Jul 21, 2021

What's New With Careers (2021)

It will be hard to talk about careers in the coming year without talking about the pandemic, and what it has done to alter the labor market and shift the entire dynamic between employers and employees.


The phenomenon occurring now is that unemployment numbers are still high (over 9 million), but employers are having trouble filling jobs.  For example, retail and hospitality jobs are offering much higher starting wage rates (>$15) and even signing bonuses, and it isn’t enough to attract new employees. (NPR) Many businesses trying to reopen and get back to pre-covid business have not been able to hire enough people to do so, or are operating with limited services and hours. The huge number of unfilled jobs in the retail and service sector was certainly good news for teenagers who wanted to work this summer. For the first time since 2008, one third of teenagers are working. They are taking the jobs others are not. (News5Cleveland)


*For more on possible explanations of why this is happening, check this EconExtra on the April jobs numbers.

*For more details on minimum wage and recent increases, read this EconExtra or take the NGPF On-Demand Professional Development.


Part of the problem generating so many open jobs can be attributed to a mismatch in both skills and geography. During the pandemic, people moved from more densely populated areas to less densely populated areas, like vacation areas. This move was more pronounced for those who could work remotely.  When people moved, they looked for the same services they had before, but these areas do not have enough capacity or manpower, nor could those who worked in these service businesses afford to live in some of these areas. The pandemic has also meant a shift in the types of jobs available and the skills required to do them. For example, an unemployed construction worker can’t just move into a health care or coding or teaching job. (WSJ)


In an effort to cut costs and survive the pandemic, many businesses took advantage of the downtime to automate their businesses or shift their operational model to require fewer employees. For example, hotels may no longer provide daily housekeeping services (unless requested). They will do intensive cleanings between guests and perhaps every 5-7 days for longer stays, so they need fewer housekeepers. Or restaurants like Dave and Busters made an investment in tablets for each table so that people can place their orders from the table and fewer servers are required. (WSJ2)  That helps these businesses manage with fewer employees, but also means a permanent decrease in the number of openings.


Another phenomenon is that people are quitting jobs in record numbers. In May, 2.5% of workers VOLUNTARILY left their jobs. In the restaurant business, there are 1.2 million job openings as the percentage quitting in this sector was 5% each month during the pandemic. (NPR) Some people close to retirement just decided to call it during the pandemic. Other people figured out during this time that they really didn’t like what they were doing. And still others, faced with going back to work and commuting, decided they’d rather find a job they could continue to do remotely. With so many job openings, this may have seemed like an opportune time to take a risk and make a change. Here is a breakdown by sector from the Economist.


Yet another trend that will change the working landscape into the foreseeable future is that the hybrid workplace will be much more common. For those that were able to work from home during the pandemic, many employers are not expecting people to ever be back in the office five days a week.  But just because remote work seemed to work during the pandemic, it doesn't mean that the hybrid model will be easy.  (CNBC)


How Might This Information Impact What We Teach?


The detailed labor market discussion may be beyond the scope of your careers unit, but here are a few ways to tie it in.  If we have learned anything from this experience, it is that the labor market can change dramatically in a short period of time.


At the moment, the upheaval puts those willing to take unskilled jobs in the driver’s seat. If teenagers are filling these jobs, the opportunity cost of leaving them for higher education increases. Alternatively said, working part time may help more with the cost of more education and training. Students might be able to successfully go to school while working part-time and not have to work so much and jeopardize their successful completion of classes.  The decision between summer internships (unless they too are paying more) and making money becomes more difficult.


Another point is to keep a close eye on in-demand jobs, and understand the educational/training requirements for each. What Career is Right for Me lists these as the ten jobs most in demand in the US now.  Looking down the list, they appear to be largely pandemic-proof.


1) Home Health Aide

2) Physical Therapist

3) Registered Nurse

4) Software Engineer

5) Information Security Analyst

6) Occupational Therapist

7) Web Developer

8) Data Scientist

9) Operations Manager

10) Diagnostic Medical Sonographer


These jobs require a specific skill set and a wide range of education or training. There aren’t any real surprises in this list. Demand for health care workers is not new. Given the aging population, it has been growing for awhile.  However, the pandemic is likely leaving a large number of burned out workers in its wake. Except perhaps for the Operations Manager, note that these are all STEM fields.

"Demand for STEM talent has increased rapidly for the past 30 years, growing by nearly 80% during that period. The same is true of the demand for STEM-related on-the-job learning, training and education among job seekers." (Forbes)


According to this Forbes article, it will take a wide variety of methods to fill this gap, from public-private initiatives to feed the pipeline earlier, to upskilling and reskilling within businesses.


Another field that did not make this top ten list is "Sales."  People often have a negative impression of “sales” as being a high-pressure field, but things have changed over time. There isn’t a “sales” major in school, so many recent graduates don’t think to look for employment in sales. But there is a huge demand for salespeople in a variety of industries and settings. Sales people are really problem solvers or consultants to their clients.

"Changes in sales accelerated during the pandemic, and businesses are trying to entice more people into the job by demonstrating that they don’t have to operate in a pressure-cooker environment (or work the phones) the way sales workers once did." (WSJ)


Regarding the high demand fields, some may be within reach of an alternate path with technical training, like a coding boot camp or corporate training program. For example, Google offers low priced certification options through its Grow With Google program.  


But generally, it is not easy to navigate through all of the post-secondary options. Students must carefully consider alternate routes to a careerCounting Credentials compiled a list of all of the options, which is a start. But there is no definitive source of roadmaps to get you from where you are to where you want to be.   Until such a road map exists, you must do the legwork and research the success of people who have completed whatever program you are considering, and what help the institution offers in placing you in a job. (MarketPlace)


Be on the lookout for and take advantage of any local programs that might give you a good introduction to a potential career.  Better to learn before investing years in an education if a field would be a good fit for you.  And fields with lots of openings may be open to promoting these careers.  As an example, major medical centers and nursing schools across West Virginia are hosting youth nursing academies (summer camp) for middle and high school students where they introduce them to a career in hospital nursing, where the nursing shortage is particularly acute. (WVGazette)  


*For more preparation on Alternatives to a 4-Year College degree, check out this NGPF on-demand PD


⟶ Looking for an interactive to kick off a Careers unit? Check out this NGPF post by Brian Page on the Interactive: Jobs Charted by Salary and State!

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an MBA in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshops, and develops finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

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