30 Percent of Today’s U.S. Workers Are Insecure About their Careers: How Higher Ed Can Help

When survey respondents were asked about actions they were likely to take to help them transition to a new job or career, 37 percent of respondents said they would complete a certificate at a college or university online and 27 percent would pursue a Master’s degree online.

The U.S. workforce is changing. Not only do women now make up the majority of the workforce, but according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute study, nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs are tied to occupations that are likely to shrink by 2030. External factors such as technological advances, demographic shifts in the population, and the COVID-19 pandemic mean U.S. workers feel the impact, especially as in-demand skills continue to change and once-popular jobs become obsolete.

These changes impact how employees feel about their jobs. But they also offer opportunities for companies to strengthen employee relationships through professional development offered by higher education organizations.

A survey conducted by Full Circle Research for Champlain College Online, Economic Security and Advancement in the Workforce, explored how adults across generations perceive their financial stability and career trajectory in today’s dynamic job landscape. It revealed harsh realities for American workers who feel the pressure to provide for their families and achieve their dreams, but are daunted by the task of learning and developing a new skill set.

These individuals are dedicated workers who fear being laid off by an employer they trusted for 20 years. They’re moms who never finished a degree so they could become caregivers to chronically ill children, but who still dream of becoming managers and leaders.

This is today’s workforce. And for those in charge of strengthening their workforce, it is more important than ever to understand the needs of these individuals. Here are three takeaways to help address their training needs:

1. Career and Job Security

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly a third of respondents (30 percent) feel “somewhat” or “very” insecure about their career and job security.

It’s not just about the number of jobs, but matching skill sets to the jobs that are available. This is complicated, thanks to trends such as automation, outsourcing, and closing areas of business that no longer meet long-term organizational strategies.

Reinforcing feelings of insecurity in their current roles, less than half (46 percent) of adults surveyed see an opportunity to advance in their current job, with 44 percent of those surveyed saying they are likely to change jobs to feel more secure.

For employers, this is concerning, given that they face losing employees due to insecurity. That is why it is more important than ever to make sure employers create opportunities for continued learning. By proactively offering and promoting skill-building programs, employers can show their workers the path to advance in their careers.

As employers provide professional development opportunities and access to continued education to help employees advance, they must make sure they are not one-size-fits-all approaches. Adult learners are unique and require programs that offer flexible, career-focused, and personalized programs that build a stronger, more secure workforce.

2. Employer Support for Employee Career Transition

There’s good and bad news in employers’ support for career transitions. Only 49 percent of respondents rate their employer’s help in career development as “excellent” or “good,” and just between 33 and 47 percent of respondents indicated that their employer would be likely to support them in a range of career advancement actions. While these numbers aren’t high, this reveals an opportunity for many employers to strengthen employee relationships and make improvements that will help them stand out and impact retention.

Finding pathways to help employees stay competitive, while also making sure the workers are committed and confident in their current role, is key to long-term employee retention.

There are numerous ways employers can support continued advancement and skill growth, including networking opportunities, professional certifications, boot camps and modularized learning, career coach counseling, and higher education partnerships. The workforce is, in many cases, eager for the chance to advance. When respondents were asked about actions they were likely to take to help them transition to a new job or career, 37 percent of respondents said they would complete a certificate at a college or university online and 27 percent would pursue a Master’s degree online.

When it comes to helping employees pursue additional degrees, higher education partnerships give employees more affordable access to strengthen their skills. These corporate partnerships can be the basis for professional development programs. Current workers already are willing to create a brighter future for themselves by investing in their own training—they just need employers to help them see a clear pathway.

3. Current Workers’ Willingness to Invest in Training

Employers need to understand the value of ongoing training based on what employees are willing to commit. According to the survey, this interest and commitment is relatively high. On average, respondents would be willing to spend 15 hours each week and $8,152 on education and training toward career advancement. This represents a huge commitment, illustrating that achieving the dream of a degree or a new career path is important.

While it’s evident that employees are willing to spend a significant amount of time on their professional development, it’s crucial they select programs that are designed for adult workers and their unique needs.

Adults are busy with life demands that require daily attention. It’s no question that flexibility is key. But there’s more to the reality of training and continued education as an adult.

When the individual is already working two jobs to make ends meet or acting as a caregiver to a child or parent, it takes the encouragement of an engaged advisor to help the adult learner stay engaged. This needs to be a necessary element of continued education for adults.

Career-focused coursework with practitioner faculty who are designing programs for workplace outcomes and success is also critical. How employees can apply what they’re learning in the workplace also needs to be clear. These are essential considerations to ensure training programs are valuable for both the employer and their workers.

The U.S. workforce is complex. It requires employees, employers, and higher education institutions to work together to support today’s rapidly changing job landscape. Although there are significant changes ahead, retraining, education, and skills development are some essential advancement opportunities that can be used to build a stronger, more secure workforce that encourages company loyalty, decreases turnover, and generates stability and lasting careers.

Melissa Marcello is an associate vice president of Champlain College Online.

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