Career Outlook After COVID-19
The world of business will look different after COVID-19. Project careers will look different, too. It’s time to plan accordingly.
You know, we’re project people at the end of the day. We’re supposed to embrace change. But we need people to step up. We need the younger generation to step up and say, “Look, there are other ways, and have we thought about this?” And I think, you know, it’s about being brave at the end of the day. Find your voice and speak up and see where it takes you.
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.
This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.
No matter where you are in your career, you’re forgiven for feeling a little anxious, or even unlucky, about having to figure out a path through this very unique and challenging period.
But since you are here, let’s spend a few minutes looking at the new opportunities emerging. For example, think about how “disruption” has been the buzzword driving innovation in Silicon Valley for decades. What we are now experiencing is nothing if not a globalized, nearly universal disruption in the way societies and organizations operate.
The result is going to be a new normal for careers, too. And that means opportunities for the people equipped to participate in those new modes of operation, not to mention those who will build them.
To that end, we’ll check in today with Lindsay Scott, a career columnist for PM Network and co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent, for her take on how project professionals should approach this unique moment. Then, later in the episode, we’ll hear from PMI’s Mike DePrisco about some new avenues for upskilling online.
Between the pandemic, the massive surge in remote work and the global downturn, we’re looking at a combination of uncertainties that are likely to affect the way we work for years to come. How do you think project careers will be affected
It’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Because we’ve been here before. Okay, not pandemic-led, but we’ve definitely been in a global downturn, obviously 2008 and onwards to, probably 2008 to 2011. So it’s almost: What lessons can we remember from that time? There’s always going to be industries that come out of something like this stronger. There’s going to be industries and certainly organizations that disappear forever. And then there’ll be just generally the rest of us just muddling through.
But from a project management point of view, what we found in a downturn after the initial shock was over, an organization’s confidence after taking a battering started to come back a bit, very slowly. For an organization that put a lot of their project portfolio on hold, it was a case of, so what do we need to be working on as an organization? What strategy do we now have? And to take an agile phrase, what were we pivoting to? What was top of our strategic list six months ago is just not going to be the same now as businesses start opening up again.
It’s those things that obviously drive what kind of project manager they’re looking for. And what will happen is that the marketplace will be extremely competitive, just as it was back then in 2008 to ’11. There’s a lot of people frustrated that they... I’ve got skills and experience behind me as a project manager, why can’t I find work? And I think there’s a couple of things that was happening back then that they didn’t take advantage of. Which I hope that people now, thinking about those times, is there’s a couple of things.
One is that you had quite a few project managers that had neglected their skills development. And it might sound like, so if I go and do a training course, everything will be fine. Not quite, but actually it’s not a bad thing to be looking at right now in terms of what is your portfolio—your career portfolio? What do you have to offer? Because that, unfortunately, is one of the things that organizations, when they do start to recover and start to hire again, they do look at those things. Those elements of, have you got your agile-related credentials in order to start working back in places where that actually is one of the main ways of delivering projects right now.
So it’s about being ready to have those to enter a competitive market where actually some of your peers haven’t neglected their self-development and have been keeping an eye on what is happening now on the project management landscape. Because we know it’s not a waterfall one anymore. There is that hybrid delivery going on. So just one aspect of it is what are your skills like in that particular area because you may find that you’ll be lacking in comparison to other people that are also on the marketplace. It becomes crowded. It becomes a crowded market, and you’re looking for any way you can stand out in terms of the kind of opportunities.
The second one, the lesson that we learned was just how much people had neglected their networks. Because what generally happens when the market tends to contract is that organizations are looking to save costs. And one of the ways that you save costs is in the hiring process. That all those other channels that you had before when you were making hay and the bottom line looked great, actually you’re starting to look for different ways to bring on staff. And one of the best ways that people do it is through networks. It’s about being able to maintain your network throughout—well, starting right now if you’ve not been doing it—throughout this time. Because you know that you’ll need that network to start working for you in a really, a real and tangible way. Because that’s where most of the jobs will come from. It’ll be through people that you know.
The focus on skill building is interesting. Let’s say you’re still in school, or maybe a fairly recent graduate, and trying to use this time to position yourself for the next opportunity. Which skills would project leaders be well advised to try to add or burnish right now?
Yeah, it’s a difficult one, isn’t it, when we’re in a lockdown situation where most projects have now switched to working in a virtual environment. And trying to find potential opportunities when you’re new into project management, it’ll probably feel like the worst time to be trying to kick-start your career. Even if you’ve already been doing a lot of learning and development, it carries on. There’s a lifelong learning; there’s always stuff to be learning around project management.
I think what has been highlighted in the last month or so is just how much the communication skills have been coming to the fore. We know that communication’s always been a massive part of project management, but now the fact that we’re trying to, as project leaders, manage dispersed virtual teams, it’s almost like we’ve gone back to school almost. To find out, well, how do we keep people motivated and engaged? How do I make sure that their well-being’s all right? You know, how do I make sure that they’re on track with their deliverables and they’re checking in and all that kind of stuff?
There’ll always be things that need learning. And I think even though you’re raring to go and kick-start your career, it’s just that thing of saying, “Well look, carry on learning.” But I know that that’s not the answer that you’re looking for if you’re wanting to get on with your career. The thing is, there are pockets of opportunity. It’s not as if the employment market is completely disappeared. You know, organizations are still hiring, and it’s about understanding what those organizations are and what their particular opportunities are.
I mean, we’re seeing that this government sector especially has still got a lot of projects going. And obviously, it’s going to be the same worldwide. We’ve got a big pandemic. There’s a lot of work that’s coming out of essential government. So we’re seeing a lot of that obviously around healthcare. We’re certainly seeing a lot more around education and education tech. So there’s those things where they’re trying to do a lot more schooling, doing that virtually. There’s still a lot of stuff going on in terms of retail and the entertainment sector.
What about getting the job? This stands to be a pretty competitive job market, and it makes sense that applicants are going to want sparkling résumés and CVs. How do you suggest people position themselves to get the job?
When it comes to a crowded marketplace with lots of people that are suddenly looking for work, it’s always been the case that you want to find some way that you’re going to be able to stand out from other people that are around you. But what’s surprising over a decade ago is just how many project people hadn’t even done some of what we would call the fundamental certification-based training for project management.
A lot of it was down to, “Well, I’ve been working in the role for a long, long time and don’t feel that I need to have these certifications.” Which is fine if that’s the approach you want to take. However, it’s looking at it from the other side of the fence of an organization that has got a lot of choice in this marketplace. And they’ve got to take hundreds of people that might be applying for a particular role, and they’ve got to find a way to shortlist and manage those. And it is, unfortunately, one of the ways that they do that is by, this is a project manager and this is a certification that we recognize and great. So at least they’ve got past that part of the hurdle of the shortlisting.
So the first thing is those fundamentals of what is known in the marketplace for being a good certification, a recognized one. So you’re looking at your PMP®, for example.
The second level is the specialisms that come. So you’ve got that base foundational, “I’m a professional project manager, and here’s my certification that shows I’m committed to my career” and all that kind of good stuff. Second bit about the specialism is if you are working in an environment such as digital transformation, if you are working in an industry like that, it might be very IT or software focused. Right now, you can’t get away from the fact that agile is one of the ways that a lot of organizations have got switched onto being able to deliver these types of projects. If you’re in that sector, you absolutely have to be thinking about improving your knowledge and getting that kind of certification. Or more, whatever kind of training you want to pursue. But it’s absolutely something that you cannot ignore because you can bet that other people in your marketplace, your peers who will be your competition, will be doing those kind of things.
There’s other aspects, of course. If you were working in an environment which is very regulatory, you might want to pursue something more specialized, like your risk management types of training. If you’re working more in the portfolio levels of project management as a senior manager, again, you can look at the portfolio level and program management and so on. But it is about being able to show to the wider world that yes, okay, we know that you’re a great project manager—bags of experience and you’ve been doing a great job for some organizations. But it’s almost like that the door’s open and you’re back on the marketplace, that all of that just sometimes just, I have nothing to show, nothing tangible. I’ve got to wait until I get to an interview before I can actually tell people how great I am. It’s one of those things that gets put on the résumé and on your profiles that yes, this is a project manager. Yes, we can see that he’s done the formal training, and let’s have a look at that experience, and then let’s bring them in for an interview. That’s how it works.
As we think about young folks in particular moving toward project leadership in the post-pandemic world, how do you expect them to change the role of project leader? Or how do you expect the role of project leader to change on them? What might be different about the job compared to what they’ve been taught to expect?
What’s happening right now with a lot project teams that are, you know, they’re dispersed and they’re working virtually, and you are trying to keep the projects on track. There’s been a lot more talk and a lot more understanding around things like well-being and mental health and all of those kind of things, which we know translate into, you know, as a leader you’re practicing more servant leaderships-type styles rather than command and control. There’s the emotional intelligence and active listening and those kind of things. And I think that, to me, would signal a real step change from the old-guard project management, which is and has been for many years, about command and control.
But I like to think that some of the agile practices and stuff that have come in have actually helped in some ways for teams to kind of self-organize and work on, you know, how do we want to work together and all that kind of good stuff. And I think a future project leader is somebody that’s really tapped into that. And doesn’t want to go back to those times where it is all about: We’ve got this status meeting and I want to know what you’ve been doing, and I want to know that you’ve been hitting these targets. When actually it’s more of a continuous, you know, that we’re communicating every day. That we’re making sure we’re not leaving anybody behind, and if somebody’s struggling it’s not just up to the project manager to sort that out, but actually it’s a team thing. We’re in this together.
And I think a younger project professional in some ways it feels like it’s a strange time, and it’s not that easy to start working. But actually, you are seeing times right now that we’ve never seen in project management, which is that we are communicating so much because we don’t have those casual moments around the water cooler. It really is a time where being a leader that is more switched on into their emotional intelligence are going to do a lot, lot better than some of the project managers that are just used to just being able to bark out the orders and get the stuff done.
Times are moving on, and I think right now we’re seeing examples of it every day, and it just brings it back to me all the time. We say all the time that communication is the thing that keeps projects on track. And what’s happening right now is people are finding new and different ways to communicate. Not just through different meetings and face-to-face stuff like virtually, but different tools and technologies. And I think we’re really going to start to see younger project managers starting to pick up and really find the benefit of some of these technologies that I think are really going to change the way that teams are going to be working in the future.
If you are that young candidate, or young project professional, one advantage you have is that you are new blood, right? So if you’re joining an industry that is primed for reinvention, like it or not, that seems like maybe something to play up. Like it’s wise to position yourself as a change agent, whether that’s your mastery of new tools or your possession of emotional intelligence, those kinds of skills. Which of those would you emphasize, but more broadly, how do you craft that change agent story?
What I would love to hear more about is what are younger project professionals, when they are starting on their path and listening to the way that things are being done within their organization, I am absolutely sure that they have an internal voice that is saying to them right now, “Hey, why are we doing it like this? What possible reason could there be for approaching this particular situation like this?”
And I think that’s the problem, is that we don’t understand that, you know, there’s generationally anyway, there are going to be differences to the way that people want to work and the way that they want to get things done. And it’s trying to find that introspective of trying to, well, what could I offer that would change this up a little bit? And how could I introduce that little bit of work in that might be different?
And I think sometimes it is about finding the person within an organization... So imagine now I’ve got a mental picture that there’s a project manager that’s maybe a couple years out of university that’s been working alongside another project manager on a sizable piece of work, but you’re working very much as an assistant and learning the ropes as you’re going along. And I think in those kind of situations, it’s about being brave and about offering up, “Oh, have we thought about maybe trying it this way?” Or, “Maybe I could take the initiative, and can I suggest at the next team meeting that we try this little piece that might work in terms of getting more collaboration?”
I think it’s about being able to look around you in the situations that you’re working in right now and bringing your own unique perspectives based on the generation that you are, based on the age that you are, based on all those kind of things that the people that you’re working with might not even be aware of. But you’ll be surprised at just how open people are.
Find your voice. Make sure that when the world goes back to a new normal that people remember that actually you had some great contributions. And you’ll be in great stead for what the future might hold.
Speaking of professional preparation and growth, PMI has rolled out a few big initiatives in recent weeks. The headliner is that the exam for Project Management Professional, or PMP, certification is now offered online for the first time. It’s identical to the version administered at a test center: the same quality, the same questions, and there’s even a live proctor, but you can do it from home. In addition, PMI is offering three different, no-cost professional development courses online for those interested in using their surplus downtime to upskill.
I spoke to Mike DePrisco, PMI’s Vice President of Global Experience & Solutions, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA, about why and how PMI moved some of its most critical offerings into the digital realm.
The PMP certification exam is now being offered online. Tell us about the shift. Why did PMI decide to do this, and then what are you seeing in terms of response?
I think COVID-19 has really created a disruption to the point where it’s forced organizations to rethink how they deliver value to their customers. For PMI, it’s been a bit of a catalyst for us to take some steps in becoming more and more digital as an organization. In fact, we set as a goal for ourselves about a year ago when we embarked on a digital transformation that we were going to become a digital-first organization. And as it relates to the PMP exam and the decision to move to an online proctor test, when COVID-19 hit, many of our testing centers around the world were forced to close their doors because of local regulations that prevented them from having individuals gather in testing centers to complete tests.
We had already been experimenting with online proctor testing. In fact, two of our certifications, the ACP and the CAPM certifications, were being delivered through online proctor testing. We decided that this was a good time to move the PMP to the online proctor testing modality. So the change was driven in part by COVID-19, but it was also something that was part of our strategic roadmap and product roadmap as an organization that was striving to become digital-first.
One of your roles is to lead the customer experience design process, and you could argue that just from a macro level, moving this test online is a customer experience win. But within the testing experience, was there anything that you particularly had to grapple with in order to successfully move this into the digital realm?
I think for us, the biggest challenge was security, exam security. And I think for any organization that moves or has its IP online in a digital environment, you need to ensure that you’re taking the appropriate steps to protect it. In our case with the PMP, it’s considered the gold standard for project management certifications, and we want to make sure that we maintain the integrity and reliability of the exam, even though we’re making it available in a new modality, such as online. So the team spent a lot of time on that particular topic, making sure that from a user interface, user experience perspective, individuals could easily schedule from their home to take the exam 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whenever it made the most sense for them, we would have proctors available around the world to accommodate that, so that certainly was a big piece.
And then the second piece was making sure that the experience of taking the exam was well protected and well secured. And we use a combination of live proctors who are monitoring and screening individuals as they take the test, as well as AI tools and technology that monitors a test taker’s non-verbals and behavior as they’re taking tests to ensure that all the proper protocols are being followed as it relates to exam security.
Do you foresee a world in which you are fully electronic?
That’s what we’re planning for. We are planning and have already started on the journey of being able to deliver everything in a digital environment. In fact, as a global association, you can imagine, we put on a lot of events every year around the world, and we have transitioned all of our events this year to a virtual experience. And thus far, the response to that has been very good. We’ve seen attendance be maintained or double or triple in some cases online compared to what we used to do in a face-to-face environment.
So I think that’s really what we’re learning from this experience is that there is an appetite for more digital, and given the sophistication of digital platforms these days and the way that they have evolved, you can create a really good customer experience and creative options for individuals to connect online just as you could do it face-to-face. We’re excited about it. We think we’re well positioned to be able to serve our stakeholders through a digital, virtual way, and we’re off and running in that regard.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, work has changed. PMI has created a virtual resource hub where project professionals can connect and build skills for a post-COVID-19 world, which we’re all looking forward to. Can you walk us through some of those PMI offerings?
Yeah, absolutely. Again, this was an initiative that was created out of feedback that we were hearing from customers, that they were stuck at home, working from home. They were still looking for ways to take care of their professional development, and was PMI willing and able to deliver compelling, meaningful content that would allow them to accomplish those goals? So our teams worked to put together a package of free offerings, three courses: one that was focused on project management for beginners, one that was focused on agility in the PMO, and a third that was focused on business continuity, which was very relevant for today’s time.
Those courses are eligible for PDUs, which are professional development units that all exam certification holders need to earn to maintain their certification. We delivered them digitally through our LMS [learning management system], and they were very well received. In fact, within the past month, we’ve had more than 60,000 people take advantage of one of those free courses, and we’ve awarded more than 350,000 professional development units to the project management, project professional community. In addition to that, we use the resource hub as an opportunity to push out a number of new digital offerings that we’re making available to our community that are currently in a beta phase. So it gave us an opportunity to push new value out to the organization, let people go in and test it for us, give us feedback, learn some new things, see what PMI was up to in terms of new product development and innovation. And it’s really turned out to be a bright spot for us as part of this current shutdown and work-from-home situation that we find ourselves in.
Career-wise, what opportunities do you think might emerge as a result of this moment in history? How do you see project leaders and change-makers helping stand up the new post-COVID-19 world?
I think what COVID-19 has taught us all is that now probably more than ever, we need to be more agile. We need to be more adaptable and flexible and anticipate and embrace and welcome change. Recognize that it’s constant, recognize that at any given moment something can happen in the world that’s really going to put an immense amount of pressure on how you do business. The more that you can build in resilience, the more that you can build in innovation and creativity and curiosity into your organization and into your talent pool, the more quickly I think and the more capable you can be to recover from these types of situations.
And again, at PMI, we have long said that all change happens through projects and programs. We believe that this situation will create unique opportunities for project professionals to help our world recover from this major disruption, whether it’s rethinking business models, to rethinking how value gets delivered to customers, to rethinking the ways of working to include how do we best leverage AI, machine learning and other disruptive technology to accelerate change, to accelerate value delivery? How do project professionals leverage soft skills, or what we call power skills, to bring about and help organizations change?
We talk about power skills as things like your ability to influence, your ability to be creative, to communicate effectively and collaborate. They are things that, up to this point, machines can’t do. But if you combine the power of technology with power skills that an individual brings to the table, then you can accomplish some pretty amazing things. We at PMI are really thinking about how can we best equip project professionals with the skills, capabilities and experiences they need to truly help our world recover from this difficult and disruptive time.
We spoke at the top of the episode about looking at the opportunities emerging because of COVID-19: Many aspects of society, and business, will look quite different going forward, and that sets the stage for project professionals to lead the way. This era of change is being forced upon organizations around the world, all at the same time, with no clear target or desired end state in view. That means we need talented leaders and change-makers to help stand up this new world and who will work to ensure that the next normal is better than the old normal.
If that’s you, well: Apologies for the current state of the global economy, but we are glad you’re here because we need you. Now let’s get to work.
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