in April 2021. Workers without high school diplomas had an unemployment rate approaching 12%.
The difference in earnings between those with advanced degrees and those without high school diplomas was even more striking. Workers with advanced degrees earned more than three times the weekly wage than those without high school diplomas.
Most of those in the workforce don’t have advanced degrees and are not high school dropouts. Those with bachelor’s degrees earned 167% more than workers with high school diplomas. Those with high school diplomas achieved a median income of $781 per week, while those with four-year college degrees earned a median income of $1305 per week.
While a college degree is still the “gold standard” for the education we tout to employers, this could be changing. Recently, a recruiter told me he has found that the college degree is not the only credential which makes a difference. This is true for at least two reasons. First, industry certifications have increased in importance. Second, short-term courses indicate you have gained additional skills and can add valuable keywords to your career marketing materials, especially your LinkedIn profile.
While the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue for the foreseeable future, we can take steps now to level the field for ourselves. We don’t have to wait for anyone else to improve our chances to find better jobs and higher salaries by upgrading our skills. The “hidden figures” of World War II and the space race did not get their history-making jobs because someone decided to create a more equitable workspace. They had essential skills that their organization and their country needed at the time.