The Risks and Rewards of the Covid Career Makeover
As Americans grasp for stable jobs, online training programs are flourishing. But what are the odds of success?
Last March, as her final semester at Georgetown Law School, was winding down, Madelle Kangha was feeling optimistic about the future. The 30-year-old would continue working as a senior paralegal to cover costs while she studied for the bar exam. Then, once credentialed, she’d find a higher-paying legal job — one that would provide for her 15-month-old daughter and chip away at her massive student debt.
Then the pandemic arrived, and like so many people she knew, Kangha was furloughed. “It happened to attorneys and family members who worked in IT,” she says. “It was a wake-up call: A lot of jobs aren’t as secure as you think they are. I’ve been nursing this dream of entrepreneurship for a long time. Covid gave me the perfect combination of necessity and push to take the next step.”
Kangha, who lives in Manassas, Va., wanted to start a beauty product company for women of color. She called Score, a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and began reading about business plans and watching the organization’s marketing webinars. She also applied for a mentor, a Score volunteer who could lead Kangha through her launch. Suddenly, she was back in the role she thought she’d left behind: the student.
Since early April, Kangha has signed on to regular Google Meets or phone calls with Ann Lim, a Loudoun County-based consultant with an extensive background in international business. Lim, 50, has given her protege a virtual crash course in entrepreneurship, complete with assigned readings and worksheets before every session. And yet the process is nothing like traditional business school or even a community college entrepreneurship course. It has been exclusively practical, exploring how Kangha can clarify her company’s value proposition and source beauty suppliers.
It has also been fast. “Ann asked me, ‘Do you have a business plan?’ but I wanted to get started,” Kangha says. In just a few weeks, with the plan still unwritten, Kangha had spent $3,000 in savings plus a $500 gift from her family on inventory and marketing. “Your timeline is very aggressive,” Lim told her during one of the online sessions that I attended with the women. She sounded a little concerned, but part of her job, she understood, was to prioritize her student’s sense of urgency. “We should do a to-do list so we can achieve that timeline,” Lim added.
Some of Kangha’s friends and family were more skeptical. “They ask, you’re going to take the bar and not work as a lawyer?” But relying on Lim allowed her to dismiss those concerns. “Ann said, ‘This is such a great market; you’re right on trend.’ It was such an encouraging and inspiring moment for me,” Kangha says. “To know I’m not crazy.”
Historically, recessions have forced laid-off workers to reinvent themselves, often sending them back to school. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, two- and four-year colleges saw a significant uptick in enrollments within six to 12 months after the 2001 recession, and again after the 2008 crash. This time, the educational landscape looks different. Now colleges in all sectors have watched undergraduate enrollments drop, according to the Clearinghouse. At the same time, enrollment at shorter-term graduate programs offering certificates and master’s degrees has increased, especially at for-profit institutions. These include coding boot camps, massive open online courses (MOOCs), small-business mentorship programs, and online learning communities.