Project Management: The skill set you need in an era of uncertainty

In the Asia-Pacific region, recruiters are expected to fill two million job roles requiring these skills over the next 10 years

As the world of work gets increasingly oriented around projects, project skills will be indispensable to changemakers seeking to drive impact. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

John is a recent graduate working in an advertising agency and is tasked with organising a client’s inaugural hybrid event. 

Sarah is a third-generation entrepreneur, looking to digitalise her family’s traditional food and beverage business.  

Eve is a manager with a fashion retail outlet facing severe headwinds from record low footfall in retail stores, supply chain disruptions and growing consumer demands for sustainability.

What do they all have in common? 

They are changemakers.

After all, in a time of continuous and rapid change, more professionals than ever must be equipped to drive and navigate change; whether they are students, volunteers, entrepreneurs, specialists or business leaders of any age and background. What they all have in common is a drive to bring about positive change for the world.

And as the world of work is increasingly oriented around projects, project skills will be indispensable to changemakers seeking to drive impact. Just consider the three changemakers mentioned above: While they face seemingly different challenges from sector, scope and scale, they are essentially dealing with projects.

“Think about it this way – a project has a beginning and an end, a team and stakeholders, budget, schedule and a set of expectations to be met,” says Mr Ben Breen, global head of construction and managing director, Asia-Pacific, Project Management Institute (PMI). “So, you can see how almost everything we do at work or even at home can be a project.”

Welcome to the Project Economy, in which we will see rising demand for project management skills. In the increasingly uncertain world we are in today, these skills are required to sustain, grow, innovate and excel. 

Students need project management life skills to break through the clutter and rise above. Young professionals seeking to accelerate their professional development need to be supported by certifications, specialised credentials and experiences. Employers need to invest in the workforce to upskill them and derive greater value from the human capital.

But what exactly is project management?

It refers to the use of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques that empower people to turn ideas into a reality.  

At the workplace, this can mean anything as diverse as developing software to improve business processes, organising relief efforts after a natural disaster, expanding into a new sales market or constructing a new property complex. 

Even the construction of ancient Egyptian pyramids can be seen through the project-management framework.

Highly transferable skill sets, through the ages

Designed and built 4,500 years ago, the pyramids of Giza – which housed massive tombs and temples for the Egyptian pharaohs’ afterlife – were a remarkable engineering feat and enigma. Today, they still leave scientists wondering about the sheer effort (and level of project management skills) required to bring builders, planners and raw materials together.

Those early pyramid architects, builders and engineers were probably the pioneering project managers. These days, project managers are found at every level and in every department in every organisation: they could be managers, contractors and independent consultants. 

And there are millions more “accidental” project managers today – those of us who may not be in formal project management roles, but having to deal with “projectified” tasks and work on a regular basis.

And that is what makes project management skills a beacon of certainty in an increasingly uncertain world – it offers consistent lifelong value for all things project and change.

Mr Breen adds: “Whether you are in construction, retail, technology or finance, project management skills are valuable to have. With the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (Vuca) times we live in, the world around us is changing at a rapid pace. We see work getting broken down in specific projects. More and more workers are being hired, grouped and regrouped according to the knowledge, experience and capabilities they bring to the specific projects that deliver the most value to an organisation’s stakeholders. Furthermore, upskilling and reskilling have become a priority for workers during this period, as many seek to switch careers or jump industries.” 

And as economic and technological changes quicken, organisations have been investing more in upskilling the workforce so that they are able to adapt to change, stay relevant and resilient.

According to PMI’s Talent Gap report, 25 million new project professionals will be needed around the world by 2030. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, recruiters are expected to fill two million project management-related job roles over the next 10 years.

Project management in everyday work and life

This is why even as there is a rising demand for project managers across industries, those who are certified professionals also enjoy increased earning power.

Conducted between March and June this year, PMI’s Salary Survey, which involved more than 30,000 respondents in 40 countries, showed that even with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore respondents who hold PMI’s Professional (PMP)® certification reported enjoying 13 per cent higher median salaries than their peers who did not have this certification.

Singapore was one of the countries in South-east Asia where project professionals reported the highest median salaries at US$74,936 (about S$102,250).

“Project management skills and certification are for everyone at any stage of his career. But it is particularly crucial for younger employees, like those aged 35 and under who are starting their careers or mid-career professionals looking to upskill, to future-proof their qualifications and learn evergreen skill sets to help them navigate the winds of change,” says Mr Breen.

Own change by being a changemaker

The rising generation of project leaders is dynamically altering the workplace and boldly reshaping the future. As per research conducted by PMI with youths, 85 per cent of respondents worldwide aged 15 to 25 “believe they can do bigger things, given the opportunity”.

These young changemakers are not letting a global pandemic deter them from forging a better tomorrow. They represent the project managers of the future who demonstrate the ability to tackle problems with a naturally curious and collaborative mindset. They are the future leaders helping to drive transformation and positive change across numerous industries.

With the objective of empowering this community, PMI has partnered the Asean Youth Organization (AYO) to raise awareness about the importance of project management among its 450,000 members. The AYO is a foundation set up in Jakarta in 2013 that aims to equip youth in Asean with the skills, knowledge and resources to help their local communities. 

Mr Breen says that young changemakers can enrol in a variety of globally recognised certifications, courses and trainings from PMI, depending on their current professional career stage. One example is Kickoff – a free, 45-minute online course and toolkit that covers the basics of project management to help individuals with little to no project management experience work smarter and lead successful projects.

He adds: “As organisations continue to navigate the new normal, the complexity of business initiatives tends to grow exponentially. This creates a growing need for a workforce with the right agile skill sets, such as quick decision-making, collaborating, and reacting and adapting quickly to changes – all of which can be learnt through taking PMI Agile certifications.”

It is also why he thinks that companies should provide employees with training and upskilling opportunities – especially those with globally recognised certifications – if they wish to develop and retain top talent.

“As the leader in project management, we aim to empower people to make ideas a reality and aim to bring the winning aspiration to life for changemakers of all ages.​”

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