Why 50% of American workers want to make a career change

According to a recent U.S. Chamber poll, 32% of people who lost their job during the pandemic and remain unemployed say they are looking for work in a different industry. A recent Washington Post-Schar School poll noted that one-third of workers under the age of 40 are now considering switching careers or changing industries since the pandemic. The pandemic has taught Americans that nothing is permanent. Everything can change within weeks if not months. Perhaps more worrisome trends for HR leaders is that a growing number of Americans want to spend time by themselves, prompting organizations to rethink their approach to hiring and retention.

Historically, people looked to switch careers for a beefier paycheck, better benefits, more opportunities, among other reasons. What’s different now is that while a lot of traditional reasons remain the same, they aren’t the only ones prompting The Great Resignation. Deb Broberg, Executive Director of RealTime Talent and a U.S. Chamber Talent Pipeline Management fellow says the pandemic prompted Americans to reevaluate their priorities and made them realize things like work-life balance, a positive work environment, and flexitime were just as important as money. 

make a career change pandemic


Workers in the hospitality, retail, and other industries hit hard by the pandemic are searching for transfer skills into high-growth industries. As indicated by the U.S. Chamber survey, 46% of Americans previously employees in the retail, hospitality industry are now looking to switch industries.

‘Degree inflation’ not required

The need to fill jobs, combined with the lack of skilled talent, is prompting hiring managers to move away from a degree-based approach to hiring. A bachelor’s degree is no longer required to do the same jobs anymore. Instead, businesses are moving towards a skills-based approach to hiring new talent. A growing number of companies are now seeking workers with technology skills and talent partners who provide upskilling and reskilling to both employers and employees alike. The expulsion of the degree barrier opens limitless opportunities for workers, particularly those from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, to switch to industries that were previously unavailable to them.

Remote Work Goes Mainstream

Unmistakably the transition to remote work is definitely not a temporary condition stirred by the pandemic. In the future, people are less likely to migrate for a job, and with the pressure organizations are under to fill open positions, they aren’t going to demand that employees move as a condition of employment either. This leaves employers and employees with a much wider canvas for recruiting talent from across geographies.

Make a difference

According to the U.S. Chamber Covid-19 unemployed poll, roughly 41% of respondents said a positive work environment would increase their urgency to return to office, while another 31% said they would return to work if they found a career that makes a real difference in their lives. Those statistics highlight a pattern among American workers, especially millennials and Gen Z, who are seeking jobs that align with their personal values. The devastating effect of the pandemic has sped up the desire among workers to search for employers with better cultures and jobs that contribute to the betterment of the society.

Progressing Out of High-Contact Jobs

The economic toll by the pandemic can be quantified, however, the mental and emotional cost cannot. There is as yet an undeniable fear factor for workers on the frontlines – from retail to healthcare workers  – whose jobs include high-contact interactions with people. 

Anxiety, stress, burnout, and other emotional well-being issues are prompting these workers to switch careers. A recent survey of nurses found that 66% have considering leaving their jobs because of the pandemic, citing fear of exposing themselves or their families to the novel coronavirus. Many industries require people to be on the ground taking care of other people. There is still some level of dread today, the question is whether this dread will continue and if so to what extent.

The combination of these factors means that employers that are strategically putting resources into and focusing on their talent will come out as winners. This also requires organizations to leverage the skillset that workers bring from other industries, and in some cases, collaborating across industries to show how jobs from one industry to another can be linked.

Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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