New Types of Jobs Emerge from COVID-19

Contact tracers, temperature takers among the roles suddenly in demand

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer June 18, 2020
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​The number of jobs lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has far surpassed the losses seen during the 2007-09 Great Recession, and no one's sure how many of those jobs are coming back. But while around 40 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, the public health crisis has also created new types of work.

Contact tracers, temperature takers, health monitors and workplace redesigners are jobs that are now booming.

"This pandemic has been an unprecedented shock to the labor market and has created a need for new jobs and new skills very quickly," said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace in Santa Monica, Calif. "Here we have a public health disaster that's created a wide range of roles needed to contain the disease and increase the confidence of American consumers. So they are very important jobs. Many are related to other jobs, with a lot of transferable skills."

COVID-19 has created a paradigm shift in how we think about work and how businesses protect their employees and customers, said Patrick Beharelle, CEO of TrueBlue, a recruiting and staffing firm based in Tacoma, Wash. "The demand for new safety-related roles will continue to grow, and companies will continue to evolve their workplace practices with stricter health protocols and more flexible work options," he said.

Beharelle said some of the new roles his firm has seen emerge from the pandemic include health and safety stewards that provide deep cleaning and sanitization services; health monitors that help enforce safety protocols if someone is sick; decontamination technicians who sterilize hospital gowns and masks for reuse; and reconfiguration specialists who help companies modify facility layouts for social distancing.

"Demand for many of these jobs has risen quickly and is expected to grow further in the coming months," Pollak said. "Many of these jobs will be around until the virus is eliminated. It may take one to two years to get a vaccine, and even then it may not be eradicated, so these jobs will last as our approach shifts from quarantine and social distancing to risk mitigation."

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Contact Tracers

Contact tracing—identifying people who may have been exposed to COVID-19—has become both a buzzword and potential solution to eventually returning to normal life, said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at job-search site Indeed.

Pollak said the role calls for skills similar to those of customer service specialists: "You call people who may have been exposed to coronavirus, provide health guidance and assist people with setting up appointments for COVID-19 testing. The job can usually be done from home and can be part time or full time."

There have been thousands of job postings for contact tracers advertised on ZipRecruiter since March with a typical wage range of $17-$25 per hour. Many of the job ads are seeking to fill multiple positions and typically come from city and county health agencies, universities, large employers, hospitals, and health systems. Lots of staffing companies are also advertising these jobs, Pollak said.

Konkel said job-seeker interest in contact tracing roles peaked in late May on Indeed. But the share of related job postings has increased exponentially since then. "As of June 5, the share of contact-tracing-related postings increased by 959 percent compared to May 1," she said. "Despite this, the number of contact tracing positions remains very small—well below what health experts are saying is needed to safely open the country. As more of these jobs will need to be filled in coming weeks, hopefully job-seeker interest will buck the current downward trend."

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Temperature Screeners

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 18 gave employers the green light to take employees' temperatures to ward off the spread of coronavirus, and many organizations are hiring people to do just that.

The typical wage range is $14-$25 per hour, and ads for these jobs have been popping up for a variety of sectors, including construction and human resources. "In these roles, you're asking people at airports, factories, theme parks, schools and other businesses COVID-19 screening questions and taking their temperature readings," Pollak said. "The jobs are open to people with a wide range of backgrounds, and many of these jobs are not even being posted but [instead being] given to existing workers who have been repurposed, such as a receptionist at the doctor's office, for example."

There were barely any of these jobs prior to the pandemic, Konkel said. "Temperature-taking-related postings took off in early April and have continued to rise. As of June 6, the share of temperature-taking-related job postings increased by 45 percent compared to May 1." 

COVID-19 Testers

These individuals perform nasal and oral COVID-19 swab tests at testing sites, hospitals, nursing homes or offices. The typical wage range is $20-$45 per hour, depending on qualifications, Pollak said. "Mostly these roles will be filled by registered nurses or certified nurse assistants," she added. "Some specialized experience is usually required; you can't just jump into it like becoming a contact tracer. But these opportunities are open to many people who are willing to invest in the skills training. And this will still be a growing job for quite a while as factories and companies reopen."

A wide range of employers are hiring for these jobs, including public-sector agencies, hospitals and universities, she said. The jobs may be part time or full time, and postings caution that exposure to COVID-19 is possible. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is required.

Notably, prior to the pandemic, no jobs mentioned "PPE provided" in the title of the job posting, Konkel said. This phrase started appearing in mid-April, and the share of job postings that mention it in the title grew 56 percent from May 1 to June 6.

"This is particularly striking—that employers are calling out in the title of the job posting that personal protective equipment is available," she said. "This shows that coronavirus is weighing on the minds of job seekers, and employers know it."

Other New Positions

A few of the other positions Pollak found emerging from the pandemic include roles for people who:

  • Modify the interior layout of offices, restaurants, schools and stores to facilitate social distancing and reduce the transmission of COVID-19. "It's hard to find a single job title that captures this role, but it's being done by interior designers, office managers, maintenance workers and custodians, among others," she said. The typical wage range is $42,000-$53,500 per year.
  • Install plastic counter shields at grocery stores and restaurants, and plastic dividers in shared office spaces, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Plexiglas sales have gone up substantially, and many of the companies installing it are hiring technicians to meet demand. The typical wage range is $14-$20 per hour.
  • Sew nonsurgical face masks. "Stores have been selling out quickly, and companies are scrambling to meet enormous demand," Pollak said. The typical wage range is $12-18 per hour.
  • Help facilitate virtual events using videoconference technology. "There's a huge demand for people who can help facilitate video meetings," Pollak said. The typical salary range is $40,000-$52,000 per year. 
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