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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic turned college into a series of Zoom meetings, millions of college students decided to defer — or drop out entirely — and get jobs instead.

By the numbers: 22% of college students across all four years are planning not to enroll this fall, according to a College Reaction/Axios poll. Of those not returning to school, most — 73% — are working full time."

“I thought that no matter how hard Harvard tried to train its teaching staff to adapt to the online education format, it would not compare to in-person instruction and would end up having a negative impact on my educational development," says Garrett O'Brien, a rising sophomore at Harvard who has taken this year off.

  • Students are getting jobs as servers, tutors and freelance writers, among other gigs. Many of them are helping support their families.
  • The trend is spurring the creation of startups. Some former Google employees got together and started a "school" that trains students who are taking time off for future jobs in engineering, sales and more.

This phenomenon could have long-lasting effects on the labor market, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom tells Axios.

  • "One part of the labor market that will be hit hardest will be the lower-skilled end — both with lower demand due to COVID as low-skilled demanding industries like travel, entertainment and retail are shrinking most and with relatively larger supply due to people working a year extra before college," he says. "This could increase inequality even further."

Go deeper

Updated Dec 23, 2020 - Axios Events

1. First things first: The importance of lifelong learning

Lisa Gevelber, Founder and VP of Grow with Google, and the president and CEO of Jobs of the Future, Maria Flynn, at Google's virtual Powering Economic Opportunity: New Pathways to Job Recovery event.

Want a job in the future? If so, experts at Google’s recent Powering Economic Opportunity: New Pathways to Job Recovery event suggested that job seekers must do one thing: be a lifelong student.

Updated Dec 23, 2020 - Axios Events

Reskilling America: The path for post-pandemic job recovery

Learning new skills will be essential for many Americans who lost jobs as a result of COVID-19, since many of the jobs will not be returning. But not everyone can reskill the traditional way.

Why it’s important: To thrive in a rapidly changing job market, American workers will have to rethink their approach to skills and work.

As one expert at Google’s Powering Economic Opportunity: New Pathways to Job Recovery event put it: Job seekers must now be life-long learners.

At the event, policy makers, local government, nonprofit leaders and other experts talked about how they can pool resources and work together to better prepare American workers for today’s job market.

Their top three solutions:

  • Expand access to free or nearly free digital tools and training, like Grow with Google’s free digital training and resources.
  • Develop online courses and certificates — like Google Career Certificates — and a way to scale these offerings to communities that need it most to train a more equitable workforce
  • Encourage life-long learning and make reskilling resources more accessible to people.

According to Grow with Google VP Lisa Gevelber, “For years, Google has supported digital skilling programs and created pathways to help people secure good-paying jobs. Accessible job-training solutions will help people get hired into jobs that will be most relevant in the post-pandemic economy."

What this means: Companies are developing digital tools and programs that help people better understand the digital world, job skills training, and career certificates that job seekers can use to pursue in-demand, better-wage careers.

Oftentimes, these companies partner with governments, nonprofits and higher education institutions to help bridge the gap.

  • One example: Grow with Google offers digital tools and training to people looking to start new jobs or careers.

    Google’s online Career Certificates prepare people with no experience for jobs in high-growth, high-paying fields including IT Support, User Experience (UX) Design, and Data Analytics in 3-6 months with no degree required.

Key numbers: “We have over 400,000 people enrolled in these programs already, and a hundred employers across America who are hiring the certificate graduates. Top companies in retail, entertainment and finance, and, of course, Google,” Gevelber said.

Even more, Grow with Google has partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF) to help bring these career certificates to over a hundred community colleges around the U.S.

The impact: Students across Illinois and Alabama “really see their job prospects increase after completing a certificate,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs of the Future.

  • One Ohio student who listed her certificate credentials online has received five times more searches per week and several interview invitations.

When asked how local governments can get involved, Flynn suggested “expanding access to high-quality, short-term credentials like the Google certificate.” This helps meet the urgent need to reskill workers as well as the longer-term needs for creating better quality jobs.”

The takeaway: Making certificates, and other alternative career pathways, more accessible opens up a world where it’s easier for people to reskill for a new career – or a lifetime.

What Google is saying:

“What we are seeing on a positive note is how resilient Americans are, and we're seeing them put technology to work.”

– Lisa Gevelber, Vice President, Grow with Google

Learn more.

Updated Dec 23, 2020 - Axios Events

2. Career certificates are boosting job seekers’ prospects

Professional career certificates are opening a lot of doors for American job seekers looking to land higher-paying, in-demand jobs, several experts at Google’s Powering Economic Opportunity: New Pathways to Job Recovery event agreed.

Here’s how: Four-year degrees don’t always equate to success in today’s job market. Programs like Grow with Google offer low-cost certificates that can help people become job-ready in about six months in in-demand fields like IT Support and Data Analytics.