Project Management Institute

2021 Project Management Jobs Outlook

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

The pandemic has sparked a wholesale shift in the way people work. It’s not just people staying away from the office, although there’s plenty of that. It’s also that companies have fundamentally altered the way they operate. But what does that mean for your job? There’s all kinds of uncertainty at the moment, and while certain sectors and regions are struggling, others are full of activity—which means now could be a good moment to reassess where you want to go in your career.

LINDSAY SCOTT

People are seeing different pockets of opportunity that wouldn’t have been existing right now if we’d not had this year of a pandemic. So, if you are more inclined to take a few more risks, perhaps now really is the right time.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.

Welcome to 2021. The year that just wouldn’t go away is finally in the rear view, and now, on the blank page of early January, we get to take stock and set a new course for what we hope will be a year of health, connection and reinvention.

We’re talking jobs today in anticipation of PMI’s PM Network Jobs Report, which offers a deep dive into what project professionals can expect in the coming year, whether they’re in Brazil or China, in IT or construction. The report also details some sobering statistics. But with upheaval comes opportunity, and we see that as well, with two-thirds of CEOs surveyed in mid-2020 telling KPMG that they were more confident in their company’s growth prospects over the next three years than they were prior to the pandemic.

That cocktail of optimism and uncertainty is a driving theme of our conversations today, with Projectified® careers correspondent Lindsay Scott as well as Alice Chow, a project leader in Hong Kong.

Our sponsor for this episode is PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast.

Now to Hong Kong, where Alice Chow is director of advisory services in East Asia for global engineering giant Arup.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

Alice, what do you think about this executive optimism—the idea that many CEOs became more bullish about their futures in the middle of the pandemic than they had been at the outset? Does that align with what you’re seeing in your company and your region?

ALICE CHOW

I think that is true for us as well. In the beginning of the pandemic, everybody believed that was a really big downturn, and that’s why we had a lot of measure to reduce the damage. But, as it goes along, I believe that everybody’s thinking that we must help each other, help ourselves. So, eventually, our results come out quite positive, and this give us more hope in this coming year.

We all believe that next year is not easy. I wouldn’t say it’s better, but hopefully it will be maintaining until after the first half. Then we’re hoping that the future will be better. I think that coincides with a lot of companies’ thinking, too.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So people are feeling like, “If we can get through that, we can get through anything.” At your company, how has working through this experience changed how you think about the future of work?

ALICE CHOW

In the past, our company already seen that the world is changing, and so we have already gone through digital transformation. We were in the process, anyway. It makes us not too difficult to adapt to the pandemic environment, so we can work from home. And as you see, this pandemic makes us stay at home more often.

But equally, because of the technology, that brings us closer again, and we make use of these facilities—and even the clients, they are now more adapting to meeting online. That’s why our projects have not been stopped. And most of them, I would say, still continue. So, everything is still going ahead, and you see that the government’s trying very hard to help the economy, so they’re not stopping the projects. That’s including the other East Asia countries, too.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

As we look at 2021, there’s going to be a lot of change—both in terms of projects undertaken and the world of work itself. What’s a skill that project leaders should focus on as they steer projects in the coming year?

ALICE CHOW

As a project manager, the first thing we need to do is to listen. You listen to your clients’ pain points—not to just jump in and give your advice. Often the clients know their operation problems, but they will not be able to tell you straight away what are the problems.

They start moaning, and then they’re complaining. But then, you need to help them, to listen and then rearranging the problems. Then you have to tell the story back to them. Is that what they want or what they need? Make sure that the clients, when they listen to you, they have the same kind of feeling that you are with them. You truly understand their problems. Then they will trust you, and then they will gradually tell you more about the real problem. Often, their original problem was not the main issue, and you may find that they may need some other help instead of just focusing on that problem.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

I mean, that’s wonderful advice. How do you learn to be a good, active listener?

ALICE CHOW

I make a lot of mistakes before. I think we need to be tolerable. Everybody makes mistakes, and even if your staff or your colleagues make mistakes, don’t jump in and take away their opportunities. You have to be kind. Nowadays, I believe that a lot of people, they are very impatient. As a leader, you need to be the magnet. You need to attract more positive things. That means you have to calm everybody down and make sure that they have time to think and share, so that you can organize it better.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

What career outlook are you seeing over the next year for project leaders in your region?

ALICE CHOW

Asia has a lot of opportunities. They are still very positive about their future. If you look at China, I just had clients tell me that they want to buy some properties in Beijing. I must say that everybody is still positive.

You need to have a step change; don’t always look back and think that I must stay in one particular country. That is very difficult. But sometimes, if you just let go and just follow the flow, you will find a lot of opportunities. Just don’t give yourself a lot of boundaries.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

You know those opportunities are out there. The challenge is locating them and positioning yourself to take advantage—and knowing how much risk to take on in the bargain.

For advice on that front, we turn to Lindsay Scott, career columnist for PM Network and co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent. Based on her wealth of connections and conversations related to the sorts of people getting hired onto project teams right now, she’s got unique insight into the outlook for the coming year.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is such a fascinating time to be in the process of building one’s career as a project professional, because so much is uncertain. How are you counseling people as they plan out their careers for the next couple of years? How has the pandemic altered the way one should proceed?

LINDSAY SCOTT

Good project management people want to feel safer right now, and that means that they’re probably going to stick with the organization that they’re working for. So what you’re finding is that people that might be in roles that they’re not particularly happy about right now or the businesses that they’re working within—perhaps not where they’re seeing the longer-term future—there is that feeling of, “I’m going to stay put for a little bit more.” And I think we can understand why people would do that.

But I also think, and I don’t know about you, but there’s been a lot of conversations with friends and family and colleagues about what people’s personal appetite is for risk. Because I think that comes into this quite a bit when we think about career plans and whether we choose to put things on hold for now or are we maybe perhaps a little bit more entrepreneurial because we know that there are lots of opportunities that arise from adversity, which is exactly what we’re in right now. People are seeing different pockets of opportunity that wouldn’t have been existing right now if we’d not had this year of a pandemic. If you are more inclined to take a few more risks, perhaps now really is the right time. Why not go and carry on doing that planning and take those first tentative steps for going it alone?

You’re still going to do the homework of: Have I got the right kind of proposition for the marketplace? Do people want to buy my goods and services? All of those questions still apply, but I really do think it comes down to your own personal tolerance and approach to risk.

The other thing around this as well is we talk about risk management a lot obviously in project management, but does the average project person think about their own risk register? Because I think we always say in project management that your risk ledger constantly changes. It’s constantly evolving. There’s always bits that will be changing, and I think surely that is the same with when we think about risk in terms of our own personal risk, whether that be about career or about healthcare or anything else. You’re always thinking: “Does it feel like the right time to be doing things now?” And that’s going to be totally down to you and what your risk appetite is.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

That’s an interesting idea because you know that there are some winning projects and winning companies to be born out of battered sectors, just because that’s where we traditionally see innovation. So if you get that offer to go build something cool in retail or some other battered sector, obviously you see the upside, but how would you mitigate the risk of a dangerous step into a troubled sector?

LINDSAY SCOTT

Yeah, no, exactly, and I think that’s down to good project management, isn’t it, at the end of the day? Why not use the mitigation of risk as you would on a project? Why would you not apply the same kind of thinking to your own personal situation of what you’re trying to do there? It’s a very individual thing. Like I said, we all have a different approach to risk, so how I would mitigate would be very different to somebody else that really is risk averse. Perhaps that risk-averse person wouldn’t even consider doing it. But it’s about the upsides, isn’t it, versus the downside. Me personally, I like a little bit of risk, so I would be looking at different organizations that you probably wouldn’t have even been thinking about before now, because they’re not, like you say, naturally predisposed to being quite innovative.

In the U.K., we’ve always had this thing where to work in government seemed to be a bit, I have to say, not very exciting. The projects are all very big and lengthy and don’t really scream creativity or innovation. But actually, what we’ve seen—and there’s been a great case study that came out really recently about how the department that pays out for things like unemployment benefits and stuff like that—they’ve had to really pivot and change the way that they have been delivering services throughout this pandemic. And their story is fascinating about how they’ve had to really use digital being one of the approaches, but how they’ve really had to embrace and move quickly in that kind of agile spirit to ultimately get money to the people when they needed it in desperate times. That kind of environment sounds pretty cool to me. It sounds very, very different to how they’ve always been perceived to deliver projects before in the past, and it’s like, “Wow, what’s going on there?”

STEVE HENDERSHOT

It seems like the year that we’ve lived through, it’s just going to change the way that organizations operate and the way that people work going forward, and I wonder what you anticipate those changes will be. How will the work of the future post-COVID look different than it did pre?

LINDSAY SCOTT

Virtually and dispersed is certainly the key words of 2020. What I’m interested in here, though, is that we know that a lot of employees are quite happy to carry on working at home where they can. Especially ones that are used to commuting into the big cities and stuff. I think we’ve all seen the reports about how much happier, generally, people are on the whole about that. But my concerns around that is obviously, from an organization point of view, if that is going to be the case where a lot of workers will be at home and working virtually, is that the organizations will have access to a bigger pool of resources. Because they don’t need to be picking people that work in the vicinity or within commutable distance. Because I think what we’ve found over these last nine, ten months is we’ve been quick to be able to keep on collaborating online with each other. There’s that expectation that if the physical workspace does come back, I will expect to be able to split my time between those now. Why should I be at my desk five days a week? Which means that I think what’s also happened is that people have got into their heads that you don’t need to be in the office. You don’t need to be seen to be working. This is an output-based business. We need to be able to see the outputs, so that’s been a change.But what is fascinating is we’re all talking about, yes, it’s been wonderful to work at home and, yes, projects are carrying on. However, we haven’t been doing this long enough to actually see any kind of stories or outcomes, really, if performance has been affected. And actually, how many projects did get over the line, versus the projects that had to be canned because they didn’t work out? We’ve not been hearing many stories yet, so is it a bit of a false sense that, yes, things are still happening? Yes, we’re still being able to work effectively? Not sure yet. I’ll be interested to see what falls out next year in terms of how organizations have actually managed to get projects out.

The other thing that I also think will be different, I hope, would be that CEOs have recognized that technology—certainly that what supports collaboration and people working together—has absolutely been crucial, and that their businesses would not been able to survive if they’d not been able to do that. And luckily for them, there’s a lot of cheaper options and relatively easy to use. But is it good enough? If we are going to carry on working in dispersed and virtual ways, especially with projects all over the world, are these things good enough? Or is this now the time to think, “We’ve seen how these things can work; let’s spend some money on making them better”?

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

We are—we hope—in the first days of a year of opportunity, a year for creativity and innovation. Yet it’s also a year to make careful use of your risk register and to take stock of the threats that might waylay your career progress, because one thing we’ve definitely learned over the last year is that sometimes even the most unexpected of risks is the one that jumps up to bite you. But this is what you do every day. As a project leader, you’re equipped to assess that balance of risk and opportunity and plan accordingly.

These are unusual times, but the world seems to be turning the collective corner—and that could mean serious opportunities for project leaders. Are you ready?

Our sponsor for this episode is PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast.

NARRATOR

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