Apparently not yet, according to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS report looked at the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on occupational flows across the labour market – in particular, how it has affected flows between employment, unemployment and inactivity, as well as the extent of labour mismatch.

The ONS grouped occupations together by level of skill and specialism. It distinguished employees who made job-to-job moves within the same occupation which did not result in any changes to their Standard Occupational Classification.

Key findings:

  • interestingly, while 5.7% of employees switched occupations in Q1 and Q2 of 2019, there was a limited rise to 6.1% in Q1 and Q2 of 2020;
  • the occupations that saw the largest outflows and inflows between Q1 and Q2 of 2020 were the associate professional and technical occupations;
  • the highest proportion of movement between Q1 and Q2 of 2020 related to 6.2% of workers moving out of professional occupations – which could either represent a labour market mismatch or a transfer of similar skills between occupations; and
  • notably, of the 6.1% employees who changed occupation in Q1 and Q2 of 2020, 52.5% changed major industry as some businesses were disproportionately affected by the fallout from the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) may have had an impact on why there have been only minor occupational switches since the pandemic began. Many of the circa 9.6 million workers on furlough may have been wary of disrupting their current support arrangements. Others may have simply been waiting to see how their current employer weathered the storm.

While the UK’s demand for labour fell dramatically between Q1 and Q2 of 2020, unemployment numbers have remained fairly low in comparison, at 3.9%.

However, the net flow into economic inactivity increased by 75,000 individuals in the same period – the highest net increase since 2013. This may be a warning sign of things to come, according to a Parliamentary Report which looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. The Treasury’s July 2020 average forecast predicted an increase in unemployment to 8% for Q4 of 2020 and 6.5% for Q4 of 2021.

As at 31 July, the three sectors with the highest proportion of furloughed employees were the accommodation and food services sector (77%); the arts, entertainment and recreational sector (70%); and the construction sector (60%). The government has been alive to the impact on the food and beverage industry in particular. Treasury figures show many businesses took advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme with around 100 million meals having been claimed before it ended on 31 August. Some within the hospitality sector have even opted to voluntarily match the discounts offered under the scheme with the aim of boosting demand. It will be interesting to see how these figures develop over the coming months.

The data from the Parliamentary Report suggests that, economically, the most affected groups from the pandemic were workers from a BAME background, women, young workers, low paid workers and disabled workers. There are also variations between countries. These groups may therefore face the greatest economic pressure to switch occupation.

While we might not yet have seen high levels of occupational changes, the coming months are likely to bring a marked increase in both voluntary and non-voluntary switches.