A majority, 56%, of job seekers say they are looking for work in the same industries from which they were laid off — that’s more than 20.4 million people casting a net in the very industries that were hardest hit when the economy went into a freefall, a LiveCareer national survey of the unemployed found.
And more than 15.9 million job seekers are actually seeking a similar job in the same industry.
Sticking to what you know is most problematic for job seekers who don’t know how their transferable skills apply to jobs in other industries or have the confidence to explain to potential employers how their skills would apply.
Rich Goldberg, a former purchasing manager at TKI Marketing in New Jersey, doesn’t think his old job will come back, but he’s not sure what else he can do. "Not sure who will hire me now," he said.
Current job openings don’t look like the right fit. "There are plenty of jobs on the unemployment site, jobs in the healthcare industry, but am I qualified?" the 65-year-old says. "The rest are FedEx and delivery jobs."
Millions of job seekers are like Goldberg, unable to identify transferable skills and find applicable jobs in other industries, slowing down their job search in the process.
Ashley Cross, a career counselor based in West Palm Beach, Fla., says transferable skills are a critical part of the job search. "Employers are reporting they can train on industry-specific skills, but it’s best if job seekers highlight the transferable skills," Cross said. "By focusing on the transferable skills, you are going to get to that interview faster and you’re going to get hired faster."
- About 56% (20.4 million) say they’re looking for a job in a similar industry and of those, 78% (15.9 million) are looking for a similar role in that industry.
- Only 33% (12 million) say they could name jobs they can do with their transferable skills.
- And, 58% (21.2 million) aren’t confident they can find new jobs where their skills would apply.
The survey found that there is a significant gap in knowledge about transferable skills as well as confidence in how to use them among the more than 36.4 million U.S. workers who filed for unemployment between March 21 and May 9. When generalized to the population of COVID-displaced job seekers, the survey findings reveal the depth of the issues.
The LiveCareer survey, conducted from May 6 – May 11, of 1,519 job seekers unemployed because the COVID-19 pandemic shows possible trouble ahead for the millions of unemployed, as the economy continues to struggle and many industries are not expected to return to their pre-pandemic employment numbers.
Experts: Economic rebound is not around the corner
Experts say many industries will suffer long-term job losses, and some will never be the same. Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell told CBS News’s "60 Minutes" on May 17, that a full rebound from COVID-19 lockdowns may take until the end of 2021, because the United States suffered the "biggest shock that the economy’s had in living memory."
Some of the hardest hit industries have been:
- The restaurant business saw 3% of its operators permanently close their doors.
- The retail sector shed 2.1 million jobs and saw sales plunge by a record 16.4% in April, leaving 740,000 out of work at clothing and clothing accessories stores and 209,000 at furniture and home furnishings stores. J.Crew, Neiman Marcus and JCPenney are among the major retailers filing for bankruptcy in May.
- The leisure and hospitality unemployment rate hit 39.3% in April, up from 4.5% the same time last year. This category accounted for 60% of job losses in March and 37.5% in April.
Job seekers in such fields have a better chance of landing a job if they know how to confidently highlight their transferable skills.
Dillon Kinsella, who worked at a medical facility clearing the waste from doctors’ offices and the exam rooms in Utica, N.Y., says he has a firm grasp on his transferable skills. "I have skills driving a forklift," the 29-year-old said. "This would mean that while looking for employment, I would look for jobs where my qualifications would make me an ideal candidate for the job."
But most job seekers are not as familiar with how transferable skills work, leading the majority to look for work in the same industry that let them go.
Sticking with what you know could make finding employment difficult
A job seeker’s ability to use transferable skills to find employment outside the industry that laid them off could speed the return to the workforce. This is the area the survey highlighted as potentially problematic.
Many job seekers say they know their transferable skills, yet when it comes to using those skills to look for jobs there’s a disconnect, the LiveCareer survey found. While 65% say they could easily list their skills that would apply to other jobs, only 33% (or the equivalent of 12 million workers) say they would have no problem naming those jobs.
Part of the problem is that most job seekers don’t know how to identify jobs in other industries that relate to their transferable skills.
Less than half (42%) say they’re "completely or very confident" they could find new job opportunities where their transferable skills could apply, but 58% are not so sure of themselves. That’s more than 21.1 million people who lack the confidence to find a job outside their industry. This almost mirrors the lack of confidence most respondents have in simply identifying their transferable skills. And forty-three percent of job seekers say they are "completely or very confident" they can identify their transferable skills, but 57% — or 20.8 million — are not so sure of themselves.
Sophia Monique Batts loved her job at Oahu Woodworking, Inc., a cabinetmaking and millwork shop in Kapolei, Hawaii. In just seven months, she worked her way up to lead sprayer, becoming somewhat of an expert with lacquer paint.
Then, the coronavirus hit. Now she’s staying home, wearing masks, trying to avoid infection.
"I have no idea how my transferable skills will translate in the workforce," Batts said. "Searching for 11 weeks, I have yet to find a comparable position."
Batts says she’s "resourceful and diligent," yet she doesn’t see a way out of her current situation. Job seekers like Batts face even tougher problems when they start applying for jobs. Nearly half of respondents (47%) say they are uncomfortable applying for jobs in different industries, with only 32% saying it’s not a problem.
This leads some to stick with what they know, even if they’re in an industry severely impacted and not hiring because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half, 56%, of survey respondents say they’re looking for a job in a similar industry and of those, 78% are looking for a "similar job." Keep in mind, this is more than 20.4 million job seekers who are looking in a similar industry and more than 15.9 million looking for a similar job in a career field ravaged by the pandemic.
"COVID-19 has not only dented the economy, it has also changed how we do many things, like more working from home, virtual business meetings and online grocery ordering," Purdue University economist Victoria Prowse said. "Some of these changes could stick beyond the effects of COVID. In terms of jobs this might mean fewer jobs in hospitality, air travel and some corporate services like event management."
In other words, unemployed workers in those industries need to get a move on their job search or risk being left behind.
Job seekers expect a quick return to the workforce, higher earnings
The survey also revealed job seekers expressed optimism about how long they will be unemployed and the income they will earn when they return to work.
With an unemployment rate that could hit 25%, not seen since the Great Depression, the average stay on unemployment could be considerably longer as the country is slow to return to business from the COVID lockdown.
The median stay on unemployment in February 2020 was nine weeks, at a time when the United States was on an extended run of economic growth and had a 3.5% unemployment rate, a 50-year low.
Yet, almost half, 46%, of the job seekers surveyed expect to find employment in eight weeks or less, while 38% say it will take up to 24 weeks.
When it came to earnings, nearly half surveyed say they expect to earn more on their next job. Nearly one-third of Americans have seen their income decrease since the outbreak began, according to a Bankrate survey, and it’s unlikely to bounce back quickly for everyone. It took middle-class Americans a decade to start catching up after the 2007 Great Recession.
Ultimately, when the dust settles on the coronavirus pandemic, job seekers may need to alter their career paths, and the best way to do so, without pursuing further education or certification, is to hone in on the transferable skills that make them a strong contender in a variety of industries.
Janet Scarborough Civitelli, a career coach in Austin, Texas, sees a light at the end of the tunnel for job seekers. She believes job search perseverance and skill development are keys.
"Even in a terrible job market, there are still people being hired," she said. "Landing a job offer might require improving your effectiveness in your job search, adding new skills or working in temporary or freelance roles to make new connections, but don’t give up hope."