“I don’t think it could have been a bigger change. I’ve gone from a large office in Soho to being at home painting in my bedroom.”
The coronavirus pandemic prompted 24-year-old Cece Philips, a graduate from London, to embark on a dramatic career change. This is her first week as a full-time artist.
Sitting in her bedroom, wearing a paint-splattered shirt with two huge canvases towering over her, she explains why she decided to leave a well-paid graduate job at one of the world’s biggest advertising companies to follow her artistic dreams.
“Being able to make money from something you love is anyone’s aspiration,” she said.
“I definitely don’t think I would have made this decision if it wasn’t for lockdown. I’ve always loved painting and drawing.”
She decided to take the leap and quit her job after she was forced to work from home because of the lockdown.
“Having that time to think about what it is I enjoy the most … it became quite clear that I had to give this a go,” she said.
During previous economic downturns young people have often been the group whose incomes, job prospects and future careers are hardest hit.
Many companies have paused recruitment and cut staff numbers. But for some twenty-somethings, the lockdown has given them time to reevaluate their working lives and ambitions.
Carolyn Parry is the founder of Career Alchemy, a coaching and training network focused on helping school leavers and graduates find the right career for them.
She says her team of 20 careers advisors are seeing more young people doing what is described as a “career pivot” during lockdown.
The disruption is “giving them the chance to really consider the purpose of their career”, she said. While some are “looking at major career change” others are using this downtime to build up skills through online courses.
Cece said: “I’ve had friends who’ve been made redundant or put on furlough and I think there’s definitely a sentiment of reassessing what is important.”
That can involve “taking a bigger risk than you would have before – with new prospects and trying something new,” she said.
While she builds up her portfolio, Cece has taken a part time job with an interior design company to help pay the bills.
“I do have ups and downs, it ranges from me feeling amazing, to then suddenly thinking what on earth have I done,” she said.
While Cece’s career decisions were within her control, others haven’t been so fortunate.
Under-25s are most likely to have lost work or seen their income drop because of Covid-19, according to the Resolution Foundation. And a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) discovered that younger workers are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in sectors that have been shutdown by the pandemic.
Niamh Wimperis, originally from Stroud in Gloucestershire, was furloughed from her job as a receptionist. That extra time to think has led to new opportunities.
“Lockdown has made me realise I’m not designed to sit in an office all day and what really makes me happy is creating art,” she said.
The 28-year-old said it was the push she needed to turn her passion for embroidery into something more. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity to turn my side hustle into my business.”
For the past seven years she has been a botanical embroidery artist, making gift cards and wall hangings focusing on the colours and shapes of nature.
“I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and register as a business. I have been using my furlough time to design new ideas and develop a monthly embroidery kit subscription box that will come through your letter box,” she said.
How we all work, holiday and even exercise may have changed permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Parts of the fitness sector have adapted well to social distancing restrictions. Bootcamp instructors Becky Hill and Katie Williams are running virtual classes on Zoom.
From their homes in Reading, the pair run Raise the Bar Bootcamps and are now able to work out with people from as far afield as Ireland and Canada.
Becky, 29, said: “It lifts our spirits getting on camera and being with everyone.”
More than 30 people exercise together online up to five days a week. Becky’s voice booms from their laptop and smartphone speakers as she instructs the class to “get lower on those press ups” or reminds them to keep hydrated.
Her business partner Katie, 41, said despite a few nerves in the first week they’ve overcome technical challenges. “I’m terrible with tech but we’ve got it sussed and it’s so lovely seeing all our members’ faces,” she said.
Across the UK more people are joining online gyms and virtual fitness communities and Becky believes it could be a permanent change.
“A lot of our members are now happy that they can do five bootcamps a week as opposed to only being able to make it up to the field once or twice. It is actually suiting people’s lifestyles. They want some online sessions to continue in the long term.
While young people may be the most financially vulnerable in this economic and health crisis, some are using technology to open up new opportunities and making the most of this newly-found downtime.