Saturday Soapbox: Career Exploration Reinvents the Workforce | Opinion

As we wrap up “Explore Your Career Choices Week” from April 3-10, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve all learned as a result of the pandemic workplace closures.

Washington is slowly moving away from the economic toll of the pandemic, but the conversation about career changes, upskilling and retraining, home offices and flexible work hours continues.

We’ve seen a lot of what’s called “The Great Resignation,” but to us, it’s more like “The Great Reinvention.”

The truth is that times of crisis also provide opportunities for change, for reinvention.

Higher education and business leaders are exploring what innovations they can make to serve students and employees more effectively, while adapting to a changing landscape that has enabled a flexible work environment.

There’s no doubt that the shift to online training and education has inspired many Washingtonians to finish school, explore new careers, and find ways to support strained professions, like teaching and Health care.

Western Governors University led the way in being unapologetically unique. All degree and certification programs have been online since its inception 25 years ago, creating a seamless transition for current and new students to access accredited degree programs.

For Washington’s employer community, the pandemic has created new opportunities to reinvent the workday, the workplace, and the worker experience. Families were put in difficult situations – parents were homeschooling, Zoom meetings took up hours of the day and in-person meetings and hours worked by employees changed to accommodate work and to the family.

Last year, AWB’s Workforce Summit 2.0 brought together legislators, policy experts and employers to dig deeper into the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has brought.

The discussions reflect what we still hear today: employers want quality employees with the skills to do the job; employees want to continue to have flexibility in when and where they work. Employees also want the tools and opportunities inside and outside the workplace to retrain and upskill, to reinvent their careers by pursuing higher education options or starting or completing a certification as a way to advance in their current job or transition to a new one.

Washingtonians want work-life balance. They want to work in careers that match their passion. And they want to be valued in the workplace.

Many Washingtonians have become passionate about new careers. As parents were empowered to take on the role of teacher, enrollment in WGU education programs increased by 20%. Puyallup student overcame her unique challenges to complete her nursing degree.

Employers like Halcyon Northwest in Olympia have been able to hire people from across the country since the pandemic, opening up a larger and more diverse labor pool.

While we’re all still a little pandemic-weary, the good news is there are opportunities ahead as we reimagine the workforce, education, training and how we balance work. and life with the tools we have developed over the past two years.

Leadership Coach Jenefeness Tucker of the Washington Small Business Development Center said it best at AWB’s Workforce Summit: “It’s extremely difficult to be a leader when things are constantly changing. But research shows that these five practices help people achieve their personal best: Model the way. Inspire a shared vision. Challenge the process. Allow others to act. Encourage the heart.

Dr. Tonya Drake is Regional Vice President of the Northwest Region and Chancellor of WGU Washington. Kris Johnson is the president of the Association of Washington Business, the state chamber of commerce.

Michael A. Bynum