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Increase Employability Before Economic Downturn

Increase Employability Before Economic Downturn

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According to the statistics released this month (Sep 2019), the unemployment rate stays at 2.9%. A 0.1% increase was seen last month, hinting a possible reverse trend to the continued decrease since 2016 (last rise from 3.1% to 3.4% appeared in 2014-2016). While such a small increase can be seasonal fluctuation, and lower rates were below 2% back in the 80’s and 90’s, it is worth noting that rising went faster than falling.

Coincidentally, both falls took 1.79 times longer compared to the corresponding rise duration. (Similar pattern can be found in the stock market, where generally the rise of e.g. Hang Seng Index is slower than the fall.) Statistics are giving us a perspective, and I prefer to upgrade it to a driving force for being prepared.

What will happen in the job market during economic downturn?

1. The job market will change from a candidate/employee market to an employer market.
Due to increase in unemployment, more people look for jobs and less vacancies are available at the same time. More candidates apply/compete for a job opening. Naturally it is more difficult to succeed even just based on numbers.

2. The employer will ask for more or pay less.
Since more candidates are available, companies tend to raise the bar of hiring. More requirements appear in a job advertisement, asking for more skills or higher qualifications. The increase may also be implicit. Even though requirements look the same for some openings, candidates with excess proficiencies are chosen. If the position really does not require anything more, the pay may become less due to the intention of cost-cut, and candidates are willing to accept a lower pay in a less favourable market.

3. Companies will consider redundancy or salary reduction.
On the same trail, companies tend to hire less. The harsh way, as we all know, is redundancy exercise. This is one of the causes to increase in unemployment. Another way is to stop replacement-hiring. When someone leaves the company, the work is distributed among the remaining staff. Also possible is a salary cut where the company asks staff to accept. And the company let-go those who do not accept.

4. Companies go out of business.
Another contributor to a higher unemployment rate is the release of staff when the company stops running. Companies may cease to exist whether willingly or involuntarily. Economic downturn negatively affects the profit or cash flow of companies. When it is more difficult to do business, some players may decide to call it the day and others are forced out of the field.

What you can do

1. Match up with “qualification inflation”
The response to qualification barrier is to get a qualification! If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, get one! If you have one but it is not related to your job, get a relevant one! There is nothing complex in this issue. With more choices the employer will surely look for the best-fit qualification in the first place. Actually, in economic downturn, people will spend less in general, but not in education. Many more people will go to study, because at that time they realize the importance of a useful qualification. My advice is obvious: Act early!

2. Get computer skills
It sounds cliché to ask you to obtain computer skills. But my experience is telling me that people tend to overrate their computer skills. Yes, you should speak positively in front of interviewers. I am not saying that you should apologize for e.g. no PowerPoint experience in an interview. Yet, as an example, knowing how to use the SUM function in Excel is really basic, if not primitive, in the office nowadays. If you need to spend a large amount of time to create/revise/update a file, you may need to evaluate your computer skills. You may argue that Excel skills are only needed in accounting department. I can tell you a real-life case that, in a multinational corporation, HR staff are also using non-basic Excel functions in daily and monthly reports, not to speak of analysis needed for annual review. And remember I am just talking about Microsoft Office, the commonest software in the workplace. There can certainly be other useful computer skills for your work.

3. Upgrade your language skills
Now I feel I cannot emphasize enough the importance of English. The international nature was, is, and will still remain to be one of the strengths of Hong Kong as an economic entity. My view is that English will become even more important in the future. Hong Kong’s economy may come to a turning point where internationalism will lead to the prosperity it needs. There is a dualism in it, that Hong Kong people may bring along the internationalism because we are ready, or it comes early to force us to embrace it. I urge you to learn enough English to actively participate in this transformation.

4. Up-to-date knowledge and mind
Change is always imminent. Over the past 20 years we witnessed the emergence of Japan Home City, Sasa and 759, among others. However we are impressed by the business masterminds, we know that new things are destined to come. So, as an example, if you are clueless about big data, at some point your outdated state will hit you. You have to be prepared to understand and work in a completely different way.

I have talked to different people about motivation to learn (which is, to a large extent, also true at work). If you feel the need, you are motivated. My goal here is to explain the need to you, and I hope you also feel the need.

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