If Not Restaurants, Then What? How to Find Your Next Career

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Though many restaurants are closing their doors, laid-off restaurant workers can find plenty of other career options if they think outside the box. (Credit: Max Lindenthaler/Shutterstock)

By Anne Holub

The coronavirus pandemic has badly burned the restaurant business. Millions of the nation’s 15.5 million restaurant workers are getting by on gig work or unemployment insurance. Many restaurants will never recover, leaving workers wondering what’s next.

Some of the obvious options — hospitality, events, catering — may not be options at all at this moment. But workers who think creatively and explore other industries that need their skills will serve themselves well.

It’s all about transferable skills 

Let’s face it: If you’ve worked in restaurants, you know hard work. Spend enough shifts in a kitchen and you learn the art of organization, multitasking and crisis management. Work long enough on a wait staff and you master sales and customer service. Survive a brunch shift at the hostess table and you could probably broker a major peace accord.

Think your skills don’t transfer to other industries? Think again. 

“One of the most important transferable skills restaurant workers have is strong communication skills,” says job search and employment expert Alison Doyle.

When Divurgent, a healthcare consulting company in Virginia Beach, needed workers for a new virtual call center designed to help hospitals enroll patients into a telehealth system, it hired laid-off restaurant workers as customer service reps. QED Hospitality had a similar idea when it created QED Resources to help hospitality workers find telehealth work.

Another transferable skill, says Doyle, is stamina. “Whether you’re working as a server or in the kitchen, it’s important to be able to work on your feet and lift and carry heavy objects.” Those skills, she says, are readily transferable. Doyle points to one laid-off restaurant worker who is now working on a landscaping team. “He communicates well with clients and has the stamina to work outdoors all day.”

RELATED: The Fastest Routes to a Skilled Trade Job 

Go where the jobs are 

Tired of hearing no — or nothing at all — when you apply for jobs? Go where employers are practically begging for workers: the skilled trades. 

It’s possible to get trained for an entry-level job in a skills-based profession such as welder, truck driver or cardiovascular technician in six months or less. Many skills-based trades, such as carpentry, are learned on the job through apprenticeships — which typically pay you to work while you learn. 

"If you have the interest and the aptitude, you’ll be able to get started quickly," says Doyle. "You don’t need a four-year degree or professional experience to learn a trade. A high school degree or a GED can qualify you to begin an apprenticeship program."

The number of available skilled trade jobs is staggering. Take a look at these occupations, for example, which are expected to have some of the greatest job growth between 2019 and 2029:

Finding a trade career that’s right for you

Consider a skill or talent that helped you stand out in your restaurant job. Chances are, you can use it the skilled trades. Open your mind and consider the possibilities, such as these: 

•    Physical stamina: Firefighter, certified nursing assistant, HVAC technician 

•    Fine motor skills: Robotics technician, wind turbine technician, phlebotomist (the person who draws blood for medical tests)

•    Making systems run efficiently: Industrial engineering technician, power plant operator 

•    Attention to detail: Medical records and health information technician, pharmacy technician, carpenter 

•    Handling unpredictable situations: Preschool teacher, vet technician, police officer

•    Mastering computer systems: Software developer, IT support specialist

Of course, the right career will also depend on your interests and affinities. Think about what you like to do, whether it’s working outside, working with your hands or helping others. 

RELATED: Take This Quick Quiz and Find the Right Career for You

Digital tech jobs 

If you like computers, the world is your oyster. More and more free or low-cost training is available to teach people the digital technology skills companies need.  

For example, Google is offering Google Career Certificates that lead to jobs such as data analyst and IT support specialist. Microsoft launched an initiative to help people acquire digital skills for little or no cost. Nonprofits such as Year Up, NPower and Per Scholas offer free tech training to young, low-income adults. 

One former bartender and actor, Johnny Moran, went the digital route after he was furloughed from his most recent bartending job due to COVID-19. He was seeking stability. “I am 41 years old and I don't have it in me to struggle like that anymore," he says.

Moran chose coding because two friends with no previous coding experience found successful careers using skills they learned through boot camps and other training. He turned to online training from Free Code Camp and Team Treehouse and has been working through lessons since May, inspired by the prospect of a job that provides not only a steady income but also the possibility of working remotely. 

Job security, paid vacation and sick days, health insurance and even retirement savings — it’s all possible. For unemployed restaurant workers, the skilled trades offer a future worth considering. 

Anne Holub is a freelance writer based in Billings, Montana. 

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