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Workers in America: Building New Skills and Reinventing Careers

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The unemployment rate in the United States is historically low. Sitting at 3.7 percent, it’s almost six points lower than it was a decade ago, creating a jobs market with ample opportunity for ambitious job seekers.

On the other hand, a short supply of qualified job seekers means employers need to be creative and flexible if they want to compete for talent. Employers are hiring people with less professional experience than before, and allowing them to learn on the job, making skill-building on-the-job a major part of the modern workplace.

In recognition of Labor Day, let’s reflect on how American workers, including contract employees, grow skills not only to improve in their roles, but also to build new careers.

Building skills for a better fit

Employers are reacting to the scarcity of talent by being more open to hiring people who don’t have all the required technical skills and experiences upfront. Many now hire for hard-to-teach soft skills, and invest more in training that helps employees develop necessary hard skills. Others are being more flexible with their education requirements.

Workers willing to grow and learn on the job build marketable skills that add value to their career and to their current and future employers.

Showing an eagerness to learn new skills and to help where needed might expose you to career-changing experience. Take Belia Wong, for instance: “When I first entered the office world, everyone asked for my help. My first chance to help involved working as the office receptionist. Then I helped organize medical records. Then I got a job as an office manager. After acquiring these early practical skills, I decided to dedicate more time to completing my nursing degree to become a social services worker.”

Contract work for reinventing careers

As in Belia’s case, career changes are also more frequent these days. People build skills on one job to enhance their resumes and then move on to a job that’s a better fit, more fulfilling or offers more money.

Angela Dolch, an Aerotek market research analyst, speaks to this trend: “One of the things we tell people in the early- to mid-phases of their careers is that it’s never too late for reinvention. There will almost always be time and opportunity to course correct. Some of the contractors we work with are consciously taking the long view. They strategically string together dozens of  contract jobs over the course of a 30- or 40-year career. For some professionals, not all of those jobs will be in the same skill or industry.”

When the future is hazy, contract work can open new experiences and provide career path clarity. Take Saif Saiyed. He was job-hunting on his own and went to several interviews that led to nowhere.

“A friend from college referred me to an Aerotek recruiter, who found me a short-term contract position at a large industrial products company. It was a good early learning experience, but almost immediately, I considered going back to school for my master’s degree. I just wasn’t sure what it might be in yet,” says Saiyed.

After his first contract ended, this same recruiter connected Saiyed to a pharmaceutical company, where he’s been working ever since — even through grad school.

The future for American workers

According to Forbes, programming jobs continue to grow 50 percent faster than jobs altogether; 2 million manufacturing jobs won’t be filled by 2025 because there won’t be enough workers with the right computing, problem-solving and math skills; and advanced technology and automation will push millions to learn new skills.

Workers developing the right skills will meet the growing need for data analysts, engineers and scientists with programming skills. Demand for skilled trades workers will only continue to grow. Many of these jobs offer low educational barriers and more competitive wages.

There’s no ignoring it — continued learning is the new normal. Whether it be on-the-job or through external education, workers building new skills and reinventing careers will be set up for long-term career success. We’ll be here to support them along the way.