2020 was a year for unplanned job switches. Despite surveys showing repeatedly that employees' intention to seek a new job was considerably lower than in previous years, the pandemic's impact forced a great many people from the worst-hit industries—aviation, hospitality, retail, F&B—to change career on short notice, often starting over in a new industry.
People Matters asked Edwin Lim, Commercial Director of Singapore-based Pacific Logistics Group, about the experience of employing career switchers from an adjacent industry. PLG, like most of the logistics industry, grew significantly in 2020 and also expanded its head count by 20 percent—the company currently has 198 employees, just within the Singapore definition of SMEs as companies with not more than 200 workers.
Among the new hires PLG onboarded last year was a group of former Singapore Airlines staff, cabin crew who, like many of their counterparts, took major pay cuts last year as flights halted, and finally sought employment elsewhere. They ended up in logistics with SIA's support—the airline had helped to arrange job opportunities in adjacent industries for its affected staff—and are currently management trainees.
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The background advantages
As far as skills and background knowledge go, the overlap between the aviation and logistics industries gave the new hires a head start, according to Lim.
“These former aviation professionals had prior experiences and the contextual background knowledge of freight,” he told People Matters. “This effectively reduces our training duration and accelerates their on-the-job learning experiences.”
Besides that specific knowledge, he listed a range of less quantifiable skills and experience that turned out to be a real differentiator for the former aviation professionals. Intangible skills such as people management and communication—which are transferrable and applicable across industries and functions—are “vital aspects in our hiring decision”, he said.
More importantly, it was the mix of hard and soft skills and knowledge—the complete package, so to speak—that became the selling factor. “They had well-rounded skillsets—a balance of technical and operations know-how, with people management skills, gives them a smoother transition in adapting to the logistics field,” Lim said.
He also highlighted the importance of international and multi-cultural exposure—something flight staff have no shortage of—in a field that spans countries and regions. “Their individual and collective exposure to different cultures, diverse backgrounds and multi-lingual abilities make them ideal to lead our regional operations and increase PLG’s international presence. The rich cultural experiences they’ve gained by daily interactions with international audiences, colleagues, and staff will enable them to engage customer needs with greater empathy and understanding.”
Two of these recent hires, he revealed, are already lined up for an overseas assignment to Laos, where they will be working on a large upcoming project.
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Going beyond the skills overlap
Background knowledge and experience, not to mention relevant skill sets, can give industry switchers a real advantage in new jobs. However, not everyone who makes a career shift will have the good fortune to pivot into an adjacent industry doing as well as logistics—all four of the PLG staff who shared their reasons for making the shift cited the growth and resilience of the industry—nor would their skills be immediately transferable. For instance, a top skill set in demand across all industries right now is IT, which for many job seekers will require upskilling and/or reskilling.
Employers and career switchers, though, can still leverage other qualities, some of which may be inherent to people who are willing to risk an industry switch in the first place.
“A willingness to learn coupled with genuine open-mindedness are vital for the career growth of such professionals,” Lim observed of the former aviation professionals who joined PLG's team. “Adaptability and versatility are their key differentiating factors.”
Those qualities, he believes, help people to integrate more smoothly into different departments and form, work within, or even lead cross-functional project teams.
There is also the fresh perspective these professionals bring, which Lim says can be useful for finding new ways to improve existing operations or identify business opportunities that might have been overlooked or ignored.
Ultimately, though, the success of an industry switch for both employers and job seekers may come down to that quality of flexibility and open-mindedness on both sides: employers in being ready to see the advantages of taking on mid-career professionals and the applicability of their experience, however different from the industry norm, and candidates in being ready to take on work that can sometimes be a ninety-degree pivot from the function of their previous roles.