Stuck Finding First Job or Next Job?

As job security becomes more and more elusive, many jobholders have learned to constantly be on the lookout for training programs to help keep abreast of tech changes. Two groups of millennial jobseekers that I often see languishing in the current job market could benefit similarly from such skills upgrading. One group are early to mid-twenties college grads (males in particular) who are struggling to find their first job with self-sustaining earnings (generally, at least $17hr, $35K yr). The other group are late 20’s-early 30’s college-educated males who have lost their first career role due to layoff or poor fit.

These groups share a common link: college degrees in liberal arts – psychology, English, history, etc. While these grads have developed core skills that employers value like writing, research, analysis, critical thinking teamwork, and creativity, those degrees don’t tend to translate directly to jobs.

Contrasted with so-called professional degrees like engineering, nursing, computer science, where grads can directly enter the labor market in their field of study as an engineer, nurse, etc. the liberal arts grads often find today’s uber-competitive job market a rude awakening. There are simply not enough good jobs for everyone who wants one and there is greater competition for those jobs.

As a result, the path to entry for a meaningful, best-fitting career for these two liberal arts groups often takes longer. Sometimes circumstances (e.g., rent and college loans) require returning to work in a shorter timeframe than a protracted search for an optimal job would allow. While many end up in survival jobs (barista) or patching together various side gigs (Lyft driver, waiter), there is a viable short-term solution that is often overlooked. First we need to look at the roadblocks that prevent accessing this solution.

The roadblocks.
Here are several factors that often blind these two groups of millennials and others from seeing and realizing skills-building options:

  • Biases about skilled, semi-skilled and manual labor, e.g., that skilled labor is “beneath” one, or working in such roles would represent to others or oneself a failure to achieve one’s potential and appear underemployed. Further, various beliefs and expectations about obtaining a “college-level job” can limit consideration of these high-paying and potentially satisfying roles that do not require a college degree.
  • The pressure one’s parents may exert, who often have high-earning or job status expectations after shelling out tens of thousands of dollars on their child’s college education. Parents can be vocal when their grads shift to vocations they judge to be not in line with their college investment, which can have a further negative effect as grads feel they are losing emotional support at a time they need it most.
  • Joblessness or underemployment feels miserable, as does living with one’s relatives. Feeling lost and defeated makes it even tougher to have the energy to get on a career track of any kind.
  • One may also feel letdown that having a college degree is not the job ticket one expected. The implicit expectation that investing in and obtaining a college degree will qualify a grad for higher-paying jobs than those with a high school diploma is not always borne out. In fact, many new high-growth, high-paying fields do not require college.

These beliefs and issues, however prevalent, are limiting and must be overcome in order to access new, viable options. To put things in the perspective of a whole life, we are talking about the next job, not one’s career for life.

Embracing the detour. The reality is many of today’s jobs require specialized skills, technical abilities which are not usually taught at a typical liberal arts college. But not to worry, if one is open to a seeming detour (at any age or stage), there are many short courses or certificate programs that bridge the gap needed for entry. If college grads can wrap their heads around needing just a little bit more specialized training (yes, a little more tuition), before you know it, the detour can move them far ahead to financial independence.

Tech Detours

A couple years ago I provided career counseling to two college-educated males in their mid-twenties, one a business major and the other a philosophy major, who had felt stuck in low-wage service jobs. They elected to pursue short-term training in coding languages like C++ and Javascript (approx. 3 – 4 mos).

Each of the two coding schools or “bootcamps” covered two to four languages, and the cost for them to attend ranged from $3,000 to $4,000. Immediately after completion, both men had multiple job offers for Software Developer, roles with a comfortable living wage; one started at $48k and in six months advanced to $65k.

Both of them recommended this path to others, particularly as “a commitment device (it was 7+ hours a day, 5 days a week).” They each supplemented bootcamp, however, with other skills training to get more of the depth they needed and felt longer programs might have been even more helpful.

A related tech career in high demand is Web Developer or Designer. Portland Community College offers short, entry-level certificate programs with as low as 12 or 24 credit hours. You’ll receive training in digital illustration and imaging as well as graphic and website design. The ongoing expansion of digital media and online business has led to Web Designers being highly sought-after.

Apprenticeship Based Detours
For more of a hands-on role in gaining professional expertise, Electrician and HVAC Technician are also in high demand. Both share an emphasis on understanding electricity and electronics, though HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) techs go further into studying mechanical components and repair. Both fields have training programs that can range from just a few months to four-year apprenticeships that combine in-class training with paid work.

The Destination! Sometimes we must take a detour before we can reach our destination. In travel as well as career, detours occur on the road, and having to go in a different direction can be upsetting and cause one to even question the path he or she has been on.

For college grads who struggle to land a career-type position, once self-limited roadblocks in perception are overcome, an intentional detour to pick up specialized skills can be just the ticket for the next living wage job. In our demanding and fast-changing job market, college-educated millennials who appear stuck would do well to rise above the situation by exploring and taking advantage of short-term training to enter high-growth fields.


Dave Gallison, MS, LPC
Dave specializes in a short term, action-oriented approach to providing career management solutions to clients seeking to choose, change or advance their careers and reach their professional and personal potential. His unique strength as a career counselor is preparing you for informational interviews and directly assisting you in gaining access to employed contacts within desired organizations.

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