24 February 2021

Career adaptability after the pandemic

By Dr Fung Chorng Yuan and Dr Ki Yen Ping

Career, a term that many people would relate to their specialisation area, or only, their job. However, a career is more than that. It encapsulates one’s source of income and the future work direction and where they will invest their time and resources. The traditional view of career focuses on the prospects that an organisation can offer to its employees. A good employer is the one who could provide a bright career path to its employees. Hence, the employees’ career development, to a large extend, depends solely on their current employers. These developments include training and developing the skills and knowledge the employees needed in their future career within that organisation.

Many of us have seen the shocking changes that COVID-19 has brought to the world. Malaysia is not an exception. The landscape of the business environment is full of uncertainty and instability. Many organisations went through restructuring or down-sizing to weather through the pandemic. Some organisations had no choice but to retrench staff to survive. Other organisations chose to have a more flexible workforce, giving the organisations the space for more efficient cost management. Jobs are now much less clearly defined and less predictable.

Hence, employees need to change the way they perceive career development. Employees need to have a boundary less mindset and proactive personality. When jobs are scarce, employees need to take more pro-active steps seeking jobs! Such character will drive a person to monitor the environment and seek opportunities continually. Taking responsibility for action is of the essence.

The term career adaptability refers to a psychosocial construct where an individual utilises the available resources for coping with current and anticipated tasks, transitions, and traumas in their occupational roles. Career adaptability encompasses adaptive readiness, adaptability resources and adapting responses.

Adaptive readiness refers to a psychological trait of flexibility or willingness to meet unfamiliar challenges from the changing environment. Empirical research has suggested personalities such as extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, are indicators of high adaptive readiness as they are positively related to career adaptability.

Career adaptability resources refer to psychological strengths that influence self-regulation in coping with tasks, transitions, and traumas. In career development, these resources positively affect various career-related outcomes such as job search self-efficacy and change of employment status. Moreover, an increase in career adaptability resources has been found to raise the chances of finding a good job and better life satisfaction. Lastly, adapting responses are the behaviours that address changing conditions, such as career exploration, career planning, or career decision making.

Career adaptability is highly essential for all employees in today’s volatile environment. However, employees need to translate these adaptabilities into action. Two things we want to share with those who are under employment. Firstly, all employees need to improve themselves continuously. Such an improvement could be technical skills or soft skills. This will better equip them for any uncertainty in the future. As the Chinese saying goes, ‘Train your army well for a thousand days just to prepare them for a one-day battle’.

A few weeks ago, a piece of news went viral on the internet. It was about an ex-civil aircraft pilot, after losing his job, now operates a burger stall. According to the news report, his business was quite good because he made tasty burgers. This was because both he and his wife were burger lovers, and they capitalised their burger-making skills into a business venture. We are not suggesting that everyone should be selling burgers, but it is always our advantage if we have more skills in our hands.

Secondly, be aware of the changes in our environment, especially those that could adversely affect our company’s businesses. Self-awareness of our environmental change will help us to be more prepared for the unexpected. Moreover, having an open mind is also essential. Flexible working hours, work-from-home or multiple part-time jobs could very well be the future. These have already happened in some European countries, Australia and America.

In conclusion, career adaptability requires us to be equipped with more skills, and continuous monitoring and assessing of changes happening around us. We all need to make the required changes to remain resilient in the face of various challenges.  

Dr Fung Chorng Yuan is a senior lecturer and Dr Ki Yen Ping is a lecturer at the School of Business, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. They can be reached via email at cfung@swinburne.edu.my / yki@swinburne.edu.my.