(Image credit: Getty)
https://www.bbc.com/-By Alex Christian
More and more workers are switching sectors, and often seeking careers that offer greater purpose. This mass movement tells us a lot about how people view their jobs.
Marcin, 33, knew he needed a dramatic career shake-up. The New Jersey-based auditor had grown tired of a desk job in which his greatest interactions were over email, and his main day-to-day function was to serve a corporation’s bottom line. “I was doing the same repetitive work every day, sifting through massive amounts of data, essentially looking for human errors to gain money back for clients,” he explains. “It felt meaningless, and I didn’t like my co-workers.”
The final straw, says Marcin, came while on holiday. “I completely soured my time away anticipating I had to go back to work in a few days – I was that unhappy. I wanted a job that carried a greater purpose than punching numbers into a spreadsheet for a few hours every day.”
So, Marcin switched from auditing to nursing. After grinding through three years of community college and one year of nursing school, he took a job in a hospital intensive-care unit in October 2021. Rather than kill time cyberloafing in the office, he was now entrusted with caring for sick and vulnerable patients. “It was all-consuming, intense and super stressful – but I was content,” he says.
For Marcin, switching industries has allowed him to find a job that aligns with his values. “I fell into finance after initially struggling to find a job after graduating from college: it was milquetoast, mediocre work for which I had no passion,” he says. “I used to come home tired and irritable. Now, when my head hits the pillow, I have the belief that my contribution of labour has had greater meaning.”
Following the Great Resignation, millions of workers are shifting to new roles. Some are seeking better pay or flexibility; others are job hopping to accelerate their career progression. However, a swathe of workers are changing their vocation entirely. According to a July 2022 global survey of nearly 2,000 workers by McKinsey & Company, 48% of those who quit their job in the past two years have moved to a different sector.
Industry hopping is another feature of the changed world of work. In some instances, employees like Marcin are seeking a career that offers them greater purpose in the wake of the pandemic. Others, however, may be pushed out of their sector by long hours and burnout. Whatever the motivation, all this shuffling offers insight into people’s shifting perceptions of what a career should mean – and how workers might choose jobs in the future.
The rise of career switching
While industry hopping has accelerated following the pandemic, it’s not a brand-new phenomenon.
James Bailey, professor of leadership development at the George Washington University School of Business, based in Washington, DC, says career switching was once rare. “Among baby boomers, the mentality was ‘if you trained as a banker, then you have to be a banker’.” Mass layoffs in the 1980s began to shake loose thinking that employees should remain fixed to one company or career. “Workers began moving around the labour market when organisations stopped being loyal to the workers: people realised an employer would cut their job the moment they could.”
This generational shift helped remove the stigma of switching careers, adds Bailey. In some cases, it could even prove a worker was driven and self-motivated. “Over time, the concern of changing industries has diminished between employers and employees. In fact, it can be seen as good practice: someone from outside an industry can offer a fresh perspective on how to do things, and it can show they want to challenge themselves.”
However, the pandemic and subsequent hiring crisis have seemingly caused a spike in industry hopping. “There became greater opportunities to change careers as a result of supply and demand,” explains Bailey. “Organisations were desperate to fill vacancies, meaning workers were more likely to be well received if they switched sectors.”
In many instances, employees also began reassessing what they wanted from work. According to global McKinsey data, 65% of those who quit finance or insurance jobs in the past two years left the industry for good. In some cases, workers shifted from rigid career paths to more flexible ones. “There isn’t always much progression, innovation or meaningfulness behind finance jobs,” says Bailey. “The pandemic may have offered them a chance to experiment and try a new career that could be more fulfilling.”
Some workers leaving corporate jobs are switching to teaching, says Alicia Hamilton-Morales, SVP of content, community and brand at online-learning platform Skillshare, based in New York. “We’ve seen people make career pivots to creative careers, leaving jobs as lawyers to become full-time illustrators and [online] teachers.”
I got grilled during the interview process: a multitude of people asking why I was making the change, whether I could handle it and whether it was too different – Luke
Those already in purpose-driven careers may also look to switch industries due to burnout. Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, founder of career-change coaching business Tribe and Seek, based in Brighton, UK, says some of her clients, typically aged between 25 and 35, include medical workers and teachers. “These people were already stretched, then faced even greater pressures as frontline workers and pushed to the max during the pandemic. Some have had mental health struggles: they want to leave their industry but have a more niche skillset that can be hard to apply elsewhere.”
In these cases, workers often seek less emotionally draining jobs that are heavily linked to their previous career. “Particularly with secondary-school teaching, we see people that leave use the subject they specialised in to do something related,” says Rothwell-Boyd. “For example, a history teacher may work in a museum as an education officer.”
Industry hopping is typically easier for knowledge workers, says Rothwell-Boyd, in that they often have transferable skills. A complete career overhaul, however, may require further studies, taking a pay cut or beginning at a new organisation at a more junior level. “The bigger the change, the harder it is to make,” she adds.
Even with transferable skills, a worker switching careers often must quickly prove their worth to a potential employer. Luke, 32, industry hopped from a design consultancy to a London-based tech platform following his course with Rothwell-Boyd. He says he made the switch after feeling unfulfilled in his previous role. “I got grilled during the interview process: a multitude of people asking why I was making the change, whether I could handle it and whether it was too different.”
The longer-term implications
Bailey believes the current industry hopping is an acceleration of a trend that’s grown for decades: workers are changing jobs more quickly. “The pandemic opened up a greater number of opportunities to move across industry,” he says. “The generational shift has been longer term, but the hiring crisis provided a short-term spike.”
While gloomy economic forecasts may mean the current rise of industry hopping becomes somewhat stifled, Bailey says the prevalence of career switching generally grows over time. “This is becoming more of a reality for each generation, which is more likely to change jobs and be more socially mobile than the one before it. A worker’s loyalty isn’t to a company: it’s to their career, one that now includes different industries.”
Rothwell-Boyd says there has been a mindset shift in what a career means to workers. “People are rethinking what a ‘job’ means: their expectations of a role and employer are much higher following the pandemic. Employees aren’t only looking at pay – it’s finding a career that doesn’t feel like a job at all. They want work to be a bigger part of their life that’s not a grind, but energising and motivating every day instead.”
What everyone wants from their industry hopping will be different, and depend on where they’ve come from, what they’re moving towards and what they’re leaving behind. Psychological factors are often at play: whether it’s an employee seeking greater meaning that pulls them towards altruistic settings, or a worker facing burnout that’s pushed away.
While many nurses have quit the industry following burnout, Marcin is one of the workers who has moved in the reverse direction, leaving behind a corporate career to find a more purposeful one elsewhere. He says despite the ups and downs of being a nurse, he’s content in his career – he doesn’t plan on switching industries again any time soon. “Now, even when the job is tough and I return home exhausted, I maintain a sense of gratitude. I can finally say I like my job – I really do.”
Marcin and Luke are both using one name for job-security concerns