Q: My partner and I are in our 50s and we were laid off when the pandemic hit. Now we’re both afraid that our jobs won’t be around after our CERB benefits run out. I work in a tourism-related industry and it will take a long time before we’re back to work. My partner works for a company that provides specialized services to companies that put on large events like conferences or concerts. His company is downsizing drastically to try and survive long enough to rebuild. We hope they make it, but things look pretty grim right now. There’s even been talk about some people taking early retirement. Thank goodness the emergency benefit was just extended for two more months but we really don’t know what we’ll do afterward if both of us aren’t able to go back to work. Any suggestions? ~Heather
A: It is unclear what the job situation will be once economic recovery from the pandemic is well underway. Right now, every employer is needing to make decisions about how to navigate through the challenges of these ever-changing times. There will, unfortunately, be jobs and companies that don’t survive at all. There will be industries where recovery won’t be possible until the coronavirus is treated or managed more effectively. Others will make adjustments to survive and meet demand. Some companies will stay strong and grow.
However, just as companies are looking at their options, employees who have been laid off or who think they might not have a job to go back to in the near future should be doing the same. This might even be the time to try something that you had been afraid to try before. There’s no shame in being laid off. It can happen to anyone and is often due to reasons beyond our control. But when faced with an uncertain future, taking steps to control what you can will ease your worries and help you regain stability as soon as possible.
Evaluate your finances realistically
The first step in regaining control is to see where you stand. Your decisions regarding your future will depend on whether you think you’ll be back to work within about three to six months, or if it will be a year or more before there’s any chance you might be called back.
When it comes to considering your finances, outline a budget to see how much you need to earn to make ends meet versus live more comfortably. Include allocations for essential irregular expenses and debt payments. Consider what your overall financial picture looks like and if you have options to keep you going once government income supports end.
If you haven’t yet taken advantage of payment deferral options from your creditors, contact them to see how long it will be before the expected end of these programs. If there’s a chance you’ll need these programs and you haven’t used them yet, don’t miss out.
There’s no guarantee that CERB will be extended again, so be sure to look for ways to keep your debt under control while you’re still laid off. It can be tempting to start spending again now that these initial months of the lockdown are behind us. However, due to your debt load, you don’t want to feel forced to take any job regardless of the pay or feel like you have no option but to accept a permanent layoff offer from your employer.
Resist trying to plan for everything
As stressful as this time is, it can be tempting to try and prepare yourself for every possible scenario of what you might encounter post-pandemic. Resist the temptation to do that because there’s no possible way to plan for every eventuality. This is an unprecedented time and no one has a crystal ball to tell you how things will unfold. Instead, put your efforts into positioning yourself as favourably as possible so that you can respond quickly when the time is right or if an opportunity presents itself.
Try to understand the economic outlook for your particular industry. For instance, if you believe that your industry will come back at some point, but it could take 18 months or so, spending your time now taking courses that boost your skills and/or credentials would be a smart move. This will make you an attractive employee to keep, or hire, depending on which way your situation turns out.
Capitalize on your transferable skills
If there is a real possibility that you will be searching for a new job in a different industry, think about your transferable skills. Many people forget that while they do a specific job, a lot of the skills they need to do that job are not job specific.
For instance, if you’ve always worked in a tourism-related industry and work dried up when the pandemic hit and the border closed, you likely have developed solid customer service skills. There are plenty of employers who would be happy to hire you because they know that it’s easier to bring someone on board if they already come equipped with soft skills based on aptitude. Soft skills are typically the more valuable skills and are often the ones that take the longest — and are the hardest — to teach someone.
Customer service and providing an exceptional client experience set employers apart. Employers whose businesses have been positively impacted by shifts due to COVID-19 will want to hear from you if you’re able to coach, mentor or train others, because you have years of industry experience. This will help them immensely as they look at their staffing and training needs going forward. Any technical or creative skills you have that can’t be outsourced to machines can be priceless.
Take the time to think about your transferable skills and become familiar with industries that are likely to be hiring sooner than the industry you last worked in. Learn how to craft a skills-based resumé, rather than a strictly chronological one. And don’t underestimate the importance of improving your credentials, volunteering to keep your skills current and to gain insights into industries you may want to work in, and networking effectively. There are courses you can take online while you’re still off work to help you with most of these things.
Is early retirement worth it?
If there’s a chance you’ll be offered a buyout to take early retirement you may want to consult a professional, e.g. a certified financial advisor , before making a decision. There are many considerations, including: if the buyout amount is enough to bridge your income until it makes sense to draw on pension income; what your current retirement savings accounts look like given recent market volatility; where you stand financially right now with obligations and how those would be resolved with reduced income; how inflation and other economic factors may impact your future; as well as your plans for your retirement lifestyle and future health-care costs.
If you have marketable skills and can continue working elsewhere, even part-time or on contract, that could help make an early retirement option feasible. You’re ultimately the only one who can determine if early retirement is worth it for you and your family or not, and it’s a big decision, especially if you don’t have alternative employment waiting in the wings.
The bottom line on job prospects after the pandemic
Assumptions we’ve had about how our working life will unfold have been all but thrown out the window in 2020. Facing the prospect that we may be forced out of work or face reduced income on a time schedule we didn’t set is stressful. Change, whether it’s for the good or the bad, can be hard, and the pandemic is rewriting many of the norms we’ve come to depend on. If you’re finding it hard to be even a little optimistic, think of the proverbial cup analogy. Whether you view it half full or half empty misses the point; it’s a cup, it can be refilled.
Scott Hannah is president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Scott by email , check nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.
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