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Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)
If you’re among those who lost their job or missed out on work opportunities last year due to COVID-19, here’s what you can do to improve your employment prospects in 2021.
For many people, career plans were put on ice last year, as the world grappled with the impact of COVID-19.
The fallout was widespread, with job losses felt across industries as diverse as retail, hospitality and tourism, to services, engineering and technology.
While some people lost work or income, others found themselves stuck in career limbo. Perhaps you were working towards a promotion, planning to leave a ‘dead end’ job, or about to return from maternity leave when the pandemic struck.
If you’re looking for better job security, more opportunities, or a fresh start in your career, here’s what you can do to improve your job prospects this year.
1. Evaluate your transferable skills and competencies
Start by taking stock of what you can offer a new employer. Everyone has useful skills and competencies that can be applied in the world of work, whether it’s your computer skills, teamwork or artistic ability.
Hays Australia director Jane McNeill says it’s important to do an inventory of both your learnt technical skills, and your competencies, which she defines as the “knowledge and behaviours that lead you to be successful in a job”. You can read her post here explaining the difference and how to identify them.
For workers in retail and hospitality, the government has put together these handy downloadable checklists to help you identify your transferable skills.
Once you’ve got a good grip on your existing skills and competencies, you can start to identify the gaps, and fill them with further training, study, mentoring or work projects.
2. Research new industries and employers
To future-proof your employment prospects, it makes sense to retrain in an area that’s actively growing and recruiting. But where to start?
Our ageing population, changes to disability services and the never-ending progress of technology are all making their mark on Australia’s job landscape.
According to Job Outlook, the industries expected to grow most strongly in coming years are:
- Professional, scientific and technical services
- Education and training
The Job Outlook website also lists several ‘hot’ professions in each of these areas to look into.
Where to go for information
Retraining in a new profession can involve a significant investment of your time and money, so make sure you research it first to see if it’s a good fit.
If you can, try to speak to people already working in the industry. Here are some good places to start:
- Reach out to anyone in your wider network who fits the bill and ask for their advice.
- Attend online events and webinars connected with the industry you’re researching and speak to the presenters afterwards.
- Contact professional industry bodies and training providers. They may have experts who are happy to chat, or may even hold introductory information evenings.
- Use LinkedIn to find professionals who have the job you’re interested in and reach out to them with your questions.
It’s also important to find out what kind of study or qualifications are required to get the job you’re looking at, as this may influence your decision.
Learn about potential employers
Researching particular companies can also give you a good insight into the profession and what’s expected of employees.
Start by checking their websites and social media channels, read job ads and even attend career fairs where they may have demos. Sites like Glassdoor, where employees post reviews can also be very insightful.
3. Upskill or retrain
Once you’re armed with a list of your transferable skills, and you know where you want to go next, it’s time to fill in any skills, education or training gaps.
There are dozens of ways to upskill and they don’t all involve formal education. If you’re looking to build new skills that will help you get promoted or transition to a related field, you could try:
- Taking on stretch projects or assignments at work that will help you gain the technical or soft skills you need
- Attending webinars and online events to build the skills and competencies you’re missing
- Listening to TED talks and podcasts
- Joining an industry association
- Taking an online short course.
Online short courses are a great way to quickly gain practical skills that can help you land a new job. But with so many online courses to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Check out the government’s Job Jumpstart guide on how to choose the right online training course for you.
Getting financial support
If you’re aged under 24, over 45, or have lost your job due to COVID-19, you could be eligible for government support to retrain.
There are several programs running, including Career Transition Assistance, short online courses in high-demand areas and financial assistance for older Australians. Visit the Department of Education, Skills and Training website to find out more.
Should I go (back) to Uni or TAFE?
If you’re looking to switch to a totally new profession, you might need to plan on investing more time in study.
Higher education is a proven pathway to employment, but it can be a big commitment and some courses will have better graduate outcomes than others.
So is it worth the expense and time to start, or go back to, study later on in life?
With many of us working until 70, more people than ever are choosing to study later, with much success. Census estimates put the number of students aged over 40 at 134,000, with roughly double the number of women than men taking up study after 40.
Statistically speaking, research by KPMG has found that those with a tertiary education qualification do earn more than those with a Year 12 Certificate. On balance, they found that it was worth going to university. Their research didn’t take into account lost income while studying, or the cost of studying, however.
If you can qualify for government support in the form of HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP, higher education could be a good investment. This is essentially a low-cost loan to help cover the cost of your education.
Be aware that fees for some courses have changed dramatically under the federal government’s ‘Job-ready Graduates Package’ of higher education reforms. This came into effect on 1 January 2021 and includes changes to the student contribution amount you’ll need to pay for some degrees.
Again, it’s important to research your intended course of study and speak to people in the industry to help inform your decision.
4. Find a career mentor
It’s much easier to get where you want to go when you have someone more experienced to help guide you. Make it a priority this year to find a career mentor, ideally in a role that you aspire to. Seek out their guidance and ongoing support to help you break into your new field or advance to the next stage of your career.
Looking for work in a difficult job market like the one we’re experiencing requires a more proactive approach, so make your networks count. In a tight job market, word of mouth is often the best way to find a new opening and stand out. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.
With the outlook for many industries still uncertain, it makes sense to look for opportunities in high-demand fields.
Showing future employers that you’ve made good use of your time to upskill, study, or connect with others in your industry could just be the point of difference that gets you your next job.