Project Management

2021 Jobs Outlook: Chaos, Risk—and Opportunity

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By Cyndee Miller

We’ve been mired in the COVID muck for more than a year now. The toll on our physical and mental health can’t be understated, but we’ve also seen how it’s fundamentally altered the world of work. And even as more vaccine shots make their way into more arms, some regions and sectors will continue to feel the effects well into 2021. Yet all that uncertainty doesn’t mean project leaders are lacking job opportunities, especially as companies start to see a light.

When asked about their outlook on the global economy, 76 percent of CEOs said they believe it will improve during the next 12 months, according to PwC. This is big: That’s nearly 20 percentage points greater than the previous record high for optimism. The ManpowerGroup Q2 employment outlook survey echoed the sentiment, with 77 percent of companies expecting to return to pre-pandemic hiring levels by end of the year.

Still, the PM Network 2021 Jobs Report reveals that prospects may vary greatly by region:

Africa: After surviving its worst economic recession in half a century, Africa is projected to recover in 2021, with GDP projected to grow by 3.4 percent, according to the African Development Bank Group. But the tension between managing costs and pushing for innovation and growth can be difficult to navigate for project leaders—and their careers. “You have companies that have strategies for the new normal and related innovation investments,” says Ernesto Spruyt, founder of, a company in Kampala, Uganda dedicated to providing tech jobs to young Africans. “But you also have companies who try to sit it out and wait for things to go back to normal. I think the latter ones, in the end, will not prevail.”

Middle East: The pandemic’s economic toll has been exacerbated by the collapse in the price of oil, wreaking financial havoc. The lingering risks from the coronavirus and low demand for oil is ratcheting up the need for the region to diversify its economy. “The pandemic raises the importance of innovation and R&D,” says Nahlah Alyamani, PMI-RMP, PMP, PgMP, planning lead for the Eastern hub, Health Holding Co., Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Europe: Fears of a so-called third wave of COVID cases across Europe is dousing hope for a return to job market normalcy. While the economic pain varies and hiring may not have fully rebounded, look to jobs in knowledge-intensive sectors, like financial services and telecom. And there’s no denying the mass move to ecommerce. “I have noticed a huge spike for project managers in the digital space because of the pandemic,” says Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP, head of portfolio management transformation, DWP Digital, Newcastle, England. “Many digital projects have been accelerated and require a larger number of resources.”

United States: It wasn’t pretty: The world’s top economy saw the worst economic contraction in its history during the second quarter of 2020. But by March of this year, the Federal Reserve was predicting GDP would increase 6.5 percent—a sharp jump from the 4.2 percent forecast made just in December. As in so many economies, the project action was driven around companies strengthening their online infrastructure and offerings to meet consumer demand, says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago. And that means they’re on the prowl for project talent with serious digital chops.

Latin America: One of the last regions to be hit by the pandemic, Latin America is likely to also be one of the last to exit, according to S&P Global. While economic fates vary across the region, a proven track record with managing virtual teams, leading digital transformations or change management can all set candidates apart in an otherwise crowded talent pool, says Gustavo Pastrana, PMP, senior manager in global banking software, Diebold Nixdorf, Mexico City, Mexico.

China: It was the country’s slowest expansion in decades—but it was still the only major economy to grow in 2020. “China’s job market as a whole has basically returned to normal,” said Frank Fu, founder and chairman of Shanghai Changeway Management Consulting Co., Shanghai. Project leaders looking for new opportunities should check out healthcare, insurance and online education.

India: While India’s unemployment surged during the pandemic, numbers are turning around. The country’s growing digital economy is bolstering job opportunities, with online retail and last-mile delivery services seeing an ongoing spike in 2021, and insurance and healthcare maintaining an organic growth in demand. “This is a period of radical change for businesses as new definitions of work, agility and project management emerge,” says Vidhya Abhijith, PMP, a Future 50 leader and co-founder of Codewave Technologies, Bengaluru. “Organizations are embracing a future work environment that looks like a thriving social network, with smaller groups of people connected online and moving ideas into reality.”

With such great flux across sectors and geographic regions, some project leaders are looking for safety and sticking with their current companies. But others are considering new opportunities in a time of massive change.

Project leaders need to examine their personal appetites for risk, says Lindsay Scott, co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent. “People are seeing different pockets of opportunity that wouldn’t have been existing right now if we’d not had this year of a pandemic,” she told Projectified on a jobs outlook episode. “If you’re more inclined to take a few more risks, perhaps now really is the right time.”

How are you balancing risk and opportunity as you map out your 2021 career plan?

Posted by cyndee miller on: March 22, 2021 04:30 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Mohd Azmirul Adha Azmir Project Manager| Buildserve Engineering Puchong, Selangor, Malaysia
Good sharing

Luis Branco CEO| Business Insight, Consultores de Gestão, Ldª Carcavelos, Lisboa, Portugal
Dear Cyndee
Very interesting this theme that brought to our reflection and debate
Thank you for sharing qualified information on the development of post-covid economies and employment in different regions of our planet

Mushtaq Abdulrahimzai SWIS| Surrey Schools District 36 Toronto, Ontario, Canada
interesting information, thank you for sharing.

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Financial Management Specialist | US Peace Corps / Cameroon Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
Thanks for sharing. There is a good outlook for Africa

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