This post took me a while to pull together. Part of the reason is the sensitivity of the whole issue. If you’ve read my other article on the Singapore economy, I think the reasoning I’ve laid out there also applies to our careers.
As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, companies are shutting down and laying off their staff. Many of you are understandably concerned about your livelihoods. Perhaps you have been affected by these layoffs or are in some form of temporary employment. Some of you may feel embarrassed or worried about your situation and want to find something permanent. I hope this article encourages you, and provides some food for thought on the way ahead.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge this desire for stability and certainty. As human beings, one of our fundamental needs is to feel in control of our situations. When it comes to work, this has traditionally meant being employed in a permanent role. Month to month, you have a consistent pay check to look forward to, making it easier to plan for the future.
The problem is that being in a permanent role sometimes lulls us into a false sense of security. We start thinking that things will always be the same. We will always have this job, earn this income. We stop being curious, open and improving ourselves. We just focus on doing our work and living our lives, thinking that as long as we do enough, we will stay employed or find other jobs. But is this really the case?
When I was in the navy, one of the first skills I learnt as a new crew member was how to fight fires and stop flooding. Even after clearing assessment, we rehearse fire and flooding drills in harbour almost every day. Doesn’t the navy have more important things to do like practice naval tactics & strategies? Aren’t fire and flooding incidents rare? Don’t we have automated systems to help deal with these problems? Although the answer to these questions is “Yes”, this misses the point. If we can’t fight fires and floods, then no matter how good our war tactics are, we will sink. Though rare, fires and floods tend to happen at the worst possible time or when you least expect it. Even smart, automated systems will fail when they are damaged in war. Thus, it’s critical each crew member is trained to deal with these situations when the worst happens.
Similarly, planning your career and making job transitions are the basic survival skills for every worker. Although these are not skills you use from day to day, they are critical nonetheless. The change and disruption in the world today are like fires and floods that are already overwhelming companies and industries: infrequent but catastrophic nonetheless. Employers are finding it harder to stay afloat, let alone protect your career. Each of us needs to be ready, having these skills ever-ready to make a transition before unemployment happens. Furthermore, doing well in your workplace is necessary but insufficient. We need to make sure others outside our company can appreciate our value as well. There’s no such thing as a product so good that it sells itself.
Moving ahead, we can’t rely on our bosses and HR or just cruise along in our jobs. We need to take action to constantly keep abreast of industry trends and stay on our toes in employment. Just as daily drilling in the navy created a mindset of healthy paranoia helping us stay prepared and alert to fire and flooding, we need to constantly sharpen our career planning and job transition skills to be ready for unexpected unemployment.