When will Virginia’s workforce return to normal?

As Virginia settles into the new normal of Phase 3, the 9.4% of Virginians who are out of work may still be asking themselves, “When will things get back to normal for me?” And the answer isn’t crystal clear.

The last time our workforce was so greatly impacted was after the Great Recession in 2008, and even 10 years after that, the workforce was still evolving and changing – from the total number of people employed, to the industries with open jobs, to the ages and racial make-ups of our workers.

When we asked Randy Stamper, who works on FastForward and several other workforce programs, about Virginia’s workforce, he shared both good and not-so-good news.

“We didn’t see the level of unemployment that was anticipated when all of this began, but we did see significant losses in certain fields,” he said. “Restaurants, hotels, amusement venues, hospitality, sales, personal care – these are the industries that took the biggest hit. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted lower wage workers, workers without a degree and minority workers.”

While some of those hospitality and leisure careers did take the brunt of the hit, there are some fields that are still hiring because of the nature of the pandemic and their essential nature.

“The open jobs are mostly in IT, heavy construction, manufacturing, skilled trades and healthcare,” he says.

Randy goes on to say that people in the sales or service industries should think about other fields that are more stable or have been growing over the last few months. For example, if you worked in the service industry, you have customer service skills and have interacted with some sort of point of sales system. Chances are, with maybe a little bit of formal or on-site job training, you could switch over to healthcare and go into medical billing and coding, or registration.

One way to forge forward is by taking your skills and previous work experience and applying that towards a certificate or a degree, which can elevate you in the job market. Todd Estes is the head of career education programs at Virginia’s Community Colleges and he’s heading up a new initiative that helps give students college credit for their previous life experiences.

“With support from the Lumina Foundation, All Learning Counts is a project is working hard to make sure students can easily learn more about earning college credit for previous experience” Todd says. “By recognizing the learning that has already taken place, whether it be through military service, work experience, or an earned industry certification, we can provide students with a running start towards a credential. Students aren’t asked to take courses covering content they’ve already mastered and, as a result, they save both time and money on their way to their next promotion or career.”

There’s no one right way to move forward from this. If you were affected by the pandemic, chances are, those effects could stay with you for a long time. Some jobs may not come back even after Virginia bounces back. The real question is, “What step are you going to take to find YOUR new normal?”