I’ve been struck repeatedly over the past month by how quickly things can change, watching as favorite restaurants close, people start wearing masks to the grocery store, and the weekly unemployment numbers continue to climb. I’ve always cautioned my students against trying to predict what kinds of careers and fields will be in demand by the time they graduate from college, but that seems even more impossible now than it was before.
But there’s a positive side to all this change as well. This crisis is shining a light on professions that might not have been as well known before. Suddenly, my aspiring med school students aren’t just talking about pediatrics and oncology and surgery; they’re discussing epidemiology and public health when they think about their futures. My business students are suddenly hearing the phrase “supply chain” more than ever before and exploring supply chain management programs at their schools. And my education majors are thinking about the long-term reality of online learning and its benefits and drawbacks.
And it’s not just bringing attention to less well-known fields within medicine and business and education. There is also new demand for certain careers that didn’t exist before. For instance, per the Washington Post, CDC director Robert Redfield stated that we “need to massively scale up [our] ability to identify the infected and find everyone they interact with through contact tracing.” In order to do this, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials estimates that we will need to hire and train “100,000 more contact tracers are needed than are in the states now.” And former CDC director Tom Frieden says that the number of contact tracers might need to be as high as 300,000. That’s hundreds of thousands of new jobs that we did not know we needed a few months ago.
That’s just a drop in the unemployment bucket right now, but it’s one example of the way work will be impacted and will continue to change while we face this crisis. I’m encouraging my students – and myself – to stay flexible; to try to see new openings that weren’t there before; to try not to predict what will happen next but to respond to what is happening. So much has changed in my own career over the last three years, and I can only imagine that the next three years will be even more impactful. What I do know is that I will still be exploring these issues and asking these questions and sharing all of it with you.