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The Pandemic Pivot

By: George Waggott, founder, and Roberto Fonseca-Velazquez, summer law student, George Waggott Law

The last several years have been challenging for the Canadian labour market. In the month of January 2021, there were huge job losses and the unemployment rate sat at 9.4%. This drop in employment numbers meant that Canada had lost almost 1 million jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many hundreds of thousands more had managed to keep their jobs but lost work hours. These job losses were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec as states of emergency were declared and stay at home orders implemented. The service and retail industries were the hardest hit. However, in the midst of the turmoil, some individuals took the downturn in the job market as an opportunity to reposition themselves in their career or to enhance their skills. This trend was dubbed the “Pandemic Pivot”.

Sometimes people faced with losing their position would continue within the same line of work while pursuing further education. For example, a cook who was laid-off might enroll in online culinary school for a particular cuisine that they did not have previous experience in. This would allow the cook to potentially obtain a better position based on their skills enhancement. Of course, an individual could also have made a bigger pivot by pursuing a new career in no way related to their position pre-pandemic. As an example, an out of work marketing manager might pursue a new career as a real estate agent.

According to the Globe and Mail, universities saw a spike in interest in both the fall 2020 and winter 2021 intakes. Total enrolment in fall 2020 at Canadian universities was slightly higher than the previous year, with this increase driven by those enrolled on a part-time basis. Over a similar period, The Chang School of Continuing Education at Toronto Metropolitan University in Toronto said its intake of adult learners was about 10% higher than in previous years. This may also have been the result of many universities and colleges providing their courses online which offered greater flexibility to students. Some of the most popular programs included data analytics, occupational health and safety, and business management.

Even though we are now a couple of years removed from the pandemic, it’s never too late for workers to make a pivot in their career. Each case is individual, so there is no strict formula that dictates how one would go about doing this. However, often the best starting point requires some inflection on a person’s previous career path or job and what they would like in the future. If a worker is happy with their career or job, they might consider taking some time to upskill. There are many online courses or programs that one can enroll in at any time.

Workers typically find substantial benefit from reflecting on where their skill gaps might be and take some time to research available options. If a worker is looking to make a total career change, they should take time to consider and research what career they would like to pursue, in order to truly understand what the switch involves. If they already possess the skills or qualifications necessary, then they may find success just directly applying to positions which they are interested in. If they lack some of the required skills or qualifications, the process is much the same as upskilling – they must take some time to research what qualifications and skills they need and then find a course or program that can help them acquire these. In all cases, an important perspective is that a pivot is possible to some degree in all fields and for employees at all levels.

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