Coronavirus has cost jobs — but there’s a silver lining for those looking to change careers
Food has been a mainstay in Jessica Nguyen’s life, but she never thought it would be her career.
More than eight months into the pandemic, her home cooking is paying the bills.
With a decade of experience in public relations and marketing, the Melbourne woman worked with some of Australia’s most recognisable beauty brands, enjoying what she described as a “comfortable” life.
But, like thousands of Australians, she was unexpectedly made redundant at the beginning of March, and joined the ranks of those who have decided to reskill.
“The first lockdown was pretty much imminent, so I was just trying to find another marketing or PR job,” Ms Nguyen said.
“But we went to lockdown, and no-one was hiring.”
Rather than frantically scramble for a new position, Ms Nguyen adjusted her focus.
“I love cooking, so I made that the therapy or the hobby, whereas other people might do yoga and whatnot,” she said.
She began “cooking her way out of COVID” in the middle of Melbourne’s first wave, putting her recipes on Instagram Stories as step-by-step guides.
When she realised the reach her posts were getting, Ms Nguyen decided she could take her experience as a brand manager to launch her own business as a food freelancer.
She is now creating a range of content, offering everything from recipe tutorials to cook-a-long Zoom sessions.
With more than 50,000 Instagram followers, a slew of brand partnerships, and big plans for her future, the gamble and hard work have paid off.
“When things like this happen it’s terrible, but it forces businesses and people like myself to rethink and pivot and change,” she said.
The push of the pandemic
Statistics are hard to come by on the number of Australians who have reskilled or changed jobs since the March lockdowns, but there are indicators.
A May study by finance group ING found that as many as 3.3 million Australian adults were rethinking their careers because of the devastating impacts COVID-19 has had on the economy.
“What a lot of career development practitioners and career professionals are doing right now is assisting clients with looking at the data and seeing where the growth is,” said University of Queensland career educator Jennifer Luke.
“The growth industries are health and social assistance. COVID is definitely fuelling it.”
When Virgin Australia employee Shannon Stanbridge was stood down, the Adelaide woman chose to take the time to reskill in a field she had always been interested in.
“I applied for close to 50 jobs when I left Virgin,” Ms Stanbridge said.
“Then I thought maybe I should look at studying, because I’m never going to have that time again.”
She chose to enrol in a Certificate III in Pathology Collection, to retrain to become a phlebotomist — someone who draws blood for laboratory analysis.
“My second lesson I was taking blood,” she said.
“I was rapt it was so hands on — that’s how I learn.”
Ms Stanbridge is far from alone in making the switch — TAFE SA enrolments in nursing and pathology have increased by more than a third over the past 12 months.
“The pandemic was that push to see if, firstly, there was something else I was interested in, then, secondly, giving me the chance to go for it,” she said.
From office to kitchen
When working-from-home requirements emptied his office, Cian Ash found himself focusing on the parts of his office job that he disliked.
“When there weren’t a lot of people around, it was really starting to get to me,” he said.
“There was me and one other guy in the office, which took up the entire floor of the building. It was apocalyptic.”
Now, he is six months into his Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery, and has no regrets about making the change.
“I’m 35 and starting something completely new,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of hard work and kind of paying my dues ahead of me, but something being hard isn’t a good reason not to do it.”
Employment expert Ruth Bridgstock said while coronavirus had created necessities, it had also created opportunities.
“There are instances of individuals who have maybe taken advantage of the push that coronavirus has provided to reinvent themselves and their careers,” Professor Bridgstock said.
“Understandably, some people may be in financial situations where this may be difficult, but we want people who are considering career changes to be moving into roles that will be suitable for them, that will be a good match.
“There might not be a ready-made job for you [but] you might be able to create something by drawing on capabilities you have.”
Shift towards soft skills
With early data showing about a million Australians were laid off in the initial stages of the pandemic — and 30,000 jobs lost in September alone — the job market is hugely competitive.
“We’ve seen a number of shifts as a result of COVID,” LinkedIn senior director for talent and learning Adam Gregory said.
“It’s a much more competitive marketplace now.”
It is particularly tough for women, with female-dominated industries disproportionately impacted.
“The pandemic is definitely affecting women in the workplace very differently to men,” Mr Gregory said.
“The data is showing women are less likely to get back into the workplace during COVID, and we’ve seen their applications lessen.”
With a spike in the number of applications being received per role, and overqualified applicants flooding entry-level positions, Mr Gregory said there was a “real focus” on soft skills such as communication and creative thinking.
“If you think about someone who has no specific industry experience, they could still have a lot of the soft skills that are transferable,” he said.
For job seekers who find themselves with gaps on their resumes, Mr Gregory said investing in self-development was important.
“As a potential employer, I’d be looking at someone who is investing in themselves, investing in learning and developing their own skillset,” he said.
“That’s going to be a really important factor for people who are finding themselves out of work for a longer period of time.”
‘Full steam ahead’
Looking back, Ms Nguyen is the picture of pandemic success, pivoting perfectly from a job to launching her own business.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of conversations I had with my husband, who I had to convince that this could potentially be my new job,” she said.
“He was pretty reluctant because I guess he doesn’t really understand the world of influencer marketing and how you can make money off that.
“Once I convinced him, then I just went full steam ahead and decided to do this.”