As per the International Labour Organization, approximately 400 million people have lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and the world economy is predicted to shrink by 5.2% this year as per the World Bank. What does it mean really when we say the economy is shrinking and there is massive job loss? At the fundamental level, all jobs around us (or claim to engage) in life-enhancing activities – they either strive to improve the quality of life or its duration. They fulfill a human need.  A musician enhances the quality of life by improving (hopefully) one’s state of mind. A farmer enhances life by producing food that sustains life. You go up and down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and you will realize that there is a profession for each level of the hierarchy with its associated industries and jobs.

Let me qualify my statements by saying that the value of a job is in its ability to enhance life for some human beings, not necessarily for humanity in general. So if someone is working in an oil extraction business, they are contributing towards life enhancement for the oil company owners and its consumers, but they are working towards the life degradation of humanity in the long run by facilitating increased carbon emissions. Further, some people can have a higher quantum of self-actualization needs than esteem or physiological needs and may strive to first become a virtuoso violinist or a top-class philosopher before earning enough for their daily bread – something that the Cornell and then Yale based Psychologist Clayton Alderfer has adequately demonstrated through is ERG theory. Alderfer says that human beings have three bundles of needs – Existence, Relatedness, and Growth – that correspond to the Maslow pyramid, but there may not exist a necessary hierarchy in those needs.

To understand what has happened as a result of the pandemic, we need to dig a little deeper into the Maslow’s pyramid. When we see job loss due to the pandemic or the shrinking of the economy, does it mean that the total quantity of needs among human beings has shrunken – so there are lesser lives to be enhanced, therefore lesser jobs? Or does it mean that many of the activities that we were engaged in do not have life-enhancing potential anymore? To an extent both are true. The world has lost approximately 790,000 people as of August 20, 2020, as a result of the coronavirus, and estimates of the total death toll are inconclusive. However, in addition to the shrinking population and the resultant reduction of the “total set of needs” there has been a qualitative shift in needs.  What has happened is that the world has changed and the activities that occupied the top priority ladder for life enhancement, have been replaced by other activities. Let us say, for the sake of simplification, if the world was consuming 60 units of healthcare and 40 units of entertainment, it would now consume 80 units of healthcare and 20 units of entertainment.

The Re-Prioritization of the Needs Hierarchy

The world is undergoing a re-prioritization – or what Prof. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, has called – “The Great Reset” – as is the theme of the 2021 World Economic Forum summit at Davos. In these changing priorities, there is a greater focus on sustainable development and the reiterated need for focusing on the basics – health, education, nutrition, biodiversity, clean energy etc. The changing of gears indeed is causing a shrinking of economy, but it is more a re-orientation than a reduction.

In the post COVID world, jobs that will be directly related to the sectors which have gained greater priority on the “life-enhancing” scale, are likely to grow. Similarly, other jobs that may not be directly related to things such as healthcare, nutrition, clean energy, etc. are likely to reorient themselves towards these goals. So while you enjoyed movies about the casino going, private jet owning corporate tycoon living a high life selling soft drinks, you are now more likely to see and even pay for movies about the adventures of a development worker building fortunes or a great name for herself building low emission fuel, or clear air technology, or setting up a company that teaches coding to kids in a developing country. By the way, she also rides her cycle to work to reduce her carbon footprint. Technology, trade, businesses, and even entertainment all are likely to reorder themselves – because money is to be made elsewhere, the life-enhancing sectors have been re-prioritized.

Building Resilient Careers in the 21st Century through High Quality and Short-term Fellowships

To build successful careers in the 21st century not only will people need to re-orient towards newer sectors, but they will also need to learn new skills, learn from a new variety of people, and learn them often. The future of building successful careers lies in learning about critical life-enhancing pursuits and learning new skills throughout one’s lifetime. This would need short term but high intensity learning programs and fellowships that people can undergo at multiple stages of their lives to keep themselves current and updated with the knowledge and skills of the changing times.

With the changing needs of the time, an education system wherein you entered only once and were out once and for all will become obsolete especially at the higher educational levels. Fellowships and short term courses focused on technical as well as theoretical knowledge and skill building with multiple entries and exit points that can be taken up at various stages of one’s careers will be the future of learning. To build robust and thriving careers, people would need programs and fellowships such as the Global Policy, Diplomacy, and Sustainability (GPODS) Fellowship,, or the various programs organized by the Aspen Institute. The future of learning is not an automatized non-human learning environment. It is in learning by deeply engaging with human beings and being part of a dynamic tribe of knowledge workers who keep recalibrating, reorienting, and reinventing themselves through intensive short-term engagements as lifelong learners.