Career Transition

How to Transition to a New Industry if Yours Has Been Decimated

Business woman looks thoughtful and positive while she considers a career change

Job searching is always a challenge, but when unemployment is high, pay reductions are widespread, and anxiety is rampant, it’s even more difficult. Worse yet, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the number of unemployed persons per job opening was almost 4 times higher in April compared to March. As more Americans lose their jobs and cash-strapped employers administer hiring freezes, more candidates will compete for the same position.

For decades, career coaches have emphasized the importance of networking. The hidden job market is even more crucial during a crisis. If you’ve lost your job and work in an industry that’s suffered because of the pandemic, it’s still possible to find opportunities within your field. By optimizing your resume and professional brand, honing your business skills, and advancing your education, you can snag gratifying offers. But if you aren’t opposed to a career change, or can’t wait for the market to recover, you might consider changing industries.

Here’s a breakdown of professional sectors with the most job separations since January, which is just one metric for evaluating an industry’s economic outlook.

Top 10 Industries Facing the Most Separations So Far in 2020

Industry Approximate Separation Level (in Thousands) Approximate Percentage of Total Separations
Professional and Business Services 270 18.58%
Health Care and Social Assistance 214 14.73%
Retail Trade 149 10.25%
State and Local, Excluding Education 110 7.57%
Manufacturing 95 6.54%
State and Local Education 92 6.33%
Accommodation and Food Services 88 6.06%
Construction 76 5.23%
Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities 76 5.23%
Finance and Insurance 75 5.16%

 

*This data has been seasonally adjusted and is based off the U.S. Bureau of Labor economic news release showing the months of Jan.-Apr. The total number of recorded separations during this time was 1,453,000.

These studies reveal surprising results. For example, why is the healthcare sector one of the hardest-hit industries when it seems like these services should be in high demand because of the pandemic? The answer is multifaceted.

First, hospitals across the country are experiencing huge losses because they had to divert most of their resources toward COVID-19 units instead of non-urgent surgeries and routine care. Additionally, many facilities prepared to receive a wave of patients even before the virus spread to the surrounding region—thereby limiting revenue streams prematurely.

According to the Labor Department, healthcare spending also fell by nearly 18% during the first quarter. Because of the pandemic, Americans are canceling or delaying routine visits, adding pressure on private practices fighting to cover basic operational costs. Economic anxiety could be another contributing detail—if a person is laid-off, for example, they’ll lose income and possibly even their access to healthcare coverage. The prospect creates further incentives to skip appointments if they aren’t strictly necessary.


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Will Any Industries Be “Recession-Proof?”

Besides looking at the number of separations in each industry, you should also evaluate which sectors have revenue growth. According to The Chicago Tribune, some industries appear to be growing since March. Even though retail overall accounts for nearly 10.25% of employee separations, grocery stores have seen a 76%-weekly-revenue increase compared to 2019. Similarly, online retailers providing physical goods have experienced a 9% uptick in revenue, provided they can still supply and ship their products. Home décor is also in high demand while people spend more time at home. Pet services, educational institutions with a virtual platform, and financial services have seen modest revenue growth in 2020 compared to 2019.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, transportation businesses, the entertainment industry, lodging, paid parking, restaurants, and bars have experienced revenue losses greater than 50%.

What Other Factors Can Affect Your Job Search?

Employment metrics paint an incomplete picture, however, and don’t predict your individual career outlook. Other factors will affect your ability to find work, including, for example:

  • Your Personal Tolerance for Risk: People in positions that require close contact with other individuals, like veterinarians, onsite supervisors, and airline workers, are most at risk for disease exposure. If you’re concerned about your health, you might want to change careers to pursue an occupation that can be performed offsite or in less-populated areas.
  • Coworkers wear masks and collaborate on a project togetherThe Necessity of Your Position: If you fulfill a role that isn’t essential to business operations, you’ll find fewer opportunities during a recession. To survive the pandemic, companies are scaling back to bare-bone staffing. This generally applies to administrative staff, marketing departments, and any position that isn’t directly related to sales or collections. 
  • Your Pay: Cutting a top-tier director or executive can significantly reduce a business’ payroll expenses. If you’re in a position that’s traditionally high-paying, it might be time to consider moving into a new role or industry that’s in greater demand right now.
  • Your Protected Class: About half of all baby boomers said they’ve experienced age discrimination in 2019, according to The New York Times. In 2017, scientific journal PNAS published a study proving racial discrimination against Black and Latinx employees had little to no improvement since 1989. Employer bias (even if it’s implicit or unintentional) is well-documented, and in a competitive job market, hiring trends could skew unfairly as employers assume even greater leveraging power.
  • Your Qualifications: The ratio of applicant-to-job openings increases during economic unrest, and, as a result, the most successful candidates will probably be the ones who can demonstrate the greatest value and qualifications. When unemployment is high, underemployment also rises.
  • Automation: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to make single-task jobs redundant. Budget constraints and staffing shortages caused by the pandemic could accelerate automation and eliminate jobs from the market. 
  • Geographic Search Area: Social distancing regulations vary dramatically between states, which ultimately determines which businesses close and how long those disruptions last. Most knowledge-based workers (office employees, for example) can fulfill their role at home—but if you need to travel or appear onsite and live in a state that’s still in lockdown, this could affect your job prospects. On the other hand, if you live in a state that doesn’t enforce social distancing, future economic fallout is still possible if COVID-19 cases increase.

Should You Transition to a New Career Now?

An executive tours his company's warehouse while wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19

Nearly four months after New York enacted their first shelter-in-place order, the number of daily cases in the U.S. continues to rise. It’s clear at this point the effects of COVID-19 will be long-lasting—perhaps even generational, according to S&P Global. With this perspective in mind, consider what you want out of your career and weigh the benefits of transitioning.

Pursuing the same career path but in a new industry could offer greater stability than changing direction entirely. For example, if your last or current employer is a hotel chain, you might be able to find a new employer that deals with recreational vehicles, which could see an increase in sales among travelers who want to limit their exposure. Try to find overlapping characteristics between industries and positions to adapt your professional brand to the current market without starting from square one.

For additional help exploring your options and securing a job you’ll love, work with a career coach to outline an immediate strategy. People who are passionate and talented at work will find a place where they can thrive—even if it means searching during a recession.


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About the Author

Rachel Lake is a writer and editor in New York City. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. To get in touch with Rachel, contact her on LinkedIn.