The pandemic has forced nearly two-thirds of Americans to now work remotely, according to a Gallup poll. The number has doubled since mid-March, shining a light on whether a global pandemic—when everything is unknown and constantly changing—is a good time to go back to school or change careers.
Working from home has benefits—exchanging a commute for cooking dinner and using lunch hours for a creative project, for example—and disadvantages. For Joshua Pierce, a local graphic designer and photographer for the Sacramento Kings, it was the latter.
“I started working from home, and over a couple months, working from home turned into a furlough, thus proving my job was disposable,” Pierce says. “Once the furlough came, the wheels started spinning in my head that I should start thinking of my next move.”
Rachael Marshall, Ph.D., assistant professor of counselor education and career counseling specialization coordinator at Sacramento State, says that we can study a few different times in our nation’s history to see impacts on education and career development: The Spanish flu led to career changes, for example, and recessions have often been motivators for people to reach for higher education.
“More people apply to graduate school hoping to be more competitive in a market with more supply of workers than demand, and to discover different work and meaning,” Marshall says. But she also points out: “The first and easiest thing to cut in government spending is education. This could mean higher tuition and more student debt.” Still, she says, the advancement of online teaching broadens access, which might make now a good time for some to return to school.
Sarah Turold, a work-from-home mom of three in Lincoln and assistant director of special education at Inspire Schools, will do just that. She intends to complete her administrative credential to strengthen her current employment position and widen her network opportunities.
“The program has been adapted to an online platform, opposed to in-person, which makes it more self-paced and easier to schedule around my work and home life,” Turold says.
Experiencing a global pandemic has caused people to pause and evaluate what’s important to them in terms of values and how they spend their time, says Allison Moore, a women’s life coach at Allison Moore Coaching.
“If you’re looking to make a change right now, take a personal and professional inventory of your skills, talents and dreams and see where they intersect. Search for a job opportunity in your city or expand your search nationwide,” Moore says. She recommends people take an online class, read a book or set monthly goals and start working through action items.
“We don’t know when the pandemic will end,” she says. “You don’t want to look back and regret the time you had to make a big—or small—change.”
Pierce, the former photographer and designer, plans to go back to school to pursue a medical career as a nurse practitioner in an operating room. This aligns with the findings that, according to Marshall, industries needed to support COVID-19 are seeing increases in interest while those that could put others at risk are decreasing.
“While it’s not a great time to start a bar or restaurant, more innovative-based work in technology—social, new products, consultant work, etc.—as well as medical-based jobs could work better for the needs of the nation,” Marshall says.
Pierce hopes to help patients he will care for in “this new world we’re living in,” but he also seeks a career that will provide him financial and job security, even in a pandemic.
“It’s a crazy and unpredictable world we are living in,” he says, “but we hope taking action and planning ahead will leave us better prepared if something like this ever happens again.”