The United States economy added 1.4 million jobs this August, reducing the unemployment rate to 8.4 percent. That’s terrific for the million-plus Americans who found work during these trying times, but this good news is small solace. To date, the unemployment rate remains 4.9 percentage points higher than it was in February. That means more than double the number Americans are unemployed today than when they rang in the New Year.
According to a recent Morning Consult survey, that fact is largely the fault of novel coronavirus—another of 2020’s soul-crushing trends. The survey found that about half of today’s job seekers are looking as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey was commissioned by Amazon in advance of its 2020 Career Day, the mega-corporation’s nationwide hiring event. Career Day provides attendees the opportunity to attend fireside chats with career experts, receive one-on-one career coaching, and apply to work at various Amazon positions, while simultaneously filling the company’s coffers with resumes. According to Amazon, last year’s event saw 17,000 job seekers attend across six U.S. cities. This year, the event has gone digital.
“COVID-19 continues to affect millions of people across the country, and people are eager for the opportunity to get back to work,” Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a release. “We’re continuing to hire people from all backgrounds and at all skill levels, and we’re glad to be able to mobilize our team of experienced recruiters and HR professionals to help job seekers across the country learn about opportunities at Amazon and elsewhere.”
For the event, Amazon commissioned Morning Consult to take a survey of the changing job hunt dynamics and then posted the highlights on its blog. The results showed that 53 percent of job seekers are on the hunt because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unless you’re a prehistoric ice man, frozen in time since the halcyon days 2019, these results will hardly be surprising. Unemployment plunged to unprecedented levels in April of this year, a direct consequence of economic shutdowns enacted to repress the transmission of novel coronavirus. Spotty as they were, those shutdowns may have saved 2.7 million lives; however, many furloughed workers believe those temporary layoffs have become permanent. For others, they have.
The survey’s more interesting findings inform on how job seekers have been approaching their search. About a third of those surveyed believe their current work did not utilize either their skills or training, and 61 percent are actively looking for work in a different industry. Industries singled out include healthcare and technology.
To stay relevant, these job seekers are also seeking opportunities to gain new skills. The survey found that nearly a third of them believe technical skills will a key factor in a successful search. Nearly half would change jobs if their new employer offered upskill training.
These results provide a clue that the pandemic may have accelerated predicted employment trends of the 21st-century. Many experts have warned that automation and other technological advancements have the potential to take millions of jobs from human workers. Kalus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, dubbed this seismic shift the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
As noted by the World Economic Forum in its “The Future of Jobs Report 2018“: “There are complex feedback loops between new technology, jobs and skills. New technologies can drive business growth, job creation and demand for specialist skills but they can also displace entire roles when certain tasks become obsolete or automated.”
Preparations and prescriptions recommended by these experts have varied. Former Democratic president candidate Andrew Yang proposed a universal basic income. Others, like the World Economic Forum and Kenzie Academy, support innovative education and upskilling efforts to teach workers the hard and soft skills necessary to compete in a tech-driven market.
This forecast looks eerily similar to a post-COVID-19 one. With the pandemic scattering employees to the four winds, and home offices, employers are increasingly turning to technology to survive. Tech-focused companies, like Amazon, are thriving. These companies need workers who can work alongside technology and cultivate the skills machines and AI cannot easily replicate.
This survey suggests that many of today’s job seekers have intuited this paradigm shift. Hopefully, the resources and infrastructure will be available to help people develop their capacity and make the post-COVID-19 job market a more promising one.