The tens of millions of workers who have left their jobs in the “Great Resignation” — 4.4 million in September alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — won’t necessarily need to retrain before they land their next job. But those who want a new career entirely may find little financial help and social support to acquire the skills they need for the future, labor experts say.
Erin Hatton, associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo in New York, says the pandemic caused especially difficult conditions for consumer-facing workers, including risk of COVID-19 exposure and the responsibility to enforce mask compliance on customers, which created an “undue burden on workers they’re just not willing to deal with.”
Pandemic-weary workers are questioning the value of their jobs, Hatton says, and this self-reflection may stir workers to switch fields — or at least attempt to.
“That can be easier said than done,” she says. “Figuring out how to get the training required to do that can be tricky.”
But will the “Great Resignation” lead to a “great retraining” for workers who want to access jobs with better pay, benefits and working conditions?
It’s doubtful, say experts like Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. He chalks it up to this: The U.S. isn’t very good at retraining workers.
Why you may need to reskill to get a new career
Changing careers often requires a new credential (a degree or certificate), meaning you’ll need some type of higher education. Employers across labor sectors require workers to have certain credentials, even in fields that used to be accessible without one.
Consider, for example, auto mechanics. Carnevale says this profession now requires a greater need for skilling, or training, in both mechanics and electronics.
“It used to be you flip open the hood on your car and you could get out a wrench and fiddle with this and that, but you can’t do that anymore,” Carnevale says. “There really is an increase in skill requirements because of many reasons, but largely it’s tech-based.”
Numerous obstacles to retraining
Hatton says “changing careers in a significant way” is particularly challenging for those who lack the time and money to train in a new field while balancing obligations like paying rent or a mortgage. Elder care and child care can also increase the burden.
Retraining challenges are largely due to a lack of social support, and the onus is on the individual to figure it out on their own, says Katie Spiker, managing director of government affairs for the National Skills Coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise skills of American workers across industries.
She and other experts say federal investments and policies are crucial to solving unemployment, which has yet to reach pre-pandemic lows, and get workers reskilled.
“We have a history of seeing really strong outcomes for workers when they can access skills retraining to meet demands in their local area,” Spiker says. She adds that additional support helps, as well, including access to child care and help with basic needs.
Your options for retraining
Don’t give up hope for a better job, but know that the road ahead is not necessarily easy.
When considering your options, you’ll want to ask yourself whether the job exists in the area where you need to be, want to be or can be, says Pamela Egan, director of the Labor Management-Partnerships Program for the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center.
Start with your state’s workforce development investment board, which provides information about training opportunities, Egan suggests. She says the system has its flaws, but it’s accessible to all since it’s funded with public money. Your state might also have “high-road training partnerships” between high-quality employers in a particular job market and workforce education and training programs, Egan says.
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Your ability to successfully enter a new field will depend on what programs of study are available — and whether you can pay for them. Additional options for retraining include:
- Employers that provide training. Yvette Lee, an HR knowledge advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management, says employers are using many approaches to train workers to fill spots, including on-the-job training and providing tuition assistance.
- Traditional college or graduate school. The College Scorecard, a data tool from the U.S. Department of Education, allows users to evaluate college programs and includes information on graduation rates, costs, debt and student outcomes.
- Community college programs. Public two-year schools are typically eligible for student aid and provide career training programs and associate degrees. The programs are inexpensive and eligible for federal aid.
- Trade schools and short-term certificate programs. Trade schools may be the fastest and most-streamlined option to get reskilled and go from credential to licensing to job. But schools vary in quality and outcomes and can also be pricey or ineligible for financial aid. College Scorecard includes training programs that accept Pell Grants and participate in federal workforce development programs.
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Anna Helhoski writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.