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


December 14, 2021


Key takeaways

  • People are changing careers — moving from one industry into a completely different one — more frequently than ever before.
  • Work-life balance, flexible scheduling, and a positive culture are among the top reasons people cite for wanting to change careers.
  • Businesses are rethinking their approach to hiring, training and development, and more to help attract and retain top talent.

On a random Tuesday night in early December, about 150 people — all vaccinated — gathered at my neighborhood bar and grill. There wasn’t a big game on, and it wasn’t trivia night or a local company’s holiday party. No, 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, more frequently than ever before. According to a recent U.S. Chamber poll, for instance, 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. A recent Washington Post-Schar School poll found similar results, with one-third of workers under the age of 40 considering changing careers or switching industries since the pandemic. It’s a dynamic that has the power to send shockwaves through the talent pools of entire industries, prompting businesses to rethink their approach to hiring and retention.

Historically, people looked to switch careers for more money, better benefits, and more advancement opportunities, among other reasons. What’s different about this wave of career switchers, however, is that while the traditional reasons for changing careers are still important considerations, they aren’t the only ones or even the most important ones anymore, says Deb Broberg, Executive Director of RealTime Talent and a U.S. Chamber Talent Pipeline Management fellow. She says the pandemic prompted people to reevaluate want 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 long after it is gone for why people are looking to switch careers more than ever before.

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, Broberg, whose organization works with private companies and public institutions to improve the alignment of talent with employer needs, 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 the lack of properly skilled talent, has led businesses to move away from a degree-based approach to hiring. Or, as 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 to both employees and non-employees alike. The removal of the B.A. barrier opens opportunities for workers, particularly those from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, to switch into industries and roles that were previously closed to them.

Deb Broberg, Executive Director of Real Time Talent and a U.S. Chamber Talent Pipeline Management fellow.

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. And while that trend began well before the COVID-19, the pandemic’s devastating financial and social impacts certainly accelerated the desire among a vast cohort of workers to seek out businesses with inclusive cultures and jobs that positively contribute to society, says Broberg.

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 frontlines — from nurses and other healthcare 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. “Many industries require people to be on the ground doing work with other people,” says Broberg. “There is certainly still some degree of fear factor today, the question is whether that fear will continue and if so to what degree. We can’t say with confidence that people will forget this quickly.”

The convergence of these challenges means that employers that are strategically investing in and prioritizing their talent will come out ahead. This means leveraging the skillset that talent brings from other industries and, in some cases, collaborating across industries to demonstrate how jobs from one industry to another can be linked.

About the authors

Peter Lauria