Five reasons people are changing careers now

On a random Tuesday night in early December, about 150 people — all vaccinated — gathered at my neighborhood bar and grill. Everyone was gathered to say goodbye to the restaurant’s manager, who after 10 years was leaving for another job. 

He wasn’t leaving to go to another restaurant, however. He was changing careers entirely, leaving the hospitality industry to take on a role at a local insurance company.

Lost amid the headlines about people quitting their jobs and companies being unable to find workers to fill open positions is another, perhaps more worrisome trend for business leaders — the fact that people are switching careers, or moving from one industry into a completely different one. 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 to work in a different industry for their next job. 

Historically, people looked to switch careers for more money, better benefits, and more advancement opportunities, among other reasons. Deb Broberg, executive director of RealTime Talent says the pandemic prompted people to reevaluate what they want from a career and made them realize things like work-life balance, flexible scheduling, and a positive culture were just as important, if not more important for some, than money and benefits.

Here are five reasons, born from the pandemic but likely to last, for why people are looking to switch careers.

Aligning skills to growth industries

Not unlike the restaurant manager getting into the insurance industry, many workers in hospitality, traditional retail, and other industries hit hard by the pandemic are intentionally looking for opportunities to transfer skills into growth industries. According to the U.S. Chamber poll, 46% of workers previously employed in the leisure/hospitality industry are looking to switch industries. Pointing to leadership, sales, and communication skills, Ms. Broberg says, “Restaurant managers have a lot of skills that overlap with many insurance industry roles.”

College degrees no longer required

The need to fill open jobs, combined with a lack of properly skilled talent, has led businesses to move away from a degree-based approach to hiring. Or, as Ms. Broberg says, “A bachelor’s degree is no longer a minimum requirement to do some jobs anymore.” Instead, employers are moving towards a skills-based approach to hiring — indeed, many companies seeking people with technology skills work with talent partners who provide credentialing and upskilling and reskilling training. 

The mainstreaming of remote work

It’s clear that the move to remote work is not a temporary condition caused by the pandemic, but a permanent feature of the new world of work. People aren’t likely to relocate for a job anymore, and with the pressure businesses are under to fill open jobs, they aren’t likely to request that candidates move as a condition of employment either. Together, those two dynamics mean that employers have a much wider canvas for recruiting, and workers have a much bigger palette of companies to which they can apply.

Wanting to make a difference

Forty-one percent of respondents to the U.S. Chamber COVID-19 unemployed poll said a positive work environment would increase their urgency to return to work, while another 31% said they would go back to work if they found a career that offers them a chance to make a difference. Those statistics underscore a trend among workers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, to seek out businesses and jobs that align with their values. 

Transitioning out of high-contact jobs

The financial damage wrought by the pandemic can be quantified, but the mental and emotional toll cannot. There is still a very real fear factor for workers on the front lines — from nurses and other health care professionals to restaurant and retail workers — whose jobs involve high-contact interactions with other people. Burnout, anxiety, and other mental health issues are prompting these workers to switch industries. A recent survey of critical care nurses found that 66% have considered leaving their jobs because of the pandemic, citing fear of exposing themselves or their families to COVID-19 as the main reason. 

Peter Lauria is Editor in Chief,, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.