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Visitors to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center can browse its online resources while socially distancing.

Amid soaring unemployment and major economic upheavals, those searching for employment are facing many uncertainties. 

The pandemic is not only narrowing job availability, but it’s also changing the types of careers people are seeking and the ways in which businesses pursue employees.

Many who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic are moving into different fields and are having to reimagine the skills they bring to the table. Others are starting their own businesses. 

The Business Journal recently spoke with workforce experts from the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center and local higher education institutions and examined what’s changed for job seekers during the pandemic.

PIKES PEAK WORKFORCE CENTER

Traci Marques, executive director and CEO of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said that although some job seekers have been reluctant to enter certain industries for health and exposure reasons, the majority who come to the center are just interested in one thing...

“… A lot of times they just want a job,” Marques said. “They really don’t care about the company, or what industry … they just need a job right now.”

Marques said there are several companies that have continued to hire.

Marques said the e-commerce and package distribution company Amazon currently has the most open positions, based on Colorado labor market statistics, but she noted jobs in certain sectors like health care and defense are also in high demand. 

When job seekers come to the workforce center with a specialized background, Marques said preparing them for their next job often entails helping them realize the skills built over the course of their former career can apply to other industries.

“Sometimes you have people come in and they’re very focused and only want, say, manufacturing, because that’s all they know and that’s all they’ve ever done,” Marques said. “So part of it is working with them to say, ‘OK, what are the skills needed in manufacturing?’ Because if you were a machine operator in manufacturing then you had to have paid attention to detail and have a technology background. And those are two skillsets that you can apply to different industries. So a lot of times in talking to clients we really get to know them and help them refocus their skillsets not on just what they’re used to but what potentially could be.”

Since some industries have suffered during the pandemic and might not rebound any time soon, Marques said the center’s virtual workshops have been a very popular resource in recent months to help job seekers identify their skills and make them stand out on a résumé to attract their next employer.

The pandemic has also changed the entire hiring process.

“A lot of what’s changed for job seekers in the pandemic has to do with the way to interview,” Marques said. “No longer do you necessarily have those face-to-face interviews so you have to learn to interview virtually. Online applications are more important now and being able to have an updated, skills-based resume, is really crucial in looking for a job.”

PIKES PEAK SBDC

The Pikes Peak SBDC offers business consulting and training but doesn’t typically work hands-on with job seekers. 

However, the center does offer training and resources to help entrepreneurs launch their own small businesses. Aikta Marcoulier, executive director of the Pikes Peak SBDC, said many Coloradans have gone that route due to the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a huge influx of new businesses starting just like we always do [in a crisis],” Marcoulier said. “And when I see that, it makes me really happy.  Because you see devastation on one side of the street and then on the other side you see someone filling that space with a new concept or innovative idea.”

Those launching their businesses right now are doing so at the “hardest time possible,” she said, which poses challenges but could also come with some advantages.

“They’re starting their businesses with a better understanding of what they need to do when we’re on an economic downturn to bring business into the door,” Marcoulier said. “So I congratulate everyone starting their business right now because it’s hard. It’s really hard.”

The pandemic has had some minor impacts on the types of businesses people are trying to start, but generally speaking, Marcoulier said, people continue to launch new business ventures of all kinds.

“People are starting consulting businesses, restaurants, food trucks, dog-washing businesses — I mean, everything under the sun is what we’re seeing as far as people starting businesses right now,” she said.

For those who have launched a business during the pandemic, Marcoulier said it’s important for them to realize this isn’t the first time the Pikes Peak region has experienced a disaster, and that such crises can present opportunities for business owners who stay flexible and pivot to meet the community’s needs.

“I know [the pandemic] is different, but at the end of the day it is really important that as they address the need to grow, they remember that this is an opportunity to gain customers and do things a different way,” Marcoulier said.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Lance Bolton, president of Pikes Peak Community College, said the types of career programs that were popular with students prior to the pandemic have become “even hotter” in recent months.

In the technology industry, for instance, Bolton said candidates are being hired as quickly as they complete training — so PPCC has been working with the PPWFC to develop rapid training programs.

But some of the industries in which PPCC is heavily invested have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Areas like culinary arts and hospitality — they’re still really struggling to get back on their feet and become fully operational and busy again,” Bolton said. “And so that’s impacted hiring in those areas and those are pretty large programs for us. So I expect … in the coming semesters, we might see some decline in enrollment or those types of programs.”

Bolton said he expects those programs will endure beyond the pandemic, though they’ll likely be smaller than they were coming into it.

It’s PPCC’s health care, technology, computer science and cybersecurity programs that continue to be in high demand, he said, and could see additional growth.

Bolton said PPCC career advisors have been emphasizing the importance of making a good first impression in a virtual setting for students who will soon graduate and enter the job market. 

“They make sure that the students are capable of handling themselves well in a Zoom interview and just making sure that they make a good presentation — that they take that as seriously as they would an across-the-desk interview and be very professional,” he said.

PPCC is also advising students to be careful about what they post and share online.

“That’s more important now than ever,” Bolton said. “Be careful what you put out there on your social media, because people will look at it before they hire you.”

Danny Pape, the career center director for UCCS, said that many UCCS students have likely felt stress and anxiety due to the unknowns of entering the job market during the pandemic, especially if they originally sought employment in industries that have been hard hit.

“But the good thing is there are still companies hiring,” Pape said. “You often hear about the unemployment rate out there, and while those numbers are very legitimate and can be viewed as scary, they don’t really hone in on the entry-level job market. So there are organizations and industries still hiring in big waves … things like health care, cybersecurity, technology, software, supply chains and government.”

Pape said one of the primary ways the UCCS career center has been helping students navigate the new landscape — especially those who will soon graduate — is to look at their skillsets through a different lens than that of their major.

“You might have to do a little bit of a career pivot,” he said. “And maybe spend five years in an industry or a job function that wasn’t maybe Target A for you. But you can sure eventually get to what those dream careers and goals are. 

“So that’s kind of been our main focus here at the career center is helping students understand that their skillset is translatable to many different roles in many different areas,” Pape said. “They have the opportunity to design their careers based off of that.” 

Reporter

Zach Hillstrom is a Colorado Springs native and graduate of Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has worked as a reporter for Southern Colorado print outlets since 2015.