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Five skills you need to master if you want to land your dream job

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A defining image of 2020 was the conga line of people from all walks of life, queuing outside Centrelink offices. As lockdowns were imposed, jobs were axed by the thousands. In just a few weeks between March and May, 872,000 people found themselves unemployed.

It's hard to believe, but things could have been a lot worse. Reserve Bank analysis shows the JobKeeper scheme saved at least 700,000 jobs.

Fast-forward to 2021 and the picture is far brighter. Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, says 90% of the jobs lost between March and May have now been recovered.

five skills to master to land your dream job

ANZ's Job Ad series backs this up, with 159,000 new positions advertised in December, building on the trend of more than 100,000 listings each month since the middle of 2020.

"The fast-paced recovery in ANZ Job Ads means solid employment gains should continue into early 2021 at least. It also suggests the unemployment rate could fall quite quickly," says Catherine Birch, senior economist at ANZ.

While Birch cautions that the end of JobKeeper on March 31 and any future spikes in COVID-19 cases could alter the outlook, research by the recruitment agency Robert Half confirms that one in three businesses plan to expand their teams, adding new positions in the first half of 2021.

It's good news for job seekers, but we're not out of the woods yet. Jarvis says part-time rather than full-time positions account for a big chunk of employment growth. This can leave workers hankering for extra hours in a bid to boost take-home pay.

If that sounds like you - or if you've been rattled by the wave of job losses that swept the country - 2021 could be the year to reassess your career options. However, the world has changed, and landing a dream job can now involve a lot more than trawling through "position vacant" ads.

1. Know where today's jobs are

Getting your career back on track means knowing where the jobs of the future lie. The Robert Half study found the top five sectors driving demand for talent in 2021 are: information technology; healthcare, hospitals and social assistance; retail; financial services; and non-profit.

Within each of these sectors, some skills are more sought-after than others. What's certain is that the days of being a jack-of-all-trades are numbered.

"Companies are struggling to find specialised skill sets, which are vital to support short- and longer-term business priorities," says David Jones, Robert Half's senior managing director, Asia Pacific.

Recruiting firm Hays has compiled a "top 100" list of in-demand skills across a range of industries for 2021. Among them are qualified accountants, brokers, systems engineers and early childhood teachers. It's a diverse mix though the common thread is the need for tertiary qualifications.

According to the National Skills Commission (NSC), that's nothing new. Over the past 10 years the number of jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or higher has jumped by 27%. It makes investing in your skills and education a sensible career move, and it's not just about landing a decent job - it can also recession-proof your income.

2. Upskill, reskill or retrain

As a guide to the value of skills and qualifications, the NSC looked at how well 358 occupations coped with the pandemic fallout. It found the majority of roles that weathered the storm without too much impact require tertiary qualifications.

STEM occupations - those involving science, technology, engineering or mathematics - were over-represented in the "resilient" list. The NSC says this highlights the importance of these skills in the economy, and it's something to bear in mind if you're planning tertiary study in 2021.

"In 2020, TAFE NSW saw a surge in short courses, with more than 115,000 enrolments in the NSW government's fee-free COVID-19 short-course program," says Alexandria Arfanis, of TAFE NSW. "This year we are seeing more students who are looking to switch careers due to the impacts of COVID-19 and re-skill for the job they want."

A number of universities are also seeing an influx of students. The University of Queensland has offered places to more than 9500 prospective students this year, up from 8700 in 2020. It reports a 12% rise in applications from non-school leavers.

"There has been particularly strong interest this year from people turning to study to enhance their career prospects," says Professor Joanne Wright, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at the University of Queensland. The most popular courses have been nursing and midwifery, engineering, law and computer science, which tee up with occupations experiencing high demand.

If your budget or study timeframe don't extend to a university degree, don't overlook vocational training. The federal government's $1 billion JobTrainer scheme is making up to 320,000 additional training places available in free or low-cost TAFE courses that deliver Certificate II and Certificate III qualifications. The courses focus on areas likely to experience job growth, such as healthcare and social assistance, transport, warehousing, manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade.

"The length varies from course to course," says Arfanis. "Typically, short courses can be completed in just days or weeks, offering practical skills and experiences across a range of industries. And with some courses being online, there is greater freedom to progress at your own pace."

The JobTrainer scheme is open to job seekers including school leavers. For more details head to myskills.gov.au.

3. Adaptability is critical 

Technical skills and qualifications can provide a headstart in the workforce, but if there's one "soft" skill that will top all in 2021, it's adaptability, says Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays Australia and New Zealand. "This is a critical skill given how much change is occurring both within organisations and the wider world of work."

Adaptability has been instrumental in helping former Virgin Australia pilot Andres Czajkowski navigate the pandemic.

He describes flying as one of his great passions, and says it was a "huge shock to the system" when he was made redundant in April 2020. With a young family to support, he is grateful he'd had the foresight to build rainy day savings. "It gave me breathing space to think about what I wanted to do rather than having to take the first job that came along."

As the pandemic deepened, it became clear that flying was off the radar for the immediate future. So Czajkowski put some very different skills to work.

"I asked myself what I enjoy doing - and I've always loved dinosaurs. I started sculpting dinosaurs and selling them online, which led to a role as an apprentice sculptor with a company that designs fibreglass animals for playgrounds," he says. Today Czajkowski works on the Gold Coast as part of the team building sets for Ron Howard's upcoming Thai cave rescue film Thirteen Lives.
Czajkowski isn't the only pilot who's had to reset a career flight path. "Plenty of pilots are now truck drivers, and a lot are working at Woolworths [which partnered with Qantas to redeploy former airline workers]. Unfortunately, some are still unemployed."

The National Skills Commission anticipates that demand for airline pilots will skyrocket over the next four years as borders re-open and air travel returns to pre-COVID levels. When that happens, Czajkowski hopes to return to the cockpit. Until then, his willingness to adapt has opened new career opportunities.

4. Join the gig economy 

Over the past 12 months, the ranks of self-employed workers have swelled by 50,000 as more people try their hand in the gig economy.

Lockdowns drove demand for food delivery services, which helped propel "drivers" to seventh spot in the top 10 most resilient jobs of 2020.

But gig work is open to everyone, including skilled professionals, and Matt Barrie, chief executive and chairman of freelancer.com, the marketplace website, believes the pandemic is proving a major turning point for the gig economy.

He says COVID is likely to drive "a permanent step-change in both working from home and the use of freelancers by businesses". Demand for freelancers started rising from March 2020 and by the second half of the year the number of users who joined Freelancer - including employers looking for freelancers - had surged enormously.

Freelancer figures show eight out of the 10 fastest growing gigs last year involved app development and website development. Programming skills were in hot demand too. 
At the other end of the spectrum, jobs for grant writers, who prepare submissions for funding, declined by more than 60% as economies shrank and governments reallocated money to other areas.

5. Putting it all in place

Recruitment agency Robert Half's David Jones sums up the job market: "With increasingly positive sentiment and encouraging employment numbers, early indications are that 2021 is going to be a year of recovery and rebuilding for companies and workers alike."
By maintaining an open mind, tapping into all your skills and gaining new ones if necessary, the year ahead could bring big things.

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A former Chartered Accountant, Nicola Field has been a regular contributor to Money for 20 years, and writes on personal finance issues for some of Australia's largest financial institutions. She is the author of Investing in Your Child's Future and Baby or Bust, and has collaborated with Paul Clitheroe on a variety of projects including radio scripts, newspaper columns, and several books.
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