How are different sectors adapting to the pandemic?

Which sectors are surviving and struggling due to the pandemic? Find out how employers are adapting to coronavirus lockdown and what that could mean for your future job hunt.

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Sectors that are surviving: IT & technology | Healthcare and public sector, charity and social work

Sectors that are suffering: Hospitality, travel and leisure | Media, journalism and the arts

The coronavirus pandemic has led employers to ensure staff can uphold social distancing in their places of work and (in many cases) to battle with the economic repercussions of lockdowns and recessions both in this country and worldwide. Different industries, sectors and job roles have been affected in different ways, with some being able to continue operating with less disturbance, while others have been forced to a standstill. The impact of the pandemic isn’t just relevant for people considering a career in the latter sectors and employers: being aware of the effects on the wider economy will benefit anybody’s commercial awareness.

Ongoing uncertainty, exacerbated by new strains of the virus and changes to the extent of social distancing measures, may have led consideration of the future to feel like a task best avoided right now. As the UK faces its first recession since 2009, this might be particularly true when it comes to thinking about careers. While it’s fine to prioritise your mental health at the moment, remember that coronavirus shouldn’t – and doesn’t – mean your career ambitions are unattainable. There will still be people hiring and your skills will be needed. To illustrate this, and perhaps to guide you if you do decide to change the direction of your career as a result of the pandemic, we’ve picked out some examples of sectors that are ‘surviving’ and those that are ‘struggling’.

There’s no way to be 100% certain about the future of the job market – the following is based on our assessment and perception of the information available at the time of writing. We would always encourage students and graduates to do as much research as possible from a variety of sources before making career decisions. Please read this article for more guidance on how coronavirus could affect graduate recruitment and your job hunt.

Which sectors are surviving during the pandemic?

These are sectors and industries that we think are likely to stay relatively resilient throughout the pandemic, have adapted in interesting or unexpected ways and/or will be able to bounce back quickly once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

IT & technology

Country-wide lockdowns have reinforced how crucial technology can be in allowing people to communicate with each other. Many businesses have adopted home/remote working and business communication platforms (such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Slack) and this doesn’t seem to be something that will end with the pandemic. Facebook, for example, announced its plans in May 2020 to eventually allow most of its workforce to request to work remotely. Therefore, maintaining and improving this infrastructure, and creating new ways for work to be done collaboratively online, will likely continue to be in-demand well into the future.

Many technology job roles can operate during the pandemic with relatively little disruption, in large part due to being able to be carried out online or remotely. Examples of these roles include software developers, QA testers and data scientists.

The pandemic has, however, brought to the fore many long-standing concerns about certain technologies (both legitimate and less so), with issues such as cybersecurity and data privacy making headlines. As more and more of people’s lives move online, the jobs of cyber security specialists and data protection officers are likely to be of increasing importance.

Healthcare and public service, charity and social work

The future of these sectors has always been heavily dependent on political will and public opinion and, while there are likely to be many more challenges for workers in these sectors over the weeks and months ahead, there can be no doubt that this crisis has shown how much society relies on people who help others. A swell of public support has also been matched with financial support; the Treasury announced an emergency response fund of £14bn for healthcare and public services in April 2020, with £6.6bn of this going to the NHS. Following this, the government announced its plans for almost 900,000 public sector employees to receive a pay rise. While it would be impossible to say exactly what health and public services will look like in the future, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed the sector’s fortunes.

The charity sector initially suffered badly as a result of lockdown measures, with many charities being unable to operate on normal terms without the support of volunteers and donations. The BBC reported that, at the end of March 2020, Oxfam and Age UK had already placed 70% of their staff on ‘furlough’ (government-sponsored, non-working leave). However, in the weeks after, the UK government announced that £750m would be made available to charities during the pandemic. How much this has gone to support a particular charity (and so how much a charity might be in a position to recruit) depends on the type of work it does, as the money is directed at ‘frontline’ charities providing essential services during the pandemic.

Which sectors and industries are suffering due to coronavirus?

The nature of some sectors means that operating with social distancing measures is more difficult, while for others the continuing impact of the lockdown and the recession is taking a particular toll. However, the severity of the economic impact on these industries, and how fast they will be able to recover, does vary.

Hospitality, travel and leisure

While local and national lockdowns have also hit this sector by causing closures, the increased number of job losses and level of income insecurity has led many to consider a meal at a restaurant a luxury they can’t afford – whether it’s an option or not. Furthermore, even when opening their doors has been allowed, those businesses relying on people popping in before they catch a train or during their lunch break have struggled since the beginning of the pandemic. Examples include Costa Coffee, which announced in September 2020 that 1,650 job roles were at risk of being made redundant, and Pret a Manger, which stated in August 2020 its plan to cut a third of its workforce.

Similarly, hotels rely on people having the confidence and financial stability to travel, as well as the incentive to do so – such as that provided by business trips. Whether or not they can legally be open to the public, it is likely that the state of the economy, an enduring cautious attitude and social distancing measures will see them continue to face difficulties.

The travel industry is potentially one of the worst hit. At the centre of this is the severely affected commercial airline industry, which has had knock-on effects on tourism and travel. With many countries putting in place travel restrictions and the UK requiring returning passengers from certain countries to quarantine themselves, the number of flights has decreased significantly. ABTA, the UK’s largest travel association, stated in August 2020 that 90,000 jobs were at risk in the industry. The airline industry is likely to be affected by a lasting fallout for a number of years. Virgin Atlantic announced further job cuts in September last year (after initial cuts in May) and EasyJet confirmed plans to close its bases at three UK airports in August 2020 – as just two examples showing how this sector is struggling.

Media, journalism and the arts

Journalism has been hit hard by the pandemic, despite increased volumes of coverage around coronavirus. Newspapers and print media have reduced print runs to match diminished demand from shops and distribution networks. Similarly, advertising has often been ‘pulled’ or postponed, resulting in a loss of revenue. This is also the case online. Despite reported high viewing figures on coronavirus-related news, many advertisers are hesitant for their products and services to be promoted alongside the virus.

As a result, many newspapers furloughed staff and some regional papers are at risk of collapsing entirely. Any print journalism organisation that does not already have a strong online presence is unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels unless they can shift focus.

While the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund announced by the government is supporting some employers in industries such as theatre, music and film, the slowing down of production due to changes to restrictions globally and the impact of coronavirus on the numbers of consumers and customers (such as social distancing measures in cinemas, theatres and music venues) means these employers are still suffering. Many theatres, for example, are finding that it will be unprofitable to show performances at the limited capacity that social distancing allows.

On the other hand, television production has been able to continue – albeit in a slightly altered form. Talk show guests and news correspondents have dialled into TV shows or are seated two metres apart in the studio and new coronavirus-based factual programmes have already been aired.

Retail: a tale of two destinies

While all industries have somewhat varying fates – with factors such as whether a company is eligible for a government subsidy and its main customer base making a difference – this is particularly the case when it comes to retail.

Supermarkets are seeing the rapid increase in demand they experienced during the first lockdown. As may be expected, the hiring of shop floor staff in supermarkets has also slowed down. However, some supermarkets, such as Tesco, announced permanent positions for those workers employed temporarily to pull them through the first lockdown – and many will continue to recruit.

Outside supermarkets, on the other hand, in-store positions are being made redundant as stores are closing. At the beginning of July, H&M Group stated its plans to permanently close down 170 of its stores globally. Arcadia Group and Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group went into administration last year, causing the closing down of stores including Debenhams, Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Peacocks and Jaeger.

In better news, it’s likely that adapting to the ‘new normal’ will lead retailers (including both supermarkets and those selling ‘luxury’ products such as clothes and makeup) to advertise for new job roles in areas such as tech and logistics. The number of consumers who do their weekly grocery shop online has doubled since the end of lockdown, and supermarkets need to react to such trends. In addition, many fashion retailers, such as Oasis and Warehouse, are accelerating the focus towards online operations that (for many) began before the pandemic. As well as a response to changes in the way people are buying, for many retailers this is a way of cutting the costs associated with maintaining a physical store in order to deal with the decline in sales caused by coronavirus and the resulting recession.

Last updated: January 2021

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