What traits will business owners value most and how have business perceptions changed since the coronavirus hit the Lehigh Valley?
Around the world, Covid-19 has impacted every facet of daily living: From how or where we work to shopping habits, consuming education and what workplace skills business owners and managers value most.
“Looking ahead, flexibility and innovation are key traits we are looking to develop and hire for. We need team members that are willing to pivot approaches and adjust well-trodden processes,” said Andrew Stanten, CEO, Altitude Marketing in Emmaus.
Business owners and managers will continue to need employees to embrace new challenges and have the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. “I always say if we are doing what we did six month ago six months from now, we’ll be out of business in another six months” Stanten said.
He said effective communication is always a challenge for businesses, and the forced business closures due to the pandemic have exacerbated an already demanding condition.
“We’ve gone from a world where most people hide behind email to a world where video chat is now the norm. Being comfortable in this new medium, being comfortable with verbal and video communication is imperative moving forward,” he said.
Stanten said the pandemic shook up the status quo and now requires workers to become more visionary. “Team members that can envision possibilities, be willing to ask how we can do things differently and better, and who get a real charge out of a constantly changing environment – [they] are going to thrive,” Stanten explained.
Impacting a broad and significant portion of the population, education has been hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic. Massive changes required to keep faculty and students safe and continue to provide services are significant challenges, according to Bryon L. Grigsby, president of Moravian College in Bethlehem. “One of the things this [pandemic] has exacerbated is [in] trying to prepare college students for jobs that don’t exist,” he said.
For the past eight years, Grigsby said, colleges have been tasked with providing training for emerging and brand new jobs in developing sectors. The pandemic had put “gasoline” on the challenge. He expects colleges will continue to figure out better ways to provide their “sales and customer service” areas to education consumers.
Other skills which will become even more essential include executive functions like planning and time management, Grigsby said.
Resilience is a key trait employers will look for in existing staff, for professional development, as well as in recruiting fresh talent. “Because sometimes things don’t work, and you can’t just cave. You have to have some grit and figure out how to do it,” Grigsby said.
While some people have natural tendencies to be more resilient, Grigsby said it and other important executive function skills can be learned. He expects jobs in the gig economy to explode in coming years, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Current gig economy predictions are that 55 percent of graduates will enter the gig economy over the next five years.
“I think it will be much higher than that. This [the pandemic] is excelling the gig economy like never before,” Grigsby said.
Moravian College is currently looking at infrastructure and facilities to project what will best serve the future and ongoing needs of students. “We put a hold on a huge dining hall renovation because we don’t believe those huge spaces will be how people will move forward in the future,” Grigsby explained.
And he expects restaurant and food delivery services like Grubhub to become even bigger providers on college campuses in the future, changing the face of college meal plans and dining services.
The “silver lining” could be a willingness to reinvent how services can be delivered, and reach a bigger broader audience in the process.
In March about 38 percent of Moravian’s faculty reported feeling comfortable teaching online. By June, that number soared to 97 percent.
“If I have more space, I can grow my business and serve more students and get more students out into the workforce, and if I wanted to expand I can do that with the infrastructure I already have,” Grigsby said.
Nancy Dischinat, executive director of Workforce Board Lehigh Valley said valued employee skills include maturity, discipline, motivation and the ability to adapt – from a solid knowledge base to various skill sets and natural abilities.
She said employers will value those with the ability to re-organize or rethink processes for improvement, be able to handle crisis and have the ability to work through business or environmental disruptions.
“As the economy is starting to open back up, all companies will need to look at their business model to see how they can re-capture their market and if they need to change their model permanently. Even for companies that saw a boost in sales due to the pandemic, the future is uncertain,” Dischinat said.
For those who suffered significant financial losses finding investment for new products and services, the post Covid-19 era could prove challenging, too.
Grigbsy said flexibility on both sides – from students, professors and those in charge at colleges and universities to employees and their employers, flexibility is essential moving forward.
“Even in the midst of the pandemic, Lehigh Valley employers were hiring thousands of workers….it continues to be a time of extremes,” Dischinat said.
Employers weren’t waiting for applicants, either, she noted. “They were conducting their own creative ways to get workers through Zoom job fairs, outside socially distanced recruiting events, social media campaigns, billboards, radio, television and more,” she said.
In addition to employee talent and skills, the most critical take away may be considering how to do business in a post Covid-19 world. As a distribution center and transportation centerpiece the Lehigh Valley is poised to rethink how goods, services and the supply chain can reset after coronavirus subsides.
“It will take time for supply chains to become re-established. The sense among Lehigh Valley companies is that there will be an increase in sourcing locally and definitely domestically,” Dischinat said.
Changing attitudes around remote working, raw materials buying, sourcing and supply habits – from consumers to corporations –could become the next business frontier.