Learning New Skills for the New Normal
Should you retool after a coronavirus layoff?
As of June 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the United States’ unemployment rate was 11.1 percent. That’s higher than during the height of the Great Recession (10.6 percent) and at the peak of the ’80s recession in 1982 (10.8 percent).
Though these numbers represent a huge improvement over the previous month, 17.8 million people are unemployed, including restaurant and hotel employees, retail staff, people who support the sports, travel and entertainment sectors, oil and petroleum workers, software developers, writers, higher education administrators, and this doesn’t even begin to tally up the losses for gig workers.
Though the US government approved the mighty $2-plus trillion CARES Act to shore up the economy, a measure that put $1,200 in every wallet, the coronavirus continues to rage across the country and the federal government’s $600 unemployment enhancements expired in late July.
For those who have lost jobs, experienced furloughs or seen pay reductions, the pandemic represents a chance to not only adapt to the new normal but also retool what you have to offer. Were you stuck in a low-wage job? Is there another career you’ve wanted to pursue? Who might be hiring in the pandemic/post-pandemic job market? Do you need new skills for this brave new world that’s coming?
Historically, when recessions hit, people tend to return to school. That’s because the opportunity cost—the jobs and earnings you give up while in school—plummets, making education more attractive. A certificate or new degree can add shine to your resume and position you for a career do over.
Nobody knows what the job market will look like in the aftermath of the coronavirus, but if you find yourself recently unemployed, now might be a good time to reconsider your education, especially if you have a clear goal in sight and can achieve your goal without incurring too much debt.
Because of the pandemic, colleges and universities recognize that prospective students’ financial situations may have changed. “Even now, people should be able to accomplish their educational goals,” observes Mj Huebner, the vice president for admission and financial aid at Kalamazoo College and veteran enrollment management consultant. “Talk to a financial aid counselor. Colleges and universities have really tried to understand individual family circumstances as they relate to unexpected COVID expenses. Colleges and universities have also tried to make changes to allow for a more seamless and easier going-to-college process.”
Depending on what you want to accomplish, community colleges and career and technical institutions can offer lower-cost—and quicker—alternatives to traditional four-year colleges and universities. Should you want to become a medical doctor, you can certainly start at a community college, which can lower your overall costs, but you’ll finish in medical school—six or seven years down the line. If you want to become a pharmacy technician—a hot degree if ever there was one in our nation’s hot zones—you can earn a certificate in an accredited program and begin practicing in less than a year.
At Emily Griffith Technical College in Denver, educators have moved most courses online or created hybridized models of in-person and online models for programs such as automotive, welding and cosmetology that require hands-on instruction. The college also continues to offer programs in technology and healthcare to prepare students for post-coronavirus workforce trends they’re already noticing.
“The widespread telehealth and work-at-home phenomena are likely to continue,” says Stephanie Donner, executive director at Emily Griffith Technical College. “So jobs that support home-based workers and healthcare should be in high demand. Think software developers, network administrators, cyber security professionals and training help. And clearly there’s a huge need for additional healthcare workers and domestic manufacturing capacity to scale medical products and equipment.”
To that end the college recently launched the online Google IT Support Professional Certificate to add to programs they already offer in computer networking, cybersecurity, web development, multimedia and video production along with healthcare opportunities such as practical nursing, phlebotomy, pharmacy technician and targeted trades.
“These programs and others that we offer can help displaced workers prepare for the future,” Donner explains. “Emily Griffith is here to help people reenergize their careers and return to work re-skilled and ready to contribute to a new Colorado.”
Leslie Petrovski is a freelance writer supporting Emily Griffith Technical College.