Americans Hopeful About Future of Their Careers Despite COVID-19: Study

University of Phoenix Career Institute Releases Results of Career Optimism Index

As the U.S. approaches the one-year mark of COVID-19 lockdowns, the University of Phoenix Career Institute has released the results of its first annual Career Optimism Index, a comprehensive study measuring working Americans’ attitudes toward their careers to help identify barriers to career advancement and highlight solutions that can help all American workers accelerate their careers.

The study found that despite facing unprecedented challenges and a turbulent economy amid COVID-19, Americans remain overwhelmingly optimistic and hopeful about their careers. However, persistent barriers that keep them from advancing their careers have been intensified by the pandemic and workers need concrete support to translate their optimism into future career outcomes.

Despite one in three Americans saying COVID-19 has taken their career off course and 43 percent living paycheck to paycheck, 78 percent remain hopeful about the future of their careers and 70 percent say that hope is what got them through the past year.

Americans believe in themselves: eight in 10 say they are highly employable, adapt easily to new work situations and are resilient in facing new career challenges; seven in 10 feel prepared in the short term to search for another job if necessary.

However, despite optimism and confidence in themselves, 42 percent don’t see a clear path forward for advancing their careers over the long-term and more than half need help connecting with others in their current or desired field, finding a mentor or advocate, or seeking out training programs.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated the career challenges of American workers — the increase of automation, the widening skills gap, financial insecurity, mental wellness, and balancing parenting and home life — yet despite this, there is optimism,” said University of Phoenix President Peter Cohen.

“At University of Phoenix, we’ve been dedicated to helping students and alumni achieve their career goals for the past four decades,” Cohen said. “We formed the University of Phoenix Career Institute to help solve for broad, systemic issues for all American workers and that starts with a greater understanding of what they are facing in the workplace. The Index has provided that insight.”

Housed within the University’s College of Doctoral Studies, the University of Phoenix Career Institute conducts research to inform problem-solving and will partner with leading organizations to break down barriers that Americans face in their careers. The Institute has committed to fielding the Career Optimism Index every year, sharing the results broadly to help inform societal solutions to career advancement.

Despite Optimism, Americans Face Significant Career Challenges

Both emotional and structural barriers impact career progression. When asked to identify barriers that impact American careers, low self-confidence and fear of change (25 percent each), not having enough education (24 percent) and lack of opportunities for upskilling and development (24 percent) rose to the top.

Automation remains central in many Americans’ minds. One in five (22 percent) Americans say their job has become automated due to the pandemic specifically and a full 42 percent of Americans say they are worried that their job skills will become outdated because of advancements in technology.

Many Americans are worried about losing their jobs and are stressed about their careers. Forty-four percent of employed Americans are worried about losing their job due to the economy — with higher rates among women (46 percent), Blacks, Latinx and Asians (48 percent each) and Gen Z (56 percent).

More broadly, one in four Americans describes being stressed about their own careers (25 percent), with higher rates among Latinx (27 percent), women (29 percent), Asians (30 percent) and Gen Z (30 percent).

A significant percentage of American workers say they need additional support and resources to translate their optimism into future career outcomes: Despite confidence in finding another job in the immediate term if they needed to, 42 percent of Americans don’t see a clear path forward to advance their careers and 43 percent want to expand their skill set but don’t know where to begin.

American workers rank professional networking and skill development as top needs for advancing their careers. Fifty-five percent need help connecting with others in their current or desired field, 54 percent need help finding a mentor or advocate and 52 percent need support in seeking out training programs.

The Career Optimism Index study is one of the most comprehensive studies of Americans’ personal career perceptions to date. The University of Phoenix Career Institute will conduct this research annually to provide insights on current workforce trends and to help identify solutions to support and advance American careers. For the first annual study, more than 5,000 U.S adults were surveyed about how they feel about their careers at this moment in time, including their concerns, their challenges and the degree to which they are optimistic about core aspects of their careers and their advancement in the future.

The study was conducted among a diverse, nationally representative, sample of U.S. adults among a robust sample to allow for gender, generational, racial and socioeconomic differences and includes additional analysis of workers in the top 20 media markets across the country to uncover geographic nuances. 

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