When COVID-19 impacted the job market last year, I started tracking new hires in my network consisting of mainly project management professionals. In July 2020, there were fewer than 10 new hires a week and about 30 a month. Fast forward to 2021, there were more than a hundred new hires and promotions per month in February, March, and April. The volume increased so much that I stopped manually counting the new job notifications on LinkedIn. These numbers from my project management network correlate with the overall North American job recovery numbers and are indicative of a rising tide of jobs for project managers.
What about longer-term job prospects beyond the impact from the pandemic? The best crystal ball I have found to look into the future of project management jobs is the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. The most recent version was published in October 2020. In the list of the top 20 jobs in increasing demand generally across all sectors, project manager came out in the 11th spot. At first blush, this is great news and a cause for celebration. However, if you take a deeper dive into the details of the WEF jobs report, there are many caveats. These project management jobs that are in demand may not be your job. Depending on your industry and domain of expertise, your particular project management job could be in decline while at the same time, other project management jobs could be sprouting in newer, emerging sectors.
I read the through the WEF jobs report in detail from the perspective of the project manager. Here are five highlights as well as five insights to leverage for your long-term project management career.
Highlight #1: Project Management Jobs Recovery is Underway
As forecasted, US unemployment rate has fallen to below 6% in 2021 from a high of 14.7% in 2020. We already spoke about this earlier. Suffice to say that project management jobs recovery is in alignment with the general employment statistics in both Canada and the United States. So if you are currently out of a job, your chances of getting a job will only increase as the year goes on.
Highlight #2: Hybrid Remote and Onsite Work Could be the New Normal
The pandemic forced 44% of the workforce to work remotely. Chief Human Resource Officers surveyed by WEF aspired to expand the availability of remote work post-pandemic. This corroborates with results of a FlexJobs survey in 2021 that employees too, want more remote work post-pandemic.
A number of my coaching clients have started new project manager positions that are 100% remote. Not only are they working in different timezones within North America, they are also working from different countries internationally. No longer constrained by national borders, corporations are increasingly sourcing for the best project management talent worldwide. While the pandemic has by-and-large shutdown the Canadian-US border, I have a client who regularly crossed the border for work as a project manager for a multinational.
Highlight #3: COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of new technologies
The WEF crystal ball also predicts that these will be the top 10 technologies adopted by 2025. The top 5 on this list have already gained considerable momentum as part of the 4th Industrial Revolution. COVID-19 served to accelerate their adoption and the demise of older technologies.
- Cloud computing
- Big data analytics
- Internet of things and connected devices
- Encryption and cybersecurity
- Artificial Intelligence (including Machine Learning and Neuro-Linguistic Programming)
- Text, image and voice processing
- E-commerce and digital trade
- Robots, non-humanoid e.g. industrial automation, drones
- Augmented and virtual reality
- Distributed ledger technology e.g. blockchain
An example of how the pandemic fueled the adoption of new technologies comes from the music industry. With ticket sales from concerts declining to zero, music bands were forced to look for other innovative ways to generate revenue. So the Kings of Leon became the first band to release an album as a Non-Fungible Token with special perks like limited-edition vinyl and front row seats to future concerts. This would not have happened so fast if the band had continued to rake in revenue from live concert ticket sales.
Highlight #4: Changes to the Workforce
The rapid adoption of new technologies will have an impact to the workforce. Translation: if your job relies on old technology, it may not be secure. Think of Blockbuster video versus Netflix and hotels versus airBnB. With the lifting of dining and travel restrictions, industries that laid off workers are now having to rapidly rehire and retrain. To future proof your career, the question to ask is: “What industries will not be impacted by a future pandemic?”
Here are the top 5 changes to the workforce by 2025:
- Modify the composition of one’s value chain. Not only will some departments add more value compared to other departments. Some companies will be providing more value than others.
- Reduce current workforce due to technological integration or automation. If a robot or algorithm can do the task, it will be automated.
- Expand the use of contractors doing task-specialized work. There will be fewer permanent full-time employees as more tasks become automated. The remaining tasks will be outsourced to contractors. This is part of what the Project Management Institute calls the Projectized Economy of the future. Project managers will increasingly be hired on highly-paid contracts for specialized work.
- Modify the locations where the organization operates. The competition for talent is now worldwide. A client of mine told me he spoke with 7 international coaches from different countries before he hired me. It used to be that CEOs were sourced from a global pool of candidates. The competition for your next project management job could be worldwide.
- Expand current workforce due to technological integration or automation. This is likely for companies providing new technological solutions. Think airBnB, Uber, Zoom, and the many new startups born in the past year.
Highlight #5: Share of tasks performed by humans vs. machines
Here are the top 10 tasks which will shift to from humans to machines
- Information and data processing
- Looking for and receiving job-related information
- Performing complex and technical activities
- Identifying and evaluating job-related information
- All tasks
- Performing physical and manual work activities
- Communicating and interacting
- Reasoning and decision-making
- Coordinating, developing, managing and advising
Many small companies are extremely good at leveraging technology to expand. Whereas established larger companies find it more challenging to retool and change processes from what has been working well in the past. Many of the projects in the coming year will be to help with these digital transformations. That said, this is a good point to transition from highlights to insights.
Insight #1: AI and automation may replace your job
Here’s the list of top 20 jobs in decreasing demand over the next five years (2020-2025). The good news is that project manager jobs is not on this list. But that is a false sense of security. Depending on your industry and company, your particular project management job could be at risk.
- Data Entry Clerks
- Administrative and Executive Secretaries
- Accounting, Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks
- Accountants and Auditors
- Assembly and Factory Workers
- Business Services and Administration Managers
- Client Information and Customer Service Workers
- General and Operations Managers
- Mechanics and Machinery Repairers
- Material-Recording and Stock-Keeping Clerks
- Financial Analysts
- Postal Service Clerks
- Sales Rep, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Technology and Scientific Products
- Relationship Managers
- Bank Tellers and Related Clerks
- Door-To-Door Sales, News and Street Vendors
- Electronics and Telecom Installers and Repairers
- Human Resources Specialists
- Training and Development Specialists
- Construction Labourers
Whether or not your job is in decline, here’s what we can all learn from the list of jobs in decreasing demand:
- After businesses complete their digital transformation projects, in-person and human-mediated activities shift to online self-service transactions:
- data entry will be performed by clients and users online,
- information will be disseminated online
- shift towards customer self-service and the use of AI based chatbots like Alexa
- fewer physical letters and trend towards electronic communications continues
- selling and buying done online
- banking done online
- client relationship management is automated and done online
- on-demand online training replaces in-person training
- Repetitive, operational work will be automated
- Administrative and secretarial work
- Accounting and bookkeeping work
- Standard reporting
- Brainwork will be augmented by Machine Learning and AI
- Financial analysis and audit work
- General and operational management
- Initial selection and vetting of job candidates done by AI
- Physical work replaced by robots
- Impacting assembly and factory workers
- Construction done by robots
- IoT infrastructure will be in place within the next five years
Insight #2: PMs to focus on projects that enable the trend towards digitization
WEF’s Future of Jobs report listed these top jobs in increasing demand over the next five years (2020-2025):
- Data Analysts and Scientists
- AI and Machine Learning Specialists
- Big Data Specialists
- Digital Marketing and Strategy Specialists
- Process Automation Specialists
- Business Development Professionals
- Digital Transformation Specialists
- Information Security Analysts
- Software and Application Developers
- Internet of Things Specialists
- Project Managers
What types of projects will project managers be focused on in the coming years? Take a look at the jobs in bold. They indicate the what’s going to be new and in demand in the future. To get us there, we will need PMs to run:
- Digital transformation projects
- Robotic Process Automation projects
- Big Data, AI and Machine Learning projects
- Internet-of-Things projects
Insight #3: Three skills gaps for project managers to explore
Among the skills gaps listed above, there are three that project managers can exploit in order to advance their careers:
- Skills gaps among organization’s leadership
- Lack of interest among leadership
- Insufficient understanding of opportunities
PMs can exploit these barriers by demonstrating leadership in these areas. This will propel you into future leadership opportunities. If you are currently employed, develop your self-management skills such as mindfulness, meditation, gratitude and kindness. If you are seeking employment, emphasize emerging skills e.g. Cloud Computing, Data and AI.
Insight #4: Project manager jobs will require new skills.
According to the WEF, back in 2017, the half-life of professional skills was 5 years. That means that in five years, half of what you know now will be obsolete. In the 2020 Future of Jobs report, WEF highlights that 40% of workers, including those in project manager jobs, will require reskilling of six months or less. What new skills do you need to master?
WEF published these top 15 skills for 2025. I have highlighted 12 that are relevant for project managers. The good news is that these skills don’t need an investment of years and a college degree. You can learn these skills in weeks or months via online courses. What’s most important is to start applying these skills at work and in life, to adopt them as habits so they become ingrained in you.
Top 15 skills for 2025. The Top 12 broad skills for project managers to master are in bold.
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Creativity, originality and initiative
- Leadership and social influence
- Technology use, monitoring and control
- Technology design and programming
- Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
- Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation
- Emotional intelligence
- Troubleshooting and user experience
- Service orientation
- Systems analysis and evaluation
- Persuasion and negotiation
Insight #5: Pivot from Project Manager Jobs to Product Development
In addition to broad skills, WEF also published a list of the top cross-cutting, specialized skills of the future. Do you notice what’s missing? That’s right, project management noticeably missing from this list. Although project manager jobs is a role in increasing demand, project management is not a skill that is in demand. You should start hearing the emergency siren now. You need to start planning to transition from general project management to specialized project management. So I have highlighted some skills that I think are relevant and easier for project managers to pick up.
- Product Marketing
- Digital Marketing
- Software Development Life Cycle
- Business Management
- Human Computer Interaction
- Development Tools
- Data Storage Technologies
- Computer Networking
- Web Development
- Management Consulting
- Artificial Intelligence
- Data Science
- Retail Sales
- Technical Support
- Social Media
- Graphic Design
- Information Management
The WEF also published a list of current jobs that will need to transition into Jobs of the Future. Program and Project Management is listed as a job type that will become less relevant. While there are many paths to choose from, most will take the journey to Product Development.
Rapid change is underway as part of the 4th Industrial Revolution and in response to the pandemic. Although project manager jobs will be in increasing demand in the short term. Over the far horizon, project management is a skill that’s in decline. You need to reskill and upskill over the next five years. You may also need to chart a roadmap for a career transition. If you are ready to invest in yourself and take your career to the next level, schedule a strategy session with me.
Meet Wan How, PMP, PMI-ACP
Wan How is a career and project management coach specializing in helping project professionals advance their careers. In his project management career, Wan successfully rescued many troubled projects. These included turning around projects headed for failure within 30 days and compressing project timelines by half to deliver benefits in one year instead of two.
Wan has over twenty years of project management experience in traditional, agile and hybrid approaches. As the leader of a Project Management Office, he led a team of project managers and business analysts to deliver corporate projects tied to the organization's business plan and strategic objectives. He has worked in the information technology, government, higher education, oil and gas, and engineering sectors.
Wan is a graduate of Cambridge University. His areas of expertise include project management, IT management and facilitation. In addition to the PMP, Wan is an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP). He has also attained the Certified Professional Facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators.
What to learn more about Wan?
Visit his website: https://www.wanhow.com