Recession Proofing Your Career

By
John Peterson
I-LEAD Program Assistant

With fears of another recession on the horizon due to the outbreak of Covid-19, I thought it would be important to provide strategies to help people survive the turmoil. Whether you’re looking, just beginning, in the midst of your career, or aren’t sure what college or employment path to take, this article is for you.

Instead of focusing on careers that are recession proof, let’s focus on skills. The reason is because while college can be good for employment prospects, the skills you learn are the reason you get hired. Not every career requires you to go to college. Even if you don’t go to college, developing certain skills will put you at an advantage. What types of skills are recession proof? According to research, skills that fall into the category of cognitive and people/social tend to be the most recession proof. But what are cognitive and people/social skills? To define this, we’ll be using O*NET’s definitions. O*NET is a database containing descriptions for jobs, salary/wage averages, and definitions for skills. According to O*NET, cognitive abilities are, “Abilities that influence the acquisition and application of knowledge in problem solving.” These include skills like, deductive reasoning, mathematical reasoning, oral comprehension, and many others. People/social skills are “Developed capacities used to work with people to achieve goals.” Included are, coordination, instructing, negotiation, persuasion, service orientation, and social perceptiveness.

Why are these skills more recession proof? Cognitive skills generate new ideas. When faced with economic downturns, organizations need new ideas to turn themselves around. Companies or organizations doing the same thing as before will likely fall into bankruptcy. Individuals that contribute new and innovate ideas will be less susceptible to layoffs or termination should those occur. This is not a guarantee but if you get laid off, you’ll have an advantage in the labor market. During a recession you must continue to be a people person. Managing conflict is a highly valuable skill many employers seek in their employees. Additionally, being able to get a group of people to work together can be tough. By learning how to be in a leadership role, you can understand how to manage teams. The cooperation you create between people may save the organization.

What careers require cognitive or people/social skill? Generally, both sets of skills go together but sometimes certain professions focus on one set of skills over another. For example, careers that require cognitive abilities are statisticians, chemical engineers, and Clinical Data managers. Next, how do you develop these skills? College is straightforward because it’s a place you can develop these skills. What about after college, or trade school? Many workplaces offer trainings for you to develop your skills. You can find webinars online, colleges and programs may be willing to pay for the training. Sites like Skillshare or Udemy have online courses you can take.

Another way to self-improvement is to read books that build skills. Are you interested in learning more about leadership? There are plenty of books on leadership out there to choose from! If you find you don’t have time to read, then think about listening to an audiobook. Check your local library to see if you have access to online audio books. Many libraries utilize the Libby App (https://libbyapp.com/welcome).  Articles can also be a great way to learn about new trends for skill development. They may not be as detailed as a book, but they can provide a general direction for where you can start looking. Some organizations also provide free materials you can use to develop skills. There are numerous sources you can use to develop your skills. Don’t be afraid to look around to see what’s available.

Some professions have associations you can join that provide training seminars. These are great ways to expand your knowledge and to meet people. Association memberships on resumes can show employers that you are serious about your profession. If interested, association memberships is good for finding a mentor. Mentorships are a great way to improve one’s skills. Their experiences can provide valuable guidance towards your own skill development. If a situation at work arises, a mentor will be able to provide advice on how to handle it. Then you can actively apply the advice given and learn from first-hand experience. A mentor may also be able to recommend certain materials for you to read or trainings to attend. They can also help you network and make employment recommendations.

What if you’re unable to do any of the above things mentioned? Volunteering with a nonprofit is a great way to build your skills! From interacting with people to making spreadsheets nonprofits can give you valuable experience. Nonprofits will train you on how to perform the needed tasks or send you to a training. Be sure to talk to the volunteer coordinator at the nonprofit of your choice to see what opportunities are available to you. It may lead to a job offer.

Even if you do all of the above, you may still be laid off. If this happens there are a few steps you can take. First, look at your employee handbook to see what your organizations policy is for layoffs and severance. You may be able to get unemployment, payment for unused vacation/sick days and other benefits. If these things aren’t clear, be sure to sit down with HR and discuss what the procedure is. Talk with your boss about your concerns if a recession does occur. Discuss what your day to day tasks are and why you’re needed. If you are laid off, ask about future collaboration projects or consulting or part time options. Ask permission to use them as a reference while you look for another job.

Overall, there isn’t a full-proof way to make sure you’re not affected by a recession. No matter the number of skills you have, sometimes things will just be out of your hands. But developing your cognitive and social/people skills will improve your bounce back time. Use every resource that is available to you in the process. You’ll be a stronger candidate for positions and employed quicker than most people who haven’t developed their cognitive skills.

For further reading:

Skills you need:

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/general/employability-skills.html

Free online courses:

https://www.edx.org/