HR, Thought Leaders

How Transferable Skills Can Help Unemployed Workers

February 16, 2021

by Don Sjoerdsma

For the nearly 18 million people still out of work in the U.S., landing a new job won't be as easy as they had originally anticipated. 

The vast majority of workers unemployed due to COVID thought they'd be able to land a job fairly quickly when they were surveyed by LiveCareer last May. They were also optimistic about returning to their old jobs in the same industry and landing positions with higher wages than they were earning before they were sidelined. 

But COVID-19 threw a wrench in their plans. Some important industries are years away from a full recovery, and we're 10 months into the pandemic with millions out of work. Job seekers will now face heightened competition for a limited number of positions. 

The LiveCareer survey of 36.4 million U.S. workers who filed for unemployment between March 21 and May 9 revealed:

  • 85% (31 million) of those left unemployed by the pandemic expected to return to work by November.
  • 56% (20.4 million) of job seekers said they were looking for work in the same industries from which they were laid off.
  • 90% of unemployed peopleexpected to earn the same or more than they did in their most recent job.

While their hopes have not met with reality, job seekers can find a way forward with transferable skills. These are the soft skills, hard skills and technical skills needed to ensure employment when jobs are scarce. Soft skills, in particular, are desired by employers because they're difficult to teach. Job seekers who are great communicators and problem-solvers, as well customer service-oriented and friendly, will be in high demand in a wide variety of industries.

Employers should anticipate a flood of applicants in the coming months. A higher quotient of them may be looking for work outside their industry

With this in mind, here are a handful of ways you can bring the right talent into your organization, and ease their transition back to work:

  • Be Flexible on Work Experience: When looking outside your industry for talent, you should keep an open-minded toward work experience. This requires rethinking which parts of the job can be taught, and which parts are prerequisite. If you fail to do this, you will overlook many qualified candidates who are perfect for the role.
  • Focus on the Role's Core Soft Skills: Which parts of this role are the most important? Pluck the soft skills from the job description that are core to the company's mission. Maybe it's communication, or multitasking. Does the applicant seem to possess this particular skill, and if they do, do they understand why this skill is transferable?
  • Follow Up to Ensure New Hires Are Adapting: It's one thing to list a skill on your resume. It's another to demonstrate the skill in the workplace. COVID-era hires who went through a bout of unemployment may require more follow-up and care than you typically reserve for new team members. Some patience and understanding will go a long way.

These are just a few ideas. As an HR professional, or business leader, you know what to do. COVID turned the world upside down. Now's a good time to rethink your approach to hiring in a landscape that will be different for some time to come.

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