Three in five employees planning career changes because of Covid, survey finds

Experts warn businesses could face ‘major churn’ in staff and urge them to have open conversations with their workforce about careers

Three in five UK workers intend to make changes to their careers as a result of the pandemic, a survey has found.

A poll of 4,000 workers by Aviva found 60 per cent planned to make changes such as switching careers, learning a new skill or finding a new role within their existing organisation – a 7 percentage point increase on July last year.

Nearly one in 10 of those polled (9 per cent) said they intended to start a new career, up from 7 per cent the previous year. Another 10 per cent said they planned to learn a new skill or to retrain, while 8 per cent said they planned to gain an academic qualification.

However, the research found that there was no increase in the proportion of people who said they planned to find a new role that allowed them to work from home compared to last year (10 per cent).

The survey also found that while the under-25s were the most likely to want to make changes to their careers as a result of the pandemic – 87 per cent said they were now re-evaluating their careers – it was those aged between 25 and 34 who were most likely to want to retrain or pursue a completely different career.

Corinne Mills, managing director at Personal Career Management, said this was a “wake-up call for employers”, and that businesses needed to facilitate conversations with their staff about their careers so they could be open about what was important to them.

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“Often, their needs can be accommodated, whether it is more flexible working, job crafting so that they take on more of the activities they enjoy, or being encouraged and supported with internal moves,” she said, adding: “Companies that fail to do this are potentially facing major churn with its associated costs."

Dr Eric Shiu, lecturer in marketing and innovation management at the University of Birmingham, said it was no surprise that more people, especially young people, wanted to change their career or retrain. “During the pandemic, they’ve probably had more quiet time to reflect on what they do and what they want,” he said.

The research also found that more people now wanted to turn their hobby into a career (12 per cent, up from 6 per cent last July), which Shiu said would be “good for the economy” as well as for the individuals. “During the pandemic, people are more able to discover what they like to do or to learn and do a new hobby. It’s good to see some of them wanting to use their hobby to generate new income,” he said.

Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser, said the good news was that the move to hybrid working “may open up job opportunities to more candidates across the country; especially for roles that have historically been based in London”. But, he said, the broader availability of jobs was still well below normal and it remained to be seen whether employers would risk jumping ship while the labour market remained fragile.

“One of the ways in which employers can help meet this demand [for jobs] in the short term, which is particularly prevalent among young people, is to exploit the generous incentive payments for hiring new apprentices that are due to end soon,” Davies added.

Len Shackleton, professor of economics at the University of Buckingham, said the number of people wanting to swap careers was a good sign. “Within reason, job changing benefits individuals financially and in terms of lifestyles – especially young people whose first jobs may not be a good fit for their skills and aspirations,” he said.

Career changes also contributed to a more dynamic economy, Shackleton added. But, he warned, the working from home trend shouldn’t be exaggerated: “Despite benefits to some – not all – workers, customers have often found it difficult to communicate with businesses, while some employers in other surveys report that productivity has fallen and there are difficulties in integrating new members into virtual teams.”