Oct 27, 2020 - Economy

The pandemic is pushing people to switch careers

Illustration of a coffee mug with two handles. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Many Americans who have been out of work for months and hold jobs in struggling industries like travel and hospitality are thinking about switching careers entirely.

The big picture: It's not so easy. Jumping into new roles and new fields requires training, which can be too costly or difficult to come by. And even after training, starting all over again usually means a huge pay cut, experts say.

Let's zoom in on restaurants. In February, food service workers were 3.1 times more likely to click on food service job postings than any other postings, according to Indeed data provided to Axios.

  • In April, they were just 1.9 times as likely to do so. Interest rebounded to 2.7 times by September, as restaurants slowly started to reopen, but it still remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
  • "With colder weather starting to settle in, the restaurant industry faces tremendous challenges ahead," says AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed. "Depending on how the winter goes, food service worker interest in their sector may struggle to fully recover."

But getting jobs outside of your industry often requires reskilling and retraining, and while there are some success stories, many workers don't want to or can't afford to go back to school.

  • "People want jobs. They don’t want training," says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • The prospect of starting over seems daunting to workers, especially if they are older than 40, he says. And even when people do successfully switch careers, they start with a 40% pay cut, on average.

"Some will be able to make the jump to a new a career right away," says Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit that raises awareness about the challenges facing U.S. workers, and a former Labor Department official.

  • Think of a banker who loses their job when a branch closes and finds new work doing back-office finances at a company.
  • For a bartender, such a switch might seem tougher. But that person can leverage their people skills for jobs in customer service in new industries.
  • "Anybody who has earned a paycheck has skills," says Oates.

Go deeper: USA Today dives into career-switching with the story of a bartender-turned-coder.

Go deeper