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Why the time is right to expand the profession’s talent pool

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The projectification of work has picked up an even greater pace in the wake of COVID-19. As projects become more and more critical element of business as usual, new project managers are needed all the time to keep delivering the ongoing improvements necessary for organisations to survive.

To meet that demand for projects, the profession needs a pipeline of talent with the right skills to deliver projects in tech-first environments. APM’s Projecting the Future report has highlighted the need to create new routes into the profession in order to bring the diversity of skills and thought that it needs. 

“Project management is a discipline that crosses industry boundaries,” says Dr Ian Clarkson, head of organisational consultancy at QA and an advocate for bringing new skills into the profession. “To attract talent to fill that gap, we need to look wider, putting the emphasis on the soft skills. For example, we could look to hire a graduate: have they worked in a team environment before? Where have they shown that they can do entrepreneurial, innovative work? Have they demonstrated leadership or problem-solving? If we start to think of the skills in that regard, the talent pool suddenly becomes a lot wider.”

Fundamentals such as risk management and critical path analysis are more teachable than creativity and interpersonal skills, Clarkson explains. The profession should look to attract talent with a knack for those skills. 

“I think APM is really pushing that agenda forward and is doing some fantastic work with universities and younger people as well. There's still a long way to go, and a lot of that is an industry issue. I also think, to be honest, it’s probably a generational thing as well.”

The Projecting the Future report emphasises the need for employers and policymakers to offer project apprenticeships, including degree apprenticeships and other vocational routes into a project management career. Clarkson says that this is a particularly viable alternative in the wake of COVID-19, thanks to the rapidly increasing demand for project managers and the disruption to traditional educational routes such as universities.

“With the opportunity that exists now across different organisations and the scale and magnitude of projects, it’s a really exciting way to get your foot in the door,” he says. “With an apprenticeship scheme, having a mentor that guides you through is a fantastic option for somebody new coming into the profession.” 

The route ahead

Another potential benefit for the project profession to highlight when attracting talent is the clear career path mapped out for you, including a route towards becoming a Chartered Project Professional. This is already proving a popular option with young people – a number of new Chartered Project Professionals are younger than typical candidates, which Clarkson believes is a brilliant sign for the profession. “It shows you don't have to be of a certain age to show your experience,” he says. “If you get motivated enough, you can achieve a lot.” 

The need to rebuild the economy also after the pandemic offers another opportunity for the profession to bring in new talent. Organisations should be looking to reskill people into project management, offering new roles and skills for people who are out of work.

“It’d be a wasted opportunity if organisations didn’t see the importance of upskilling people into project management,” says Clarkson. “Especially if those organisations look for people with those important soft skills. There are lots of people out there who would make fantastic project managers or project professionals.”

The biggest challenge for the profession is promoting itself to a diverse talent pool. With so much competition from other future-facing roles, the profession must push past traditional misconceptions of project management and demonstrate its importance and excitement. Clarkson is not worried about this; as a new generation comes into project management, perceptions will naturally change.

“I think we’ll see that shift in the profession as younger people come in,” he says. “As we attract more people from different backgrounds, starting points and skill sets, we’ll start seeing that diversity of skills coming in, as well as diversity of cultures. A lot of things will start to tie together.” 

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