How Career Change Programs Work

computer training
Job retraining programs have become an economic lifeline for millions of Americans who were hard hit hard during the Great Recession.
Photodisc/Getty Images

At 60 years old, the last thing Barbara Stillwell wanted to do was to look for a new job. But when the economy tanked and the housing bubble burst in 2008, the Bellingham, Wash., resident had no choice but to hit the job market again after being laid off from her real estate position [source: Heeringa].

With no money coming in and the bills piling up, Stillwell decided to undergo a career makeover. She walked into the office of WorkSource Northwest, which provides unemployed workers with new job skills, and asked for help. WorkSource helped Stillwell obtain a scholarship to the local community college where she embarked on a new career in the medical billing field. She graduated in 2009 [source: Heeringa].


Then reality set in. No one wanted to hire an older woman since there were many younger, more qualified people around. Undaunted, Stillwell went back to WorkSource and updated her computer skills, which ultimately landed her a part-time job at the local American Red Cross chapter. Stillwell hopes a full-time position will open up [source: Heeringa].

With the country slowly recovering from the greatest economic upheaval since the Great Depression, job retraining programs, such as those provided by WorkSource, have become an economic lifeline for millions of Americans. Jobs are so tight that some experts say retraining is the only option that people have, for both white and blue collar workers, who were hard hit equally hard during the Great Recession [source: Semuels].

Yet, training for a new career is extremely daunting and downright scary, especially for those who have spent years, sometimes decades, working in one industry. Job training programs are designed to give workers the skills they need to become more competitive in the job market. Some of those skills are generic, such as learning new computer programs, while other programs provide more detailed instruction.

Before you sign up for job retraining and change careers, we'll tell you what to consider.


There's a Lot to Consider

If you think that job training programs are solely for the unemployed, think again. Wylie and Katie Schwieder, a Virginia couple, put their Harvard Business School degrees and lengthy corporate resumes to good use when they decided to leave their comfortable careers to become teachers.

After spending years working in corporate America, the husband and wife team enrolled in a fast-track teaching program to learn the skills they needed in the classroom. Today, Wylie teaches high school math and Katie middle school English [source: Stewart].


The Schwieders didn't take their career changes lightly. They were smart and developed a strategic plan, the most important thing experts say workers should do before changing careers in mid-life. Without a clear-cut strategy, looking for work can be exasperating [source: Hansen].

For example, experts advise that when changing careers, cash and benefits should not be your only guides. Sometimes the job that pays the most is not always the position that will make you happy. You might earn more money, but you might hate your new career, too [source: Hansen].

Also, don't change jobs just because you abhor your current work situation. Experts say that you might not really hate your career, but simply despise your boss, your coworkers or the assignments you have. You could also be bored, or underutilized. The key is to analyze what is giving you grief and make changes accordingly [source: Hansen].

Finally, don't jump ship without gaining the necessary experience and education. Sometimes you will need to go back to school for additional training, education or certificates. Volunteering, interning or working at a temp agency are good ways to gain the necessary experience that you will need to move into your next career [source: Hansen].


Where to Go for Job Retraining

For many teens, the summer job is an annual rite of passage, as much a part of summer as mosquito bites and ice cream. For the past several summers, Destiny Sullens has worked at the Red River Museum in Idabel, Okla., a job she first got through a government-run program that allowed students to gain real-world work experience. Although she is now a student at Columbia University, Sullens still works at the museum each summer [source: Moss].

Sullens is one of millions of Americans who rely on government-sponsored job programs. In 1998, Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act, which rewrote the federal statutes governing job training programs. The program made it easier for state and local officials to use federal money to train workers [source: U.S. Department of Employee Services].


In addition, President Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package in 2009 that provided billions of dollars in job retraining funds [source: Clark].

Some government programs are geared toward veterans, others toward youth. For example, Job Corps is a free program that helps young people learn a career and earn a high school diploma or a GED [source: Job Corps]. Also, many state and local governments provide job training services.

Government isn't the only sources of job training. Many employers offer on-the-job programs so employees can hone their skills. Temporary employment agencies also train those seeking work. Online universities and many not-for-profit groups have programs that allow workers to retrain, retool and reenergize their careers [source: Johnson].

Community colleges are great resources for job retraining, too. When the economy slumps, community college enrollment tends to increase. That's what happened in 2009 in Texas. As the economy worsened, enrollment in the state's community college system increased by nearly 37,000 as people sought new skills [source: Kever]. Recognizing the importance of community colleges in job training, Congress put $2 billion aside to help colleges partner with businesses to train workers in emerging industries [source: Aquije].


Do job retraining programs work?

Israel Valle was out of work. Before the hammer came down on the U.S. economy, Valle was making $18 an hour as an executive assistant in New York's fashion industry but then he found himself unemployed [source: Goodman].

With no job prospects in sight, Valle did what millions of other displaced workers do -- he upgraded his skills at a government-financed job training center. But the training, Valle said, was fruitless. For all his hard work, he still couldn't find a job [source: Goodman].


Many experts say job training programs don't cure unemployment. Between 2003 and 2005, when the economy was humming, the U.S. Labor Department conducted a study tracking 160,000 laid-off workers in 12 states. The department concluded that the gains from workers enrolling in job training programs were "small or nonexistent" [source: Goodman].

The problem, many suspect, is that most job training programs are outdated and irrelevant. When Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act in 1998, teaching workers computer skills and how to write resumes were seemingly enough to put them back into the workforce. The programs were designed for a quick turnaround economy.

Things quickly changed as the economy underwent a seismic shift. The recession decimated entire industries. Highly skilled workers with decades of experience were tossed out of their jobs. As a result, things got a lot tougher for the displaced worker. Some experts argue job training programs did not change with the economy shifted.

When President Obama signed the stimulus package in 2009, the government allocated $1.4 billion for job retraining. Those programs, critics charge, have failed to provide new careers for laid-off workers. As a result, there are more people looking for work then there are job openings. In addition, most job training programs only last a few weeks, providing displaced workers with general skills, not new and specialized training.

Others say the money was well spent. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 85 percent of laid-off workers who participated in job training programs in 2007 and 2008 found jobs within a year. Those who run the programs say many jobs, especially in health care and technology, continue to be vacant because they are waiting for skilled workers [source: Goodman].

Others argue that demand for products and services will increase as the economy gets stronger. When that happens, the newly trained workforce will be better equipped to handle these tasks. Why is that? Although unemployment is still high, there will be more qualified, and in some cases, overqualified candidates, to take the jobs that open up [source: Kiviat].

Just as important, job training gives displaced workers a psychological boost. Many times the unemployed become depressed, unmotivated and pessimistic about their future. However, the programs help people overcome their depression as they do something productive with their time instead of sitting home and brooding. Moreover, the programs create work for laid-off teachers and instructors [source: Kiviat].


Who pays?

solar panel installer
The Department of Labor provides millions to help unemployed young people transition into "green careers" such as hybrid auto technicians and solar panel installers.

Retraining for a job can be expensive. An associate's degree can cost between $6,000 and $7,000, while an advanced degree can cost much more [source: PBS]. But don't fret. Many financial aid programs exist that can help the unemployed pay for college and job retraining.

Most of that money comes from private foundations, along with state, federal and local governments. Each provides grants for various groups of displaced workers, including veterans, health care workers, factory workers and even dancers [source: U.S Government Grants].


Still, the federal government provides the deepest well of financial help. For example, the government's Trade Adjustment Assistance program helps workers who lost their jobs or had their hours cut due to overseas competition. The government will pay up to 104 weeks of occupational training so qualified workers -- those who can prove (usually through a union) that they lost their jobs because of overseas competition -- can attend technical colleges and four-year universities [source: Couch].

The Department of Labor provides millions to help unemployed young people transition into "green careers" such as hybrid auto technicians and solar panel installers [source: Couch]. The Workforce Investment Act pays for vocational programs for various groups including disadvantaged youth, veterans and Native Americans.

Job Corps, another government-run program, helps pay vocational tuition for low-income youth. Job Corps also offers free on-the-job training in more than 100 technical areas including heath care and manufacturing. In addition, Job Corps has a variety of free courses at local community colleges and vocational schools [source: Couch].

There is a lot of money out there to help people train for new jobs. The key is to research all options.


Where are the jobs?

In California, Hartnell College in Salinas has an eye on the future. In 2011, the college, working with the Monterey County One-Stop Career Centers, began offering certificate programs in green construction for youths 16 to 24. The program provides students with hands-on work experience, textbooks, tutoring and job-placement assistance [source: Viel].

Hartnell is on to something. While traditional industries such as textiles, printing, automotive and apparel are losing jobs by the bucketful, green jobs are on the rise. In fact, experts say if you're going to change careers in the near future, the so-called "clean" or "green" economy is hot.


How hot? According to a 2011 study by the Brookings Institution, the "green economy" now accounts for 2 percent of all the jobs in the United States, employing some 2.7 million Americans. Between 2003 and 2010, the clean energy economy grew 3.4 percent, while clean energy jobs grew 8.3 percent during that same period [source: Clayton].

As part of this uptick, workers have been training to become solar panel installers and energy auditors, among other positions. Environmental consulting, which includes jobs in soil-, water- and air-quality management is an emerging field in the green economy. All sorts of businesses will need help in reducing carbon emissions because of the government's efforts to curtail green house gas emissions, which contribute to global warming [source: Scott].

Green is not the only color of money. The biotech industry is also booming. Many biotech companies and research organizations need workers with computer and life science skills. In the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, companies are looking for skilled workers who have completed college courses in math and engineering [source: U.S. Department of Labor].

In addition, employment in the health care industry is surging. In fact, health care is one of the largest industries in the United States, providing 14.3 million jobs in 2008. The U.S. Department of Labor expects that an additional 3.2 million new jobs will be added by 2018 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

But before you start training for any of these industries, do your research. Experts say it's best to talk to employers, recruiters and others in the industry that can provide you with objective information. You might be able to transfer some of the skills you already have to your new profession [source: CBS News].

Happy job hunting.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Aquije, Omar Ricardo. "Schumer Pushes job training grant for colleges." Glens Falls Post Star. July 13, 2011. (July, 2011). training-grant-for-colleges/article_b19d2382-ad9e-11e0-88a0-001cc4c03286.html
  • CBS News. "Job Retraining May Help You Stay Afloat." July 16, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • Clark, Kim. "Jobless Overwhelm Retraining Programs." Jan. 4, 2010. (July, 2011). US News and World Report.
  • Clayton, Mark. "Report: More Americans have green jobs than oil or gas jobs." July 18, 2011. (July 2011).
  • Couch, Christina. "How to pay for vocational training." (July, 2011).
  • Goodman, Peter. "After Training, Still Scrambling for Employment." The New York Times. July 18, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • Hansen, Randall S. "10 Career Change Mistakes to Avoid." (July, 2011).
  • Herringa, Caleb. "Bellingham woman turned to WorkSource after layoff." The Bellingham Herald. July 18, 2011, (July, 2011).
  • Job Corps. "Success Lasts a Lifetime with Job Corps." (July, 2011).
  • Johnson, Tory. "Where to Find Job Retraining Services and Classes." Good Morning America. Jan. 2, 2009. (July 2011).
  • Kever, Jeannie. "The recession likely has a lot to do with record enrollments all around the state." Houston Chronicle. Sept. 3, 2009. (July, 2011).
  • Kiviat, Barbara. "Does job retraining work?" Time. July 20, 2010. (July, 2011). retraining-work/
  • Moss, Bret. "Choctaw Youth obtaining valuable work experience with WIA." Durant Daily Democrat. June 30, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • "Reviving the Economy" Jobs—The American Recovery and Investment Law." Feb. 17, 2009. (July, 2011).
  • Scott, Matthew. "The Top 10 Growth Industries for 2011." Daily Finance. Dec. 19, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • Semuels, Alana. "Job retraining program welcomes white collar workers." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 15, 2010. (July, 2011).
  • Stewart, Janet Kidd. "Boomers get increasing shots at retooled careers." Chicago Tribune. July 15, 2011. (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition." (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Employee Services. "Workforce Investment Act (Summary Overview)." (July, 2011),a,1233,q,538380.asp#ovw
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "Biofuels Create Green Jobs: Growing Transportation Fuels and the Nation's Economy." (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "High Growth Industry Profile: Biotechnology." (July, 2011).
  • U.S. Government Grants. "Retraining Grants for Unemployed or Underemployed Workers." (July, 2011).
  • Viel, Jasmine. "College Offers Green Job Training." Central Coast News. July 18, 2011. (July, 2011). training