Life used to be simple. There were blue collar workers and white collar workers. You either wore denim to the factory or starched and pressed whites to the office. Now, though, the coronavirus lockdown has introduced a “new” collar. The pyjama shirt collar.
When we begin to leave lockdown, some of us will leave these “new” collars behind and return to the office as though the pandemic never occurred. Some will have found that lockdown showed another, more productive way to work, and head out to buy more flannel pyjama shirts. And there will be those who find a middle road, combining the office and home environment in a new frontier for the workplace.
But what does this mean for business recovery? What sort of workers will be most desired in this new world? I’ve selected three soft skills and three hard skills that I believe define the “new” collar jobs that will become increasingly prevalent in the post-COVID-19 economy.
The Hard Skills
Hard Skill #1: Data Literacy
It may feel like we’ve been living in the Age of Data for an eon, but, in reality, many of us are yet to develop the skills to evaluate data properly. Data literacy is a complex, technical skill. It isn’t just about evaluating the source of the data, but whether it’s fit for purpose. At the same time, we need to judge the quality while accounting for biases. As we’re fond of saying, garbage in, garbage out. Data literacy is a skill that will only become more essential as we continue to base decisions on solid, reliable data.
Hard Skills #2: Coding Skills
Don’t worry – not everyone needs to be a software engineer to land jobs in the future. If anything, software engineering has become commodified, and you have to go beyond coding to stand out from the pack.
However, while that may be the case, there is still an increasing need for a lot of professionals to understand coding as it becomes relevant in more and more jobs. Take, for example, R, which is a programming language used mostly by non-software engineers (economists, financial analysts, etc). A procurement professional with R skills can use them to model procurement data and open new worlds for them and their business.
Adding R coding to your skillset as a procurement professional is highly advantageous, and doesn’t require you to be an expert coder.
Hard Skill #3: Security & Governance Specialisations
The “work from home” genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The average commute time for Australians in 2017 was about one hour, so the extra time we get when taking travel out of our day is worth it alone. This extra time can be used to enrich our lives in numerous ways. Obviously, we can spend it working, but even an extra hour’s sleep can work wonders for our wellbeing – and our productivity.
But working from home comes with certain security issues many businesses don’t yet have the expertise to handle. Going forward, all business will have to put in place better IT security infrastructure and IT governance policies. It’s not just about the “new normal” of working from home; as businesses move their data off-site and more applications become cloud-based, security and governance will change. As a result, cultivating hard skills in the areas of security, privacy and other IT aspects is a valuable way to carve out a “new” collar career.
The Soft Skills
Soft Skills #1: Adaptability & Flexibility
There were few “life-long” jobs before COVID and the world will keep barrelling along post-COVID too. The ability to adapt and be flexible is one of the most important skills you can possess. You can’t afford to be complacent. You must be proactive, mapping the skills you possess, identifying the gaps and working to close them.
Soft Skills #2: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to notice and understand the emotions you’re experiencing, as well as the emotions others are experiencing around you, and then using this information to inform and guide your behaviour.
This has always been an important attribute, but never more so than now. Social paradigms are shifting, and the old “stick and the carrot” routine is far too basic for today’s complex workplace. Leadership needs to be far more nuanced and understanding, as do interactions between staff.
And, while robots seem everyday to acquire new skills and replace more people, procurement is still about negotiation. To be clear, EQ doesn’t mean acting on gut instinct; it means analysing your actions and the actions of those around you, and responding in an appropriate and rational manner. It’s the most important piece of software running the human machine.
Soft Skills #3: Storytelling
Following on from emotional intelligence, communication is an integral human trait. For some reason, though, for a number of years we’ve attempted to strip away emotion from the language we use in the workplace. Artificial intelligence has helped in this misguided endeavour: chat-bots, templates, auto-generated reports are all ubiquitous parts of the modern workplace, and that’s not changing any time soon.
This should all serve as a reminder about what makes us human. Storytelling. And, while storytelling isn’t for all types of communication, it’s still a valuable skill going forward. The ability to understand respond to each other’s needs and fears is a significant asset for businesses. So, if you want to thrive in a “new” collar job, forget the business communication class, and sign up for a creative writing masterclass instead!
So, the question now is, are you ready to wear the “new” collar?