Half of the job types that were severely impacted by COVID-19 and don’t require a bachelor’s degree in the Philadelphia metro area can be transitioned to a higher-paying job that requires similar skills.
That’s according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, with research led by Kyle DeMaria, a community development research analyst at the institution. DeMaria found that with these “top transitions” — a transition to an occupation that does not require a bachelor’s degree, pays at least 10% more than the origin, and shares many of the same skills as the origin — workers may not need much new training, allowing for easier pivots in employment.
All 10 of the occupations hardest hit by pandemic-time employment decline were lower-wage occupations, defined as not requiring a bachelor’s degree and paying below $40,727 annually.
DeMaria found that top transitions are available for five of the 10 hardest-hit occupations in the Philadelphia metro area: retail salespersons (which saw 34,487 job losses between February and April alone), hand laborers and material movers (23,092), combined food preparation and serving workers (19,514), general office clerks (14,687) and customer service representatives (12,238).
Examples of top transitions to a “destination occupation” include moving from a material mover to an industrial truck or tractor operator. This is also an example of a transition to an occupation that did not decline severely between February and April 2020.
So, will workers actually make this transition?
DeMaria believes that short-term training programs he calls “micropathways” can help workers enter higher-paying jobs by developing finite skills. In order for them to work well, though, employers must look beyond four-year degrees as requirements.
For workers looking to increase their earning potential even more, access to higher education is a possible barrier blocking them from doing so, as the process of looking for financial resources can be “challenging.”
“When I looked at other research on this, there’s evidence from the Great Recession that workers that experienced mass layoffs weren’t likely to pursue two- to four-year public education,” DeMaria said. “Part of the reason that may be the case is workers aren’t aware of financial aid programs available to them or struggle to get them.” (Or, they’re not looking to be saddled with crippling debt.)
The study’s findings also indicate that some of the transitions between occupations sharing skills overlap did not severely decline. DeMaria said this speaks to the potential resilience of some occupations over others.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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