A month ago, in the first week of December, we found out November’s unemployment rate rose from 9.6% to 9.8%. What a nasty holiday gift that was. And even though the numbers for December aren’t out yet, the economic pundits aren’t gearing for a big recovery party any time soon.

Still, all is not gloom and doom for the immediate economic future. Consumer spending appeared to be up in December, and people are starting to get hired—slowly, but surely. Why? Well, it could be that stocks rose slightly in December, manufacturing nationwide is up, and construction rose a bit in the fourth quarter of 2010. All this activity requires extra bodies to keep it going, and thus jobs are born.

So who’s getting the jobs? Turns out a lot of these new hires are coming directly out of college. Yes, it seems a college degree does pay off (even in these hard economic times), as employers are looking to those with freshly minted college degrees to fill new positions created by the slow economic return. The flip side to this good news is that these jobs are typically low-paying, entry-level positions (sometimes even paid internships, with no guarantee of a permanent job after the internship is over), but hey, at least it’s employment.

However, this snail’s pace of recovery does very little for the 15 million currently unemployed. These are the people who had careers and then were laid off. What do you do if you’re one of them?

The best way to fight unemployment in a bad economy is to be flexible. According to at recent study by Rutgers’s Heldrich Center for Workforce Development 41% laid-off workers said they found work by switching careers or taking a job in a new field. (That’s 41% of the unemployed that would probably still be unemployed at the time they got their new job, if they hadn’t switched careers.) In almost every case some sort of training was required before they were hired. Sometimes the employer paid for the training, but usually people looking for work had to be proactive about their own educations, even if it meant paying for a whole new college degree.

That’s not to say that the unemployed won’t eventually find new jobs in their existing fields, however, you absolutely increase your chances of finding a job sooner, if you’re open to re-educating yourself. College is usually the best (and most reliable) way to get the training you need to switch careers, however, many companies offer on-the-job training programs that will pay you to learn while you work (granted, you’re paid less while learning, however once again, at least it’s a job).

And who’s not to say you won’t love your new career? According to the Rutgers’s Heldrich Center study, 50% of those surveyed said they liked their new careers better, and that they were finally doing something they enjoyed, even though (in most cases) the new pay and benefits were less than what they were getting before. True, you may initially switch careers because you’re desperate for work, but if you’re flexible about going back to school (as a means of getting a job), you could end up working in a field that you find more rewarding—something you probably wouldn’t have done had you not been forced to look for a new job in the first place.

So if you happen to find yourself in the unemployment line during these hard economic times, you have two choices;

1) You can take a little longer to find the same job you had before, in the same field, or…
2) You can increase your chances of finding a job sooner by re-educating yourself in a whole new career.

In the long run, which option is best for you?

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