The leisure and hospitality sector has cut nearly a quarter of its workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. Workers at hotels, restaurants, convention centers and resorts have been among the hardest hit by the restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.  

The latest labor market update showed a bounce back in employment within the sector as more businesses like bars and restaurants reopen, a gain of 355,000 jobs. But according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 13.5% of leisure and hospitality workers remain unemployed

Buoyed by the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines and warmer weather on the horizon, some are beginning to feel hopeful about the hospitality outlook, but workers in the sector may still want to extend their job search and frame their existing skills as transferable to new careers. 

Ira Rosen, associate professor of event management at Temple University in Philadelphia, said he’s optimistic that the industry will return but admitted that it will not be on the scale of 2019. “We won’t see 500,000-people concerts like Coachella, but there is pent up demand for regional travel. People want to make short trips and getaway, safely.” 

Even in an improving economy, there are reasons to be concerned about job growth. A report from August 2020 points to a possible wave of hotel foreclosures. And even as some iconic leisure businesses reopen — Disneyland is slated to begin reopening on April 1 — some are predicting that tourism may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

Some hospitality jobs remain in demand due to the pandemic. “Janitorial skills are more in demand than ever because of Covid,” Rosen said. 

He is optimistic for this year’s graduating class, but also recognized that some people may not want to return to the hospitality industry. For those seeking work in a new field, Rosen says they have lots of transferable skills. “Whether it be budgeting skills, consumer services skills, risk and crisis management skills. Anyone in the hospitality industry has people skills and those are always in demand,” he said.  

Transferring skills may be critical for many women. The accommodations and food services sector employs more women than men, and women in the labor force have been adversely affected by the pandemic. More than 2.3 million have left the workforce since February 2020. In December alone, women accounted for 100% of the jobs lost.  

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Toni Frana, a career coach at job listings site Flexjobs, said in an email that “skills like relationship building, adaptability, attention to detail and listening required of hospitality industry employees lend themselves to a variety of jobs encompassing many other industries. In fact, most jobs require at least one skill that’s considered transferable.” 

recent report by Flexjobs highlighted industries seeing a resurgence in hiring. Sales, customer service and project management all ranked highly.

“Doesn’t matter if it is a chef or hostess, they like to care for people,” said Nancy Medoff, a career coach and founder of AthenaWise.

Hospitality workers need to make that connection to potential employers when trying to switch careers. “They need to repurpose their skills and explain to the hiring manager their skills transfer. The hiring manager won’t make the connection,” Medoff said.

Frana said job seekers should use the STAR Method when interviewing to give specific and concrete examples of their transferable skills. “If an employer asks you a question about a difficult customer situation you’ve experienced, you could describe the situation, what steps you took to resolve it, mentioning transferable skills like listening to the customer and building relationships, and then how you used problem-solving skills to resolve the issue for the customer.” 

Still, Medoff says your odds are much higher if you already have a connection in a desired field, and networking is more important than ever. The shift to remote work has made networking easier, to a degree. “People are nicer than they used to be and are craving connection,” she said. “Most people want to help others,” she added.

But she stressed that job seekers need to be strategic and warns against applying to jobs that are not a good fit. “You can’t send out 700 applications and hope to find your dream job. You need to hone in on what you like.”