Survival of the wisest, not the fittest!

Updated January 06, 2020

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IF 2019 was annus horribilis for the job market, there is little, if anything, to suggest that 2020 will somehow be annus mirabilis. At best, it will be more of the same without things getting any worse and the scene getting any murkier than what they already are. This is the most sanitised version of how human resource decision-makers and warming-the-bench job-seekers describe the current employment situation. Many among the latter take little time expressing their intense desire to get hold of those who had promised on national television thousands, if not millions, of jobs “within no time”. But that is more an expression of mounting frustration than anything else, and, as such, does not make the cut here.

Farrukh Siddiqui, a recruitment manager at WH-Select, a local associate of Ward Howell International, describes the situation in the most tangible terms. “If you are at work and getting a pay cheque at the end of the month, be happy. This is not a time where the survival of the fittest theory applies. Even the fittest may fall flat on the face with one wrong move. The current job market is all about the survival of the wisest. If you are getting, say, amount X at your job and get an offer for X+Y, don’t move till you are dead sure about the sustainability of the offer in hand. Likewise, if you are offered X-Y, make the move if you are not sure of the sustainability of your current placement. It’s time for strategic thinking, as the market is in a downward spiral and it helps to be on as firm a ground as possible,” says Mr Siddiqui, echoing a sentiment that is expressed by other recruiters as well.

The reason, he adds, is the simple demand-supply rule. In the face of a never-ending supply owing to fresh graduates and retrenched professionals, and a non-existent demand in the wake of uncertain and shrinking economy, the dice is seriously loaded against job-seekers. Retail and construction sectors, among others, have taken a definite hit and apparently there is nothing to suggest that 2020 will be the year of the turnaround, according to Mr Siddiqui.

For those on the verge of feeling depressed, however, some encouraging words come from Bank Alfalah. “With the increase in the regulatory reporting, State Bank (SBP) policy implementation along with digitisation, Compliance, Digital and Information Security are the growing areas in comparison to other functions. In the coming years we anticipate more opportunities for fresh and mid-level entrants in these areas. In the light of the above, there will be greater demand for technical skill set even in support functions like Marketing, HR, Risk Management, etc.”

But before you get excited and start working on your CV, please note that the bank took two days drafting this crafty reply and another day deciding if some individual will own it. Besides, the scenario drawn is in terms of “coming years”, so you can easily spend 2020 just thinking about it!

A little more realistic words come from Ali Khurram Pasha, who is currently the HR director at Habib University but has spent well over a decade in the mainstream corporate sector. “After a year of budget cuts and downsizing, the latter half of 2020 seems to be a much better bet for job-hunters, provided there are no major alarms in the meantime. Small businesses have already started doing better and big business is likely to take that trajectory as well. Having said that, each industry has its own recovery cycle and things will be different for people in, say, the auto industry from those in, say, textiles,” says Mr Pasha.

“Replacement hirings are still taking place and fresh entrants can always look up to management training programmes,” he says, but his advice to the mid-level professional is against switching jobs right now. “This is not the time,” he says.

Taking the discussion forward is Saman Chishtie Qureshi, the HR team leader at Dawlance. “With the manufacturing sector almost silent and with rumours of this multinational (MNC) or that cutting down size or, even worse, winding up, job security for the mid-level professional having spent three to ten years in a single trade and field is nothing short of being a nightmare,” says Ms Qureshi.

What she says next is a bit more interesting. “Talking of the short terms, I don’t see things moving north. At best, they might stabilise or maybe we will learn to live with it and that will give us a sense of stability.”

One factor of relief that might get injected into the job market, Ms Qureshi thinks, will be the probability of professionals moving abroad that might create a bit of space for those left behind. But this particular aspect is shot down by Wajahat Ali Mirza, a chartered accountant working in the Gulf, who thinks just the opposite might happen.

“In the wake of Brexit, a lot of people in Europe stand to lose their jobs and most of them will ultimately land in the Gulf and the Middle East where the ‘white skin syndrome’ is still as active as it ever was. Once they get employed, the already employed Pakistanis will find themselves moving back home. The year 2020 may well see a glut of qualified white-collar Pakistanis returning and causing further imbalance in the demand-supply equation,” he says, painting a picture that is anything but rosy.

The sense coming from the job market for the mid-level professional, as such, is to make hay while they are still employed. It is time to lie low in the trenches and not to raise your head unnecessarily to look around. You never know when a sniper’s bullet might blow your head away.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 6th, 2020