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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.

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

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

With the UK currently facing lockdown restrictions and people being encouraged to social distance due to the coronavirus pandemic, many employers are having to find ways to adapt to these unusual circumstances. Different industries, sectors and job roles have all been affected in different ways, with some being able to continue pretty much undisturbed, while others have been forced to a standstill. Knowing about the impact of the pandemic isn’t just for people considering a career in these sectors: being aware of these effects on the wider economy will benefit anybody’s commercial awareness.

Thinking about the future now can feel like an insurmountable task – there is no immediate end to the lockdown in sight and the long-term repercussions of the pandemic are still unknown – and this is especially true when it comes to thinking about careers. One scenario recently put forward by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility reported that, over a three-month lockdown, the UK’s GDP (gross domestic product) could shrink by 35%, and unemployment could rise by two million. However, this shouldn’t, and doesn’t, spell an end to your career ambitions – there will still be people hiring and your skills will be needed. To illustrate this, 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 through 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

The past few weeks have reinforced how crucial technology can be in allowing people to communicate with each other. While many businesses will be seeking to return to operating ‘as normal’ as soon as possible, it seems unlikely that the widespread adoption of home/remote working and business communication platforms (such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Slack) will be entirely tossed aside once lockdown conditions are lifted. Jobs 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 in recent days. 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 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 has announced an emergency response fund of £14bn for healthcare and public services, with £6.6bn of this going to the NHS. While it’d 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 being unable to operate on normal terms without the support of volunteers and donations. The BBC reported that, at the end of March, Oxfam and Age UK had already placed 70% of their staff on ‘furlough’ (government-sponsored, non-working leave). However, in the weeks since, the UK government has announced that £750m will be made available to ‘frontline’ charities during the pandemic.

Retail

The fates of retailers and their supporting industries have been mixed. Supermarkets and food retailers are considered essential businesses and have had to adapt very quickly to increased demand and health advice. Most supermarkets have hired thousands of temporary staff (ranging from 20,000 new hires by Tesco to 2,500 by Lidl, according to The Grocer) and have implemented new social distancing measures and protection for their staff (such as screens to protect cashiers). As a result, while customers might have to get used to new practices and disruption to stock availability, supermarkets and food retailers are already operating relatively normally.

Other retailers have been affected more severely by government instructions to ‘non-essential’ businesses to close, consequently disrupting supply chains and the logistics sector. Many outlets have switched to online-only and have seen an increase in customer demand. However, this has not been without its own issues – safe working conditions for staff in warehouses has become an even more pressing concern and stores have struggled to keep up with web traffic. Clothes retailer Next, for example, had to close its online store after only two hours of operation. Clearly, the demand for ‘non-essential’ goods is still there and, as lockdown life continues, both customers and the retail, consumer goods and logistics sectors are going to have to adapt to business online.

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Which sectors and industries are suffering due to coronavirus?

The nature of some sectors means that they cannot operate without face-to-face contact or risking spreading the coronavirus. 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

Hotels, restaurants and pubs were some of the first businesses to be closed on government advice – many parts of this sector will remain effectively non-functional over the course of the pandemic and it’s likely that many employees have been put on furlough or even lost their jobs.

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 non-essential travel being discouraged, the number of flights has decreased significantly – Heathrow Airport predicted a 90% fall in passenger numbers over April. High operating costs for commercial airlines and pre-existing financial concerns have resulted in airlines making staff redundant or placing them on furlough. British Airways reportedly suspended 30,000 staff, others (such as Virgin Atlantic) are seeking government bailouts and a few (such as FlyBe and Virgin Australia) have already filed for administration. The airline industry is likely to be affected by a lasting fallout for a number of years.

Some parts of the sector have been able to adapt to fill different roles over the course of the pandemic: local authorities and charities have arranged for hotels to remain open as accommodation for key workers and vulnerable people, and restaurants and pubs are now able to operate as hot food takeaways without requiring planning permission. It was also recently announced that fast-food chains such as Pret a Manger, Burger King and KFC were to reopen as delivery/takeaway-only establishments.

Media and journalism

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. The Guardian Media Group reported that it was expecting advertising revenue to fall by £20m in the first six months of the year.

As a result, many newspapers have furloughed staff (Reach – the publisher of the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Star, as well as many regional newspapers – has furloughed around 1,000 staff, while The Guardian and The Telegraph have both furloughed around 100 non-editorial staff). Many papers are at risk of collapsing entirely. The Jewish Chronicle, for example, entered into liquidation in April, but after finding a buyer, is likely to continue printing. Across the UK and US, many regional papers may not be so fortunate and may cease operations entirely. Any print journalism organisation that do not already have a strong online presence are unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels unless they can shift focus.

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 a raft of new coronavirus-adjacent factual programming has already been aired. This freedom to adapt is not shared by other aspects of the media, with major film and stage productions being halted (though they can resume production immediately after lockdown conditions have been lifted). To make up for the wait, and to keep other people under lockdown entertained, many film studios and theatre companies are now releasing footage of their productions online for people to view at home.

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