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Work Ready: 2018

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With the new workplace normal, although the Calgary-area downturn is certainly a factor with many displaced workers searching and submitting resumés, not only are traditionally sacred skills and experience no longer a job guarantee, they are not even a competitive edge.

That revelation may be brutal, harsh and discouraging but, in the contemporary workplace, it’s also reality. Some industry insiders are not surprised and suggest that it may just be another indicator about how very drastically today’s workplace has been (and continues to be) redefined and restructured.

According to provincial stats, at its peak, Calgary’s unemployment rate topped 10 per cent, with more than 90,000 people looking for work in late 2016. That is uncomfortably high, but the unemployment rate alone doesn’t tell the full story of a job market. The comparative upside is that more Calgarians tend to be in the workforce, nearly 75 per cent at last count, and even when the unemployment rate got high, 66 per cent of residents still had a job, higher than in any other major city.

Of course technology is a multifaceted and enormous work/life changer. There continue to be significant shifts in lifestyles trends like work/life balance, qualifications and employer wants versus employee needs and perks such as working by remote, flextime and being 24-7 plugged-in.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the nine-to-five job is pretty much disappearing. The way people work and their relationship to their jobs has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The report illustrates how work has become more time consuming, less stable but also more flexible.

In 1973, only about six per cent of employees complained about working excessive hours. In 2016, 26 per cent of workers said they often worked more than 48 hours a week.

When it comes to the vital job factors of skills and experience, the impact of particularly Calgary’s downturn situation and shifting trends in the contemporary job market are causing new workplace dynamics.

“It’s unfortunate but many Alberta workers have been impacted by the downturn. The special situation of skilled workers who were laid off is that they were often let go in their highest earning years,” says Nicole Dodd, coordinator of Career Connection, the popular government-funded program based at Bow Valley College. “The experienced professionals are more interested in leveraging their transferable skills to obtain new employment rather than go back to a classroom for one to four years.

“Employers want the new hires to be work-ready,” she adds. “Even entry-level roles have high expectations. Companies are now willing to train a new hire for a week, not three to six months. Those days are long gone.

“The frustrating contradiction and barrier for many young people doing job searches is lack of experience. There’s no doubt about it: experience usually means opportunity.”

Most HR professionals agree that skills are more important than ever in the contemporary workplace. Although there is also caution about effectively presenting job skills during today’s job searches.

“Jobs that are coming into the economy today reflect growth across many industries,” explains Peter Dugandzic, chief executive officer of CPHR Alberta (formerly HRIA), the 6,000-member professional association dedicated to strengthening Alberta’s human resources profession and upholding the highest standards of practice.

“There will need to be some training for unemployed skilled workers from the energy sector to fully align with the needs of these sectors. As well, there needs to be realignment on compensation among industries, as non-energy sector wages have historically been lower.

“Particularly since the downturn, skilled workers encountered layoffs, or reduced wages, hours and benefits alongside thousands of other employees across Alberta. We noticed that many skilled workers left the province for roles elsewhere, or took other lower-paying positions outside their preferred area of expertise,” he says.

Ironically, skills can be a job-search positive or a stealth job-search negative.

“Sometimes companies struggle to find skilled employees because the mechanisms for recruitment only allow those who are familiar with technology like Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to make it to the next step in the process,” Dodd points out. “The popular software ranks resumés based on the keywords used that match with the job posting.

For example, if a qualified skilled worker with 20 years of experience is applying to a company, and they are unaware that a computer – not an HR person – will be scanning their resumé for keywords from the job posting, they will likely submit a high-quality resumé that could be a good fit but it doesn’t necessarily contain all the words the company is using to describe the skills and job responsibilities.

“The likely result is that the person will not make it to the next step in the recruitment process, even though they are experienced and capable of doing the work,” continues Dodd. “It would be beneficial if companies could be clearer in communicating their expectations to job applicants, increasing the chances for qualified people to reach the interview phase.

“I do a lot of seminars and emphasize that, too often, employers and jobseekers aren’t even in the same zone. Employers should let jobseekers know the system, and it’s the responsibility of jobseekers to keep up with the trends.

“The job-search days of blitzing postings with hundreds of resumés doesn’t cut it. It’s quality over quantity. Even despite ATS and other resumé screening systems, it’s much more effective to send out four targeted resumés than a generic 100.”

She mentions many employers are now looking for efficiencies in the workplace. Where there used to be five engineers on a project, it could now be one engineer and software.

Career counsellors and other HR professionals caution about the uniqueness of Calgary-area job searchers and the updated requirements of being job-ready with in-demand skills and qualifications.

“Currently there are still job opportunities for skilled workers who haven’t sought retraining,” Dodd says. “There are many people who are disenfranchised by the oil and gas sector who are looking to train for other industries that have less volatility. As a result, health-care programs and IT programs are areas that attract the most interest in terms of training or retraining.

“The employment landscape, especially in Calgary, is getting more diversified. It is changing at a fast pace. More artificial intelligence (AI) is entering into the workplace and workers will have to adapt or retrain in order to stay employed.

“The fact of modern work life is that, careers such as cashiers, receptionists, accounting clerks, delivery drivers and proofreaders are all at risk of having their position replaced by technology. AI can be programmed to perform the same tasks as those careers, and with fewer errors.”

Dugandzic agrees. “The skilled trades which are, and will be, in demand are the specialized jobs which were the most impacted. While there is a demand today, it is at a level which is significantly reduced from prior levels.

“Employers will not be able to train new employees at a rate sufficient to fill future skilled trade requirements, so recruitment campaigns will need to target those areas of Canada where there is an excess of skilled trade workers, combined with foreign worker recruitment.”

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