We are nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a cloud of crisis on livelihood. Between April-June 2020, the world lost almost 400 million full-time jobs due to the pandemic, according to statistics released by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The pandemic continues to result in job losses and pay cuts and will lead to many jobs becoming redundant while at the same time, push the creation of newer jobs.
As employers, employees, and economies transform amid the COVID-19 times, it is essential to identify the jobs that will be in demand and help the current and future workforce prepare for them. It’s critical for governments, workers, and employers to come and work together to build a sustainable future as we step into the future of work. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Vishalli Dongrie, Partner and Head, People and Change, KPMG in India shares her thoughts on how COVID-19 has impacted certain industries and its impact on jobs and skilling.
The highly uncertain recovery in the second half of the year will not be enough to go back to pre-pandemic levels, even in the best scenario, warns the ILO. Which industries do you think will be at more risk while which industries will tend to gain?
After an extensive lockdown as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, India is currently in a phase of unlock. The road to recovery however is long and full of uncertainties and it will take a strenuous effort to bring back the economy to pre-pandemic levels. That said, the health and recovery of Indian industries are varied with some industries already on a fast-track to recovery, where-as for some, there is a long path to traverse.
Industries still at-risk
• Travel & Aviation: With the unlock, travel has started to pick up gradually. However, to ensure a complete revival, aviation and travel companies must work towards recovering from losses they incurred during lockdown. The industry will remain an at-risk industry in the second half of 2020
• Tourism and Hospitality: This industry, like aviation, is again one of the hardest-hit industries in India and the world. With social-distancing and lockdown measures imposed, the demand plummeted sharply. In certain cases, businesses have had to shut down temporarily or permanently given to high operating costs. Here again, a negative impact and a not so good outlook of a slow and lengthy road to recovery makes this an at-risk industry
• Manufacturing: In India, manufacturing has been adversely hit due to the crisis. The lockdown stalled factory and plant operations for over two-three months. Moreover, the sealing of state borders led to the unavailability of raw material and restrictions on the transportation of goods. With the unlock, the industry is set to revive albeit at a slower pace given to instability of operations due to precautionary shutdowns which could continue till the pandemic is brought under complete control
Among others, media and entertainment, fitness, commercial real estate sectors also remain at-risk.
Industries which will tend to gain
• Ecommerce: COVID-19 induced social distancing has led to a major shift in consumer shopping behavior with many becoming first-time users of ecommerce platforms and services. The sector is on the right path to recovery and will continue to do well, as for many people, online shopping will become a permanent or habitual behavior
• Telecom: With industries adopting remote working as the alternate way of workforce operations, a rampant uptick in demand for consumer broadband and telecom services has allowed the telecom industry to benefit in a good way through manageable losses and higher gains from the pandemic. With remote working becoming the norm, the need for high-quality telecom services in geographically dispersed locations will continue to grow.
• Health, Pharma & Fitness: As people adopt better personal hygiene practices and swear by fitness routines in the post-COVID-19 world, the consumption of nutrition and wellness products is expected to see a rise. At present, products like disinfectants and sanitizers are recording the highest sales – a trend that seems likely to continue and become deeply ingrained in consumer behavior. Fitness products like fitness tracking gadgets and applications are also seeing a surge in demand. With time, the number of outpatients, elective surgeries, international patients, and regular doctor consultations will also see a hike
Among others, retail, FMCG, and IT/ITES are expected to start recovering and gaining in the remainder of the year.
In the post-pandemic days, there may be jobs that get lost forever. Which jobs do you think are more prone to these risks?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to multiple job losses around the world. The crisis has also disrupted the way we work and has shaped a new reality for business operations. With new ways of working, the adoption of digital technologies and automation is increasing, which is also leading to the transformation of traditional jobs in organizations. The transformation puts some jobs at higher risk of becoming irrelevant in the evolved context, some of which are:
1. Administrative jobs such as data-entry operators, cashiers, document filers, etc. which may be replaced by automated tools and systems in the future
2. Jobs which require repeatable steps for high-volume outputs such as textile workers, assembly workers may gradually reduce before eventually getting replaced completely by highly efficient technology and industrial automation
3. Many jobs which require extensive face time with customers such as in personal care and services, building and ground maintenance, business to customer or retail sales will need to evolve and adapt to be more digitally enabled, else face they face the risk of becoming obsolete
On the other hand, there are some jobs that can become more important than ever. In fact, a new category of jobs may emerge altogether in the post-pandemic days. What do you think are some of these jobs to be?
With a disrupted workplace and workforce operating models, the pandemic has dramatically shifted the importance of a job towards a new and emerging set of roles which is aligned to the strategic response and adaptation priorities for organizations
1. Cybersecurity experts: With the proliferation of data given the enhanced technology adoption to support dispersed operations, data security has become an extremely important area for organizations to focus on.
2. Data Analysts/ Data Scientists: With virtual working, the availability of more data has created avenues for organizations to be able to see patterns and derive insights for decision-making. The demand for dedicated data-analysts has hence seen a spike in recent times
3. Strategy Consultants: With virtual business operations being the new normal, there is a need to focus on targeted interventions to maintain or even enhance stakeholder experience. Experienced consultants provide curated strategies to maintain a positive experience with customers, people, and business partners, and this is an emerging role which is more relevant than ever in these extraordinary times
4. People Counselors: The crisis has taken a toll on the mental health of employees which has resulted in lowering the levels of optimal performance of employees. We could see counselors, evolving and becoming more enriched in their role. We could see them taking the responsibility of deeply understanding the business, culture, and people challenges, thereby helping build innovative and curated coaching mentoring programs for employee cohorts.
Few more roles which we could see emerge consist of managers with automation or robotics capabilities, process optimizers, crisis management experts to name a few.
As employers, employees and economies transform amid the COVID-19 times, what do you think are the skills that are going to gain prominence post-pandemic?
The pandemic saw a plethora of skills emerge as the bare essentials required to ensure business continuity. These skills are not just driving businesses in the new normal but will also ensure that they sail through future waves of disruption. Three sets of skills that clearly stand out are:
• Digital / Technology Prowess
Organizations that skilled their employees in the digital realm managed to ensure business continuity while those lacking such skills suffered. A tech-savvy workforce was quick to adapt to the virtual form of working, thanks to their previous experience of doing so. Skills with respect to data analysis and predictions are also becoming more relevant than ever as organizations continue to leverage the power of data to drive their business.
• Emotional Intelligence
The new normal has seen personal proximities diminishing. Organizations have almost lost human connection within their workforce. Work earlier that would be more dynamic in terms of regular human interactions, collaborations, and networking are now restricted to switching on and switching off. It is high time for all the leaders and managers across businesses to re-establish this human connect. They must channelize their emotional intelligence/quotient to create and sustain a cohesive workforce that is necessary to achieve business results.
• Nimble footing
Not all businesses have the luxury to go fully digital. Businesses must firmly establish themselves as flexible, though an oxymoronic statement, this is the way to go. Organizations that were quick to adapt to the measures of social distancing and regular disinfection are on a path to recovery. To achieve such adaptability, the organization must have a workforce with the least resistance to change. Agility as a skill may not be sought from potential employees but definitely it could be imparted to the current employees as this will ensure a more resilient workforce that shall be ready to navigate future disruptions.
It’s critical for governments, workers, and employers to come and work together to build a sustainable future as we step into the future of work. What role do you think the government needs to play in this regard?
The government has made the clarion call to become self-reliant. As businesses across the world continue to suffer, for us the road to recovery begins from within. Thus, the onus is on the local players and other small & medium size businesses to run with full efficiency. Government interventions like subsidies and easy availability of loans will help such businesses to thrive. It also becomes paramount for the government to trigger a market pull from the buyers. Tax reliefs and interest rate cuts for middle-class citizens could be a great way to create liquidity in the economy.
While the government reduced farmer’s distress across the country by doing direct cash transfer under the PM KISAN scheme, similar such schemes for the unemployed workers need to be brought in.
The MGNREGA program has been pivotal in ensuring jobs for the blue-collared workforce across the country, the ones who have been left out are the white collared workforce, especially in the service industry, who have been largely affected. Unemployment benefits and allowances could help these workers steer through these tough times.
With more and more companies wanting to make India their base, we as a country must be prepared to welcome such investments.
Industries like pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and healthcare are poised for growth as nations look towards India for their recovery. Thus, the government must ensure policy reforms to enable foreign companies and manufacturers to set their businesses here with ease.