COVID-19 has had a huge impact on various industries including manufacturing, travel & tourism as well as life sciences and healthcare. When we talk about ‘industries’, inevitably we talk about human lives. Let’s look beyond the immediate turmoil into which many have been thrust. With the world around us changing at a seemingly accelerated speed, what’s out there to help us manage our careers?
I caught the last few talks of the virtual event ‘IEEE Healthcare: Blockchain & AI‘ on 7 Oct 20, which discussed the potential of these emerging technologies to improve healthcare systems. In the closing remarks, future plans and visions were laid out, amongst which was the proposal to mentor upcoming generations, in particular students, for career development in the sector. I am impressed by the foresight and comprehensive approach to the huge challenge of reorganising healthcare systems, adapting and creating industry standards and allowing systems to keep up with technology. Involving students early on will help make academic education more applied and relevant. But what about older generations?
For obvious reasons there is usually a lot of focus on developing young generations. In contrast, supporting experienced professionals often seems an afterthought. Might this be due to flawed assumptions and inherent ageism (a subject I’ve broached before)? How many initiatives have you come across that specifically enable or celebrate the success of, say, the ‘middle-aged’? How many of those have not been sparked by some kind of employment crisis?
With industries evolving, people will need to adapt. Right outside my doorstep is a vivid example. The North-East of Scotland has made itself extremely dependent on the oil and gas industry for decades. It could afford this single-minded approach because money was sloshing around. Yet, each downturn has shown how dangerous such dependence is, especially for individuals’ livelihoods. With a greater drive towards carbon neutrality, the industry landscape is bound to change permanently. The North-East has begun to diversify beyond energy with food & drink, life sciences and other technologies gaining more attention. What about all those highly skilled, qualified people, such as engineers? Some ride out the hard times of redundancy and get back into their familiar sector as soon as an opportunity arises, some try and start their own business, others look elsewhere. Renewables are a logical next move, as this sector will face some of the same challenges and require similar skills. Others look further afield. So, why not healthcare (in its widest sense)? People from the oil and gas industry may have relevant degrees (like biology, chemistry or IT), passions and prior work experience. They are used to working in a regulated industry. They understand the obstacles of implementing standards both in terms of administrative and human (behavioural) challenges and have the resilience to see implementations through. They understand how to manage complex, high-value, international projects. There is a host of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills.
What may be lacking is the inspiration and confidence to look into a completely new field. What they may not understand is how to transition from one industry to another. What recruiters may not understand is how to allocate opportunities to them. This is why mentoring or coaching of experienced professionals would be extremely valuable.
For age is opportunity no less than youth itself, though in another dress.Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I have chosen oil and gas professionals as an illustration because I have witnessed the situation around me for a few years. Obviously, these thoughts apply to any mature career changer. Just because people are older doesn’t mean they have all the answers and won’t need support to change and advance their lives. It is a path of experimentation paved with doubt, self-doubt even, and a persistent demand for self-motivation and discipline. It also requires a support network comprising family, friends, professional and other connections.
In terms of recruitment, I believe that new ways of resourcing are needed. Thomas Cox’ interview with Dror Gurevich from Velocity Career Labs introduces a new blockchain-based approach to career record credentialing and sharing. This is a tremendously useful piece of the puzzle to fix. With the job-for-life being an antiquated concept in most sectors nowadays, recruiters need to adopt a new mindset, too, when matching job seekers with opportunities. I imagine a more skills- and character-based approach rather than a selection predominantly based on specific qualifications and industry experience.
Roles are changing even when job titles remain the same. A lovely example was presented in a recent article about the implementation of AI in hospitals. It describes how nurses have become savvy mediators between machine and doctor. New jobs will arise with technology transforming the areas and tasks for which humans are needed.
Outside academia, professional bodies train and bestow qualifications upon their graduates. To meet the practical requirements of such a qualification, generally certain professional skills must be achieved. These skills lists should keep pace with the evolution of the profession as, for example, caused by increasing use of technology, otherwise they will hold trainees back. Here, I see great benefit in companies and standard setters consistently and speedily working with professional bodies to keep each other relevant.
In addition, trainee assessments should reflect professional rather than scholarly ability. With career changes becoming more common, it is likely that more and more ‘mature’ people will retrain in so-called graduate schemes. Assessment types that are tailored to recent school or university leavers are not particularly suitable measures for people who have longer experience outside the scholarly environment and, hence, take a different approach to study and solving tasks.
Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
In summary, I fully support the drive to engage young people early in relevant industry developments. What I am asking is to give all professionals regardless of age the same opportunities. This is part of attracting and enabling a diverse workforce. Improved facilitation of cross-disciplinary and intergenerational learning and support will unleash untapped potential.