utah mountains
Previous "Gov. Huntsman Approves
Same-Sex Civil Unions"
« Utah Stories Front Page

Layoffs Force Utahns to Find New Careers
March 12th, 2009

Practical advice for becoming qualified in today's job market.

by Rebecca Edwards

What do you want to be when you grow up?

No matter how old you are, this is a question that inevitably continues to rear its head--especially in a time of economic turmoil, record-number layoffs, and the highest unemployment rate in decades. While business closures and down-sizing have placed thousands of Utahns on the unemployment line, it has also presented a rare opportunity to reconsider this timeless question.

I spoke to several people who have been laid off in recent months, and all are responding to their current cicumstances in different ways. In addition to the immediacy of practical concerns like paying the rent, putting food on the table, and keeping health insurance, a good number of out-of-work Utahns are taking this chance to reconsider their passion, purpose, and dreams when looking to get back into the workforce.

massage therapy school
Massage therapy is a growing field due to the aging

Cynthie, a 40-ish single mom and blue-collar worker, has thought for years about going back to school; however, the timing never seemed right. "Since December I've been going to one interview after another," she said, "And I keep not getting the job. I've always wanted to go back to school for something I could love, so now I'm going to do it." Cynthie recently enrolled in a massage therapy program and says that if it weren't for the difficulty in finding work right now, she probably wouldn't be doing it.

Cynthie is not alone. With the job market flooded by people with degrees applying for the same jobs more often held by those without degrees, the push for further education is stronger than ever. But it's not degrees that people are necessarily looking for. Laura, who earned an associate's degree 20 years ago, but is currently working as a secretary in the Granite School District, is looking for a chance to do something she would enjoy that has more earning potential than receptionist work. She is checking out options in the medical field, such as medical assisting or pharmacy technician. "I want to do something that gets me out from behind a desk, helps people, and hopefully will allow me to make more money in the long run than I can as a secretary," she said. Laura went on to say that she doesn't care whether her education leads to another degree; she's more interested in doing something she wants to do.

Career colleges seem to be reaping the benefits of the huge unemployment surge. "We are definitely seeing a different type of student," Julie Blake, Vice President of Operations for Eagle Gate College, shared. "It used to be that people would tell us that they were thinking about going to school, but weren't sure--they were just checking it out. The biggest change is that now people are telling us that they HAVE to do this. It's no longer a whim, but a necessity."

Even President Obama echoed similar sentiments in his "What's Possible for Our Children" speech delivered in 2008, saying, "In a [global economy] -- the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge. Education is the currency of the Information Age, no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success but a prerequisite."

But what careers will pay the biggest dividend for those investing their hopes and money into education right now? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) half of the 30 fastest growing jobs over the next eight years will be in the medical field. This industry is one of the few still offering sign-on bonuses (especially for RN's and pharmacists) and offering to pay for schooling. The closest thing to a guarantee in any field may be the position of 'personal and home care aide' (source). The BLS is projecting 773,000 jobs to be added by 2016, more than any other profession.

Career Comparison Table

Career Field Minimum Education Required Growth Projections Median Earnings
Computers/Database Administrators Associates Degree 37% growth through 2016. $64,670/year
Law Enforcement/Corrections High School Diploma 16% growth through 2016 $35,760/year
Personal/Home Care Aides On-the-job Training 51% growth through 2016 $17,763/year
Medical Assistants Specialized Certificate or Diploma 35% growth through 2016 $26,290/year
Pharmacy Technicians Specialized Certificate or Diploma 32% growth through 2016 $25,625/year
Massage Therapists Specialized Certificate or Diploma 20% growth through 2016 $33,404/year
Paralegals/Legal Assistants Associates Degree 22% growth through 2016 $43,040/year
Medical Coding & Billing Specialized Certificate or Diploma 18% growth through 2016 $28,030/year
Dental Assistants Specialized Certificate or Diploma 29% growth through 2016 $30,222/year
Veterinary Technicians Associates Degree 41% growth through 2016 $26,790/year

Eagle Gate College has responded to the demand for personal and home care aides by adding a Health Care Technology program that focuses on preparing graduates for those types of positions. They are also seeing growth in thier other medical career programs, particularly medical assistant and pharmacy technician. "If you look in the paper the largest number of ads are for medical jobs," Blake said. "Pharmacy technology in particular is seeing a big resurgance."

Other industries that are showing resilience include information technology, environment/"green" jobs, and law enforcement. It's easy to see why law enforcement remains a strong career choice. Rumors and reports of terrorism make daily headlines, and fear of financial insecurity seems to be matched only by concern for physical safety. "Crime doesn't go down in a recession," says Laurence Shatkin, coauthor of 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. "It may even increase." No wonder, then, that, according to the BLS, employment for correctional officers (www.bls.gov/oco/ocos156.htm) is expected to grow 16 percent between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations.

video from a previous story comparing career colleges to traditional Universities

Many who have been thrust into the ranks of the unemployed, having been out of a job for months, are considering careers they never thought they could before. Even I would not be writing today if it weren't for the opportunity that being out of work presented me. When you are left with no paycheck, a lot of time, and the chance to do something you have always loved, it's easier to jump at opportunities that may have seemed risky before. Several people told me that they are considering following the dreams, talents, and passions they had in high school or college, but had put on the backburner as they found themselves in careers or cicumstances that forced them to stay on more traditional paths. What seemed too risky just one year ago, may now be the best option to bring in some money and regain a sense of control for those struggling to survive right now.

"Since I've been living on unemployment and child support," Cynthie shared, "I realize that I can't make my situation any worse by taking the time to go to school. Even taking out loans to become a massage therapist seems worth it. I know that once I graduate I'll be doing something I love, and I'll have more control over my income and my time. If I have personal clients and am running my own business, no one can lay me off."

Blake agrees with Cynthie's assesment, "One of the big reasons massage therapy is an attractive career right now, is that it can be self-sustaining. People are attracted to the idea that they control thier financial future. If you are operating your own private practice, you don't run the risk of being laid off." The bonus prize that comes with careers like massage, in addition to offering more independence, is the chance to express creativity and the luxury of making money while doing something you are passionate about.

Historically, rough economic times have been a boon to the arts and the entreprenuerial spirit. During the Great Depression America saw one of its most creatively fertile times. With people suddenly realizing that they have less to lose than they thought by taking a risk and pursuing their dream of becoming a writer or a massage therapist. Career options that require creativity and offer flexibility and personal ownership are growing. While there seem to be no sure-things when it comes to employment these days, the average American is finding themselves presented with that rare opportunity to step out of their comfort zone, go back to school, or try something they may never have tried before. Perhaps the best side-effect of this economic crisis will be people choosing passion over profit and personal satisfaction over keeping up with the Joneses.

Story Comments

David Ostrich

About.com choose 3 websites where job seekers got the best results -

http://www.linkedin.com (networking for professionals)

http://www.indeed.com (aggregated listings)

http://www.realmatch.com (matches you to the perfect job)

For those looking, good luck!

Enter your e-mail address
to subscribe to Utah Stories:

Sugar House Now Sugar Hole? »
« Utah Stories Front Page

Support Utah Stories by visiting our local sponsors

Utah Stories Recommends