Workers Worried About Pandemic’s Aftermath

More than two-thirds of workers are willing to retrain for new jobs as they look toward the aftermath of the pandemic, according to a new study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG)and The Network. The interest in developing new skills is highest among those in the early- and midcareer phases.

A new report based on the study, Decoding Global Reskilling and Career Paths, is being released today. It’s the third in a series of publications that BCG and The Network have issued about the pandemic’s impact on people’s work preferences and careers.

The economic uncertainty touched off by the pandemic comes at a time when workers in just about every field already have some level of concern about being replaced by technology. Forty-one percent of workers globally have become more concerned about automation during the pandemic, according to the survey. Increased concern is especially common among people who work at financial institutions or at insurance or telecommunications companies. 

“The pandemic and the increasing speed of technological disruption have prompted people to question their chosen career paths,” said Rainer Strack, one of the authors of the study and a senior partner at BCG. “Almost seven in ten people say they are open to retraining that would allow them to switch to completely different job roles. This level of flexibility could help employers and governments that are worried about preparing their workforces for the future.”

Retraining willingness—68% globally—is highest among workers who have fared worst during the pandemic or have the most concern about automation. This includes workers in service-sector, customer service, and sales roles. Almost three-quarters of the people in these jobs say they would retrain for something new. Those in job roles seen as less vulnerable—health and medicine, social work, and science and research—generally aren’t as ready to switch careers.

There are some geographic differences in the willingness to retrain as well. People in developing economies, including many in Africa, are the most enthusiastic, with as many as three-quarters saying they would retrain to prepare themselves for a new job. Europeans and Americans have the lowest level of willingness, the study shows, but even in those geographies the proportion of people who say they would retrain is generally above 50%.

More than a third of people worldwide have been laid off or forced to work fewer hours during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the survey. The economic fallout has been worst for the young and least educated. Almost half of those under 20, and an equal proportion of people with only a high school degree, have lost income during the pandemic.

“The pandemic is another reminder— after the 2008 financial crisis—that there are always going to be events that threaten economies and require workers to adjust,” said Kate Kavanagh, a co–managing director of The Network and a coauthor of the report. “Workers have come to accept that their only real job security lies in their adaptability, which sometimes means shifting roles or even careers.”

A Move Toward More Stable Fields

The study shows a high level of realism in people’s attitudes about retraining. Most of the areas of retraining willingness involve moves into fields that, at least for the moment, seem less risky than the fields people are in today. Generally, the new fields that people say they would consider have similarities to their current jobs.  

Digital and information technology top the list of potential next careers, probably because of the expanding opportunities in those areas and the generally high remuneration. For example, more than 20% of people currently working in artistic or creative jobs say they would retrain for a digital job, as do more than 20% of people currently working in consulting or media. Office and management jobs (such as marketing and human resources) are also seen as attractive next career steps, possibly because of the perceived ease of transitioning into those jobs for a variety of workers.

Workers have already been taking steps to upgrade their skills. The proportion of workers spending a few weeks or more on skill building each year has held steady, at about two-thirds, since BCG and The Network last asked this question, in 2018.

The approach to learning has evolved, however. Forty-eight percent of people now use an online educational institution (such as a MOOC, or massive open online course) for learning, and 36% now use a mobile app. Both approaches still trail on-the-job training and independent study, today’s most popular approaches to workplace learning, but in the era of the pandemic digital approaches have made inroads.

The data gathered for Decoding Global Reskilling and Career Paths provides insights into workers’ career expectations by gender, age, education level, and position in the job hierarchy.