The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many savvy unemployed Americans are redirecting themselves into careers that are pandemic proof. Some are turning to online learning to boost skills while others are turning what WSJ calls temporary “lifeboat jobs” into possible new careers. Both paths can lead to more stable career prospects, particularly if you’re in an industry that was hit hard by COVID-19 shutdowns.
As springtime furloughs and layoffs hit their peaks, online learning started to soar in every way possible—from recent college grads looking to fill a few gaps, to executives hoping to bump up their status, to blue-collar workers seeking a leg up with new certifications.
Inside Higher Ed reports that Harvard Business School Online experienced a staggering 650% enrollment increase compared to the same timeframe one year before. The school’s CORe course that prepares students for an MBA saw the biggest gain. Only one year ago, in 2019, the highest ranked business schools in the U.S. reported a second year of significant declines in MBA applications, with many MBA programs experiencing double-digit declines. Business schools that are online or have been able to swiftly pivot to online have seen a turnaround. More than half in a recent survey are expanding career services to help job-seeking graduates and administer functions like virtual career fairs and online career management workshops.
Coding boot camps are also experiencing a huge surge. General Assembly (GA) reported a 30% year-on-year jump in immersive courses this past spring (they offer three fulltime remote immersive programs: software engineering, user experience design, and data science). Flatiron School told Inside Higher Ed that the quality of its candidates has increased, with more people with coding experience applying.
Tech certifications and training across the board are on an upswing. CompTIA testing is trending 120% over expectations. And with employers needing cloud security and remote support more than ever, investment in training employees in those areas hasn’t skipped a beat.
“The quality of candidates right now is impressive. Tech job seekers will be armed with more training and certifications than they ever have. It’s important to do all you can to stay at the top of your game, too,” advises Erik Burton, sales manager for The HT Group’s Technical Recruiting division.
If budget is an issue, he adds, there are resources available. You may just need to do some digging. GA reports an uptick in interest for its Catalyst program, an income-share agreement that can help offset upfront tuition costs. According to the GA’s website, participants in the Catalyst program can take a fulltime GA Immersive course and only pay back tuition in “manageable monthly installments only once you’ve landed a job making $40,000 or more.”
Even low-commitment, free or low-cost online certifications and courses are helping job seekers increase their marketable skills right now. LinkedIn has seen a 3x increase in its LinkedIn Learning Courses since February. The nature of the classes most popular during the pandemic has evolved, and many include those elusive soft skills employers are so desperately seeking.
“In early March, courses on ‘working from home’ surged as both employees and managers looked for advice on how to navigate the challenges of remote work. More recently, soft skills that can help people survive, and even thrive, are now trending. For example, in the past two weeks interest in courses on mindfulness and stress management has surged, as has interest in courses on resilience,” LinkedIn’s Hari Srinivasan writes.
The platform features classes that coincide with the skills most looked for by employers each month. For August, those top trends have been communication, business management, problem solving, data science, data storage technologies, technical support, leadership, project management, digital literacy, and employee learning & development.
The lifeboat job terminology shared by the WSJ seems to have been coined by labor data and research firm Burning Glass Technologies. According to Burning Glass, “even in the depths of the pandemic’s economic shock, there are jobs that can serve as ‘lifeboats’ for at least some of those who have lost work and that require little or no retraining; and, there are pathways from these lifeboat jobs and from jobs lost in the pandemic into roles with decent pay and a solid future.”
Here’s how a lifeboat job can work, based on an example published by the WSJ:
Let’s say you were a hotel desk clerk making $25k who lost your job in March. With your customer service and scheduling skills, you were able to take a lifeboat job as a warehouse stock clerk making $28k. Through that job, you pick up inventory management and data entry skills that could eventually propel you into a job as a shipping and receiving clerk at $35k or a production planning and expediting clerk at $50k.
Suddenly—out of your unexpected unemployment—you may find yourself in a higher paying job with better career prospects. What makes these viable lifeboat jobs is that the base skills you already have are transferable (otherwise known as “skills adjacent” jobs), so there’s little reskilling and no licensing process necessary to get started.
“Often these adjacencies are nonobvious, representing options that are far afield from the occupation in which the worker was previously engaged. The challenge is that neither the worker nor the employer may realize that the opportunity exists; neither may be looking outside their own field,” Burning Glass states. You can access their full report about lifeboat jobs here.
At The HT Group, we’ve seen an uptick in call center and light industrial/manufacturing jobs. Many job seekers who were previously in service and hospitality are easily transferring their skills to these areas, which may not have been on their radar before because they’re more behind-the-scenes. An added secret: Exploring these areas through temporary staffing can be a great way to try out new industries and positions in demand right now.
If the pandemic forced you into the job market, there are opportunities to build a stronger, better career out of it. Find ways to improve your skills and be open to opportunities outside the industries or job positions with which you’re most familiar. You may come to remember 2020 as the year you found your path to success.
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