The Good News About Career Transitions In Today's Economy

skilled labor career transitionsIn an economy wracked by layoffs and downsizing, finding a new job often means changing career paths. Despite the financial strain and emotional turbulence that comes with job changes, there is good news. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Today's economy is complex, requiring all sorts of skills in all sectors, from high-tech to manufacturing to health care. Recent studies indicate that hundreds of thousands of well-paid skilled jobs go unfilled because employers simply can't find enough people to fill those jobs. As a result, hundreds of skills training programs, schools, unions and employers themselves across the nation are providing easy-to-access training to meet the need. The cost to our economy due to unfilled skilled jobs is in the hundreds of billions and climbing. Take heart in this challenge -- America needs you!

My friend Matthew B. Crawford's book, "Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work," covers a wide range of topics around the central theme that working with your hands (and brain and heart) is tremendously satisfying and teaches important life lessons that improve our communities. A college professor, Crawford nevertheless lays out the case that a college degree alone without a connection to a life skill can cause unhappiness and discontent. In an economy with millions of unemployed college graduates, it's time to consider working with your hands and heart.

The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Irene teaches us an important lesson. Without skilled workers, electric power doesn't get restored, roads and bridges aren't repaired, ports and waterways aren't cleared for commerce, basic services remain offline, and planes, trains and automobiles sit idle. There is nothing "low" about a skilled job and career. They're essential, which makes skilled workers essential.

While not all skilled jobs require a four-year college degree, many do. All skilled jobs require training, however. In some instances, the required training for licensing or apprenticing in a particular field may be as little as a six weeks to put you on a new career path. There are thousands of training programs and technical education opportunities available across America -- and with the national spotlight on jobs and skills today, newly acquired skills provide tremendous potential job security in our evolving economy. Remember that hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs are unfilled today, and potentially 10 to 20 million skilled jobs will go unfilled by 2020.

In a recent survey by Manpower Group, employers said they had the most trouble filling jobs that required hands-on skills due to lack of qualified applicants. At the top of the "most wanted list" are technicians, machinists, electricians and other trade professionals, and nurses, with hundreds of other hands-on jobs across all sectors requiring qualifications rounding out the wish list.

It's worth repeating that essential, hands-on technical and trade work cannot be outsourced, nor can the jobs be shipped overseas. That's job security in today's economy.

So let's get down to brass tacks. There are a host of resources available to get you connected to skills training and apprenticeship programs. I serve on the board of Center for America, which is hosting a yearlong national campaign promoting skills training with the goal of 10 million skilled jobs by 2020. Start by signing the 10 By 20 Pledge for America and link to hundreds of programs and schools posted on the website ( AOL and Huffington Post have likewise compiled resources through this important series. See what others are saying about career transitions into hands-on jobs at sites like It's a perfect fit -- America needs a skilled essential workforce, and millions of Americans are seeking new jobs. Let's get going!

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