Top skills you need to avoid being laid off as economy cools

| May 3, 2023

Employers across the country are starting to make tough cost cutting decisions as the global economic downturn bites, with jobs being the first to go, according to Peter Grist managing director of Australian corporate coaching and training business, GRIST.

With the Australian economy cooling, employers are having to undertake cost-cutting measures including layoffs to reduce expenses and increase productivity while they ride through the downturn.

This means that many employees will be facing the chopping block. It has been quite a few years since employees have had to face a challenging job market and many people may not be aware that there are strategies you can use to improve your chances of keeping your job.

Advice for employees is to become unsackable. 

In a downturn, it is vital to learn the skills that employers desperately need to survive during a recession. The key is to have the skills that will save the business and in doing so, your job.

GRIST has analysed global research and we have identified that the top three issues facing business capability include: digital literacy, the ability to work with technology, higher-order cognitive skills, such as problem-solving and critical thinking; and social skills, including collaboration, leadership, influence, and communication.

These skills are essential for businesses to harness current market opportunities as well as the emerging ones.

My strong advice to people is to accelerate your learning and mastery of these skills and demonstrate them as often as possible in the workplace. By doing this, you will not only support the business to optimise its operations and success in the market, you will also be demonstrating your value to your employer.

Digital literacy

Digital literacy is a critical skill in the modern workplace and involves your capacity to source, evaluate and communicate information through digital platforms.  It combines both technical and cognitive abilities in using information and communication technologies to create, evaluate, share and collaborate. These skills are essential for growing and thriving businesses.


Problems are becoming more complex and businesses need people who are able to solve them quickly and in an optimal manner for both the business and customer.

There are some specific behaviours people can adopt to problem-solve and persuade better:

  • Practice active listening and empathy to understand the perspective of others. Try paraphrasing the key point of conversation and acknowledge the impact on how people are feeling before adding your points or recommendations.
  • Use data and evidence to support your arguments and proposals. Using at least two different types and sources of data and evidence is a great way to ensure you’ve thought about your suggestions.
  • Be open-minded to feedback and different viewpoints. Practice appreciation for someone taking the time to provide you feedback. Say thanks before replying or if you disagree, ask clarifying questions before countering with your point of view.


While communication and collaboration skills are crucial, leadership skills are even more critical. Even if you’re not officially a leader, leadership skills help drive innovation, engagement and cohesion, which all result in improved morale and productivity.

There are some specific behaviours people can adopt to demonstrate better leadership skills:

  • Take ownership and initiative to identify areas for improvement in your team or organisation. Be proactive here. For us, the key is to identify the smallest, easy-to-do change to yield the largest improvement.
  • Make the link to vision and strategy for your team or colleagues. Discussing the link of your idea or initiative to the organization’s strategy is an easy way to start developing strategic thinking.
  • Develop your coaching and mentoring skills to help others grow and improve. Research a coaching model like GRIST’s ACDC or Tactical GROW and master some easy behaviours to help others on your team.

Continuous learning

Research shows that as the rate of change increases, developing a continuous learning and adaptability mindset becomes a great differentiator. The ability to learn and adapt quickly to new situations enables individuals and organisations to stay ahead of the curve and respond to changing circumstances with agility and resilience.  Businesses value people who adapt and learn quickly.

Specific behaviours individuals can adopt to demonstrate a mindset of continuous learning and adaptability:

  • Set aside time for regular learning and development, whether through online courses or attending industry events. It can be as little as 15-30 minutes per week.
  • Embrace new technologies and tools to improve work processes and productivity. With practice comes mastery.
  • Seek out feedback and constructive criticism to identify areas for growth and improvement. It’s amazing how this behaviour helps individuals stand out as someone who strives to improve.

During an economic downturn, employers must make tough decisions about who to lay off, and individuals can increase their job security by making small changes to demonstrate their digital literacy, communication and collaboration skills, critical thinking abilities, and willingness to learn and adapt. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in tough times.