Jobs and Skills in times of Crisis

job-cut1The global economic activity was at its peak in the last few years before the current economic crisis hit us. The businesses were expanding and there was a dearth of right skills leading to a situation where a number of companies were chasing fewer individuals but now the situation is just the reverse; there are more individuals chasing fewer jobs. There are more jobs vanishing in the thin air than getting created. Its not that there are no new jobs being created but there is a need to upgrade skills and develop competencies in the new areas. Business Week in its cover story on 30th April came out with an astounding statistics – In the midst of the worst recession in a generation or more, with 13 million people unemployed in US, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but so far have been unable to fill. That’s more job openings than the entire population of Mississippi.

The current crisis is the worst that anyone of us has ever seen and we should be prepared for a long haul. All the players in the telecommunications industry are cutting jobs. The operators, vendors and the content owners are seeing reducing revenues and hence find the current manpower cost on their P&L as unsustainable. Though I do not have a count of the number of people who have lost their jobs in the telecommunications industry but my estimate is that is could be anywhere between 5-8% which is huge. At the same time, we find that the same companies that are reducing manpower are also hiring which looks surprising at first but if we analyze little deeper, we would realize that the companies are adding competencies that they lack today and are preparing themselves for the new emerging business models. IBM recently announced its intent to hire 4000 analytics, a skill that it wants to develop in-house. At the same time, some companies are also taking this crisis as an opportunity to replace their current high cost resources with young and low cost resources that can bring a fresh breath of air to the organizations. Where does this leave us as employees? Are we at the mercy of our employers and is there anything that we can do? I believe, there are many ways of fighting the current crisis some of which I am going to list below

  1. Estimate the worth of your current skills – Professionals should continuously keep valuing their skills and monitor the rise or fall in the valuation. A good way of doing so could be by testing the job market once in a while even if you are not interested in a job change. It is just like the options valuations that the companies do for themselves. The purpose here is not to switch to a job that pays more but to find out if your skills are still relevant and valued by the companies
  2. Benchmark the skills with future industry requirements – Visualize the future of the industry and try to predict the future business models in the telecom and adjacent industries (Well you need not predict but just read the predictions from Analysts and Bloggers!!!). Analyze the skills that would be required 3-5 years from now and then map the gaps between your current skills and the skills required in future. This would be like a mirror staring right in front of you and then there would be an urgent need to take corrective actions. The current crisis and lower level of activities could be a good time to upgrade your skills or take some time off to go back to the school. You may be tempted to figure out if your HR manager still has funds for training!!!
  3. Join a company that values your skills the most – The telecom ecosystem is moving towards an open ecosystem. However, at the same time, the different players are moving across the value chain to garner higher share of the value chain. This means that the players moving across the value chain would need new skills that are presently not available in-house. This is an opportunity for a person to move from one set of players in the ecosystem to another. To illustrate this point further, recently a number of device vendors announced their intention to launch application stores which so far were within operator’s domain. Application store management skill could be quite common within the carrier domain but is uncommon with a device vendor and hence the device vendor will value that skill much more than a carrier. Similarly, a smaller start-up company sometimes is not able to attract good talent and hence values the scarce skills more than larger companies. If you have fairly good faith in the startup’s business model and its ability to through the current crisis, then do consider this option
  4. Broad base your skills – Focus on a few skills that can be transferred across industries which would give better headroom for survival. Strategic Planning, business development, marketing, sales, etc. are a few functions that are similar across different industries and hence people with these skills have a lower risk as compared to people who are in technical functions. Getting a business degree, especially when you have been laid off may not be a bad idea
  5. Develop new skills – The previous points were about enhancing your current skills but however, if you are in a role that has no future demand in any company or industry, it is better to look to develop new skills as the demand for your current skill is unlikely to come back even in future. Decide your future career based on the promise a career holds out for you just like a 19 year kid would do while deciding his career options
  6. Build relationship – I cannot emphasize the importance of building relationships especially in such times of crisis. Referrals would become even bigger with companies looking to reduce their recruitment costs and improve the quality of talent they hire. Network with your alumni, ex-colleagues and others from your industry. Blogging could be another way of establishing yourself as an industry expert but be sure about this option as it exposes you to other industry experts.
  7. Be open to moving across geographies – The telecommunications industry may not be growing in Europe and America but are certainly expanding in emerging markets like BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Africa, South East Asia, etc. If one is prepared to leave shores in search of opportunities abroad, then it would be worthwhile to explore options in the emerging markets. India is currently adding close to 12-15 mn new subscribers every month (almost twice the population of Australia – just to give a perspective, no offence meant). There are new operators who are planning to roll-out networks in the next couple of years and they are short of experienced people as they themselves have no experience in the telecom space. Greenfield project, challenging marketplace and cross-cultural challenges – recipe for a great learning experience. Even in good times, everybody wanted to have China or India on their resumes and now there is a good reason to do so. New operators are rolling out CDMA and GSM networks in Middle East and Africa as well. Let there not be any impediment to your mobility. Business Week claims that the recent housing bust has reduced the mobility of Americans and perhaps of the people in other parts of the world as well because people who own their own house do not want to leave their city
  8. Fed up with Financial Crisis? Try Antarctica – There is no harm in taking a long break to decide on your priorities with a cool head and in the bargain do something that you wanted to do for long but never had time to do, i.e. pack your bags and go on a long vacation (please backpack to save money). But remember not to break the momentum!!!

There is a skill shift happening right there and right now. This requires training for us and our kids. The schools need to teach the skills that would meet the needs of the future and not just the needs of the past. This is good time to hone your skills in the emerging telecom areas like convergence, platform development, mobile services management, etc. When the economy starts to recover, then you would be in demand.

Request all the readers to add to the above list on how to avoid and survive the job loss

Surviving The Job Loss Video

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