As the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the United States’ economy, tens of millions of people have been put out of work in less than two months. On Friday, the US unemployment rate was officially pegged at 14.7 percent, a likely low estimate that also does not include millions who have taken pay cuts. With little help from a government that has largely focused on big business and Wall Street, workers in many industries are looking for new ways to maintain income streams while stuck at home.
At UpWork, one of the largest freelance platforms in the U.S., job seeker registration volume is up 50 percent since the coronavirus outbreak, Adam Ozimek, chief economist at the company, told Observer. But the employer side, while the number of jobs available didn’t see a correlating surge, Ozimek said, UpWork still saw a “steady growth” in hiring activities.
Customer service, e-commerce and COVID-19 related projects are among the most popular job areas during the coronavirus crisis.
Sara-Mai Conway, a career fitness instructor based in Austin, Texas, lost her in-studio teaching income after her yoga studio closed in mid-March due to local shelter-in-place orders. Already doing some work as a freelance lifestyle writer through UpWork as a side hustle, she’s doubled down and expanded it into her full-time focus.
“Before the quarantine, about 50 percent to 70 percent of my income came from yoga teaching. So I really needed to find new sources of income,” she told Observer. Conway now writes full-time for clients including Zappos and a popular meditation app on a wide range of health and wellness topics.
“I don’t see myself going back to teach yoga anytime soon, even after my studio reopens,” she said. “So this could actually be a career change down the road.”
Online teaching, including teaching English as a second language for foreign audiences, has been another booming area during the pandemic, as most schools are set to stay closed through at least summer. A report by Udemy, the world’s largest marketplace for online teaching and learning, last week showed that overall online learning activities surged 425 percent during the quarantine, with demand highly correlating with the severity of pandemic (therefore shelter-in-place measures) in different countries. In the U.S., enrollment of online courses has jumped 130 percent since widespread quarantine orders took effect.
To the extremely devoted, a temporary change of day job during emergency time could turn into a life-changing career shift.
Foreseeing a massive wave of infection coming to the U.S. as early as February, Chriselle Lim, a working mom and seasoned fashion stylist with over 1.3 million followers on Instagram and 800,000 fans on YouTube, made a drastic decision to transform her then stealth-mode pre-school education business, bümo, into a full-blown online education program.
“A lot of schools are trying to retro-fit their traditional teaching model to the virtual world. It’s just not working,” Lim said in an interview with Observer. “Those online classes are crowded. On Zoom calls 20 kids would be talking on top of each other.
“Online teaching just takes a different set of skills,” she added. “The instructors have to know how to engage with children through technology. They have to have a type of energy that can transcend through a computer. That’s very different than [engaging with children] in person.”
bümo offers a monthly subscription program that provides small-class (usually fewer than five students) virtual courses and a monthly box of education tools for parents and children to continue learning with offline. Since opening up reservations, the company has attracted about 1,000 members globally on the waitlist and is actively recruiting instructors to fulfill the upcoming class demand.
With over a decade of experience in self-employment in the mercurial business of fashion and social media marketing, Lim has two tips for people who are looking to launch a fresh career out of the pandemic.
“First, figure out what your ‘service’ is. We are so lucky to be living in a digital age where you can literally make nothing into something. You can take any skill you have and market it into a service,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about bringing value to someone’s life. Then, really understand the platforms that are available. It could be anything from an emailer to Instagram or Facebook.”
Any recovery is bound to be slow and, given technological shifts and new guidelines governing social distancing and sanitation, chances are that many of those lost jobs will be gone forever, leaving millions out of work indefinitely.
To those who are not yet ready for a career change, but look to adapt their old skills to a home office, UpWork’s Ozimek says “it’s always a good idea to stick to what you know best.”
“A great place to start is to browse around and see what work is available within your expertise,” he added. “Then, it’s important to build an online reputation when you first start out.”
Given the market conditions, matching your prior income isn’t likely to happen, at least not for a while.
“Set your rates low when you start out to get as much as possible. Once you have client reviews, make sure to highlight them in your portfolio and ‘sell’ your portfolio as much as you can.”