As we enter the next phase of reopening the UK economy and easing lockdown restrictions, many are returning to work in different jobs and new industries after a career change due to COVID-19.
A study conducted by Aviva shows more than half of UK workers (53%) plan to change their careers as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The ‘How We Live’ study also suggests people aged 25-34 are amongst those most likely to want to retrain or change career.
A young person whose life and career has changed significantly in the past year is 28-year-old Emma Bolton, who was a professional Bollywood dancer working in Mumbai before the pandemic and now works from her kitchen table in Swansea.
Starting 2020 surrounded by the glitz of Bollywood, little did she know that in a couple of months’ time she would leave behind Bollywood glamour and return to her Welsh roots.
Trained at Performers College in Essex and originally from Sketty in Swansea, Emma reluctantly left Mumbai in April 2020 on a repatriation flight ordered by the UK government.
“I didn’t want to come back at all, I was adamant it was only going to be for a month and then we’d all get back to work.”
Only planning to stay in India for six months, Emma had worked in Mumbai for two years when the pandemic hit and she was faced with a choice of what to do next.
“I just felt that if the government are coming to save us, then it’s probably time to go” she said.
Career highlights included performing at events, music video shoots, and an advert for Pepsi India.
“I did one job where we thought it was just a small photo shoot and the next day my friend sent me a photo of me on a giant billboard, which was very strange to see.”
“There was never an average day, I was once asked to greet guests with a lampshade on my head” she laughed.
When she returned to Swansea and realisation set in that COVID-19 wasn’t going anywhere quickly, Emma was forced to explore other career options.
“I had been a dancer for ten years and all of a sudden needed a plan-b.”
She added: “I’ve gone from a super-busy manic lifestyle to a stay-at-home office job.”
Fast forward to June and Emma successfully earned a role working for a London-based PR company.
“I didn’t think I would enjoy it, because I’ve spent my whole life saying I’ll never get a 9-5 job.”
“Sitting at a desk all day is strange” she added.
Emma explained how the pandemic forced her to take a risk and leave behind the only industry she had known.
“I think I always knew dancing wasn’t going to be my forever job, but didn’t know what was going to be.”
She joked: “It would’ve been nice if it didn’t take a global pandemic for me to have a career change.”
Now forging a successful career in PR and communication, Emma is grateful things worked out in the end.
“It’s paid off for me, luckily, I know not everyone has been so lucky” she said.
The Office for National Statistics confirmed young people were disproportionately affected by the labour market crisis caused by the pandemic.
As hospitality and retail are the largest employers of young people, they bore the brunt of widespread industry cuts.
The pandemic saw the loss of 355,000 jobs in hotels, restaurants and pubs, and more than 171,000 in shops.
The government’s furlough scheme is said to have protected more than 11 million jobs since March 2020, by assisting employers to pay wages to their staff.
However, there are question marks around the impact of the scheme’s planned end in September.
Head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, Suren Thiru, said: “Although the furlough scheme will limit the peak in job losses, the longer-term structural unemployment caused by COVID-19, particularly among young people, may mean that the road back to pre-pandemic levels lags behind the wider economic recovery.”
Aviva’s How We Live report also found that almost half of the nation’s adults (45%) tried their hand at new hobbies in 2020, with more than three million workers planning to gain a second source of income through their new side-line.
Gareth Hemming, MD, Personal Lines, for Aviva said: “The additional time at home and the temporary closure of many services has meant that people have found different ways to use their time, and in some cases developed new skills.”
With the travel industry one of the worst hit, Keziah Clive, was put on furlough in her role as a travel agent in March 2020.
As those around her were made redundant, Kez was asked to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t seek alternative employment while receiving furlough payments.
“I wasn’t a fan of signing the contract but I loved my job so would’ve done anything to keep it.
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful but when you’re going from full wage to 80% when you’ve got bills to pay, it can be quite tough so I did want to just get a little side job.”
Surviving two rounds of staff cuts, Kez was made redundant at the end of October and with less than two years’ service, she had no redundancy pay to fall back on.
She said: “Luckily I saw it coming and made sure I was applying for jobs and had an interview on the day I lost my job so it worked out in the end.”
Now working as an administrator for an independent retailer, Kez has turned a crafting hobby into a successful business.
Crafting personalised keyrings and ornaments from Resin, Kez is hoping her creative passions will eventually become her full-time job.
“If it wasn’t for lockdown, I don’t think I would have ever started the business because you just get too comfortable in your everyday job and you just think you don’t have time.
“I think being in my own company for so long during lockdown, I realised how much time actually is in the day and how much you can fit in.”
Emma Vickers, is a 23-year-old graduate from who Oldham struggled with her mental health whilst working for the NHS during the pandemic, but hopes a new job as a prison officer will be a fresh start.
After graduating from Leeds Beckett University with a degree in Criminology in 2019, Emma hoped to pursue a career in the criminal field but like many new graduates, struggled to find a job.
With no luck finding her dream job, Emma started working for a company within the NHS in Manchester, booking medical appointments.
As the months progressed and the pandemic took hold, the company took on a new contract handling calls from those with COVID-19 symptoms.
She said: “There were a lot of opportunities during that period because it was a 24/7 role so there was a lot of overtime and I was actually making more money.
“But I also had no time for myself and it was a really stressful time, I think it impacted my mental health.
“I was really anxious and on edge all the time because I was in this pit that I couldn’t get out of.”
Unemployment is now at 4.9% and the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits has almost doubled to 2.7 million in March 2021 compared to the previous year.
Emma said she applied for countless jobs but the stream of rejection emails that followed, left her feeling demotivated and deflated.
Acutely aware of the declining job market, Emma felt she had no other option but to stay in the job.
“I think that’s why I stuck with that job even though I hated it so much.
“I knew a lot of people around me at the time were losing their jobs or being made redundant.”
To Emma’s delight, a prison officer vacancy became available and due to her criminology background, she secured the role.
Excited for what’s to come, she said: “It’s the type of job I’ve always wanted to get into because you’re working with people from all walks of life and you’re always on your toes.
“It is quite a dangerous job at times but that’s what I signed up for- I need to be stimulated and I need to make a difference.
“I want to be getting up every day knowing that I’ve got a purpose and a really important job to do.”
Like many that have gone through a career change, Emma hopes the new role is a turning point for both her career and mental health, as the nation slowly returns to normality.