Has Covid 19 killed traditional career progression?

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Sinead Kieran, Career Strategist

Are you worried that your pre-Covid career path is no longer on track? Are you dealing with new career challenges and circumstances?

Well, you’re certainly not alone. In my coaching practice, I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of clients coming to me with specific concerns linked to career progression during the pandemic.

Remote-working, and the lack of visibility and relationship building associated with it, has had a significant impact on worker’s promotional opportunities at all levels.  

Some industries, such as travel, hospitality and tourism, have obviously been most severely affected but the ‘career shock’ of Covid 19 has been felt across multiple sectors. Other industries, such as the online tech sector have experienced significant growth and generated multiple job opportunities.

The pandemic has accelerated many of the labour market trends that were developing over the past few years. Perhaps the most relevant trend in relation to career progression is that the time of the one-dimensional, upward career path is over.  

The idea of a career ladder, which we simply had to hold on to, has been severely rocked. Racking up years of service no longer automatically translates to moving to the next level. Career ownership and direction now lies firmly with the individual.

Some of us will have experienced career shocks in the past, for example, the loss of a mentor, redundancy, etc. and will have discovered that our core competencies and resilience skills were key to progressing our careers through that difficult time.

The universal nature of the Covid 19 ‘career shock’ is somewhat comforting in that none of us are experiencing it alone. Certainly it can feel hugely negative in the short-term but it may actually have unexpected positive effects in the long-term.

The ‘great pause’ during the first lockdown in Spring was an important time of reflection for many of us. The opportunity to jump off the treadmill of life and think about what we actually want was eye-opening for lots of people.

Career Audit

When clients come to me with concerns around career progression, the first thing I ask them to do is engage in a career audit. This process of analysing what a person really wants from their professional career and how that fits with their overall life picture, can be hugely revealing. A career shift, rather than a promotion in a current role, may actually be a wiser move.

A fulfilling and rewarding career is not about following a blue-print that has been designed by others, it’s about discovering in a much more personalised way, what motivates and drives you.

For some, the change in work practices triggered by Covid 19 such as, working from home (WFH) and new reporting structure, has presented opportunities. One client in particular was delighted that the more collective reporting environment that WFH facilitated, allowed her to collaborate with different teams and develop valuable relationships in terms of future career moves.

For others, particularly those trying to juggle childcare alongside their work commitments, I helped them to develop strategies and tools to cope with competition amongst colleagues and jockeying for position in the changed working environment.

Following a comprehensive career audit, if you decide that you do want to seek a promotion with your current employer, perhaps the most important factor is self-confidence. We can only feel truly confident if we have all the skills required to do the job better than someone else.

On a practical level the question is – what are the skills required, what skills do I have now and how do I close the gap?

The World Economic Forum estimate that 42% of the skills that we have right now won’t be relevant by 2022. Now more than ever, a growth mind-set and a desire to acquire new skills is essential if you want to keep your career progression goals on track.

The decision of which new skills you should focus on, should again be influenced by your ultimate career goal, rather than trends or course accessibility. Your time is always valuable, even in a lockdown scenario, so think carefully about where you should channel your time and money.

For example, digital skills are certainly hugely relevant in the future of work, but it is a very broad area and I always caution clients to research the particular skills that are most relevant to their goals and to find the right providers.
Demonstrating to a current or future employer that you are committed to professional and personal development is an excellent way to ensure you’re putting yourself in the best light in terms of promotion.

It is important also to recognise if there simply isn’t a possibility of career progression in your current position, which may or may not be due to Covid 19. My advice then, as always is to engage in the career audit, research comparable roles and to then consider all options.

The thought of changing jobs in such uncertain times can be daunting, but now more than ever, when so much else is out of our control, it is important to take action in the elements of our lives that we can control. Taking ownership of your own career path is empowering.

Ultimately, I don’t believe that Covid 19 has killed career progression, but it has changed the playing field and we need to adapt to develop the careers that we want.

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