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For 26-year-old Deepashree Gurumurthy, the current pandemic posed great challenges to her career. After working as a Computer Vision Engineer for three years in Boston — like millions of others — she lost her job due to the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the oil sector. 

What did she do next? “I felt it would be a great time to get back to my basics with a quick review of my learning,” she said. 

“I chose [to take] Udacity’s Computer Vision Nanodegree Program because it is directly relevant to my specialization and has interesting projects that I felt would strengthen my fundamentals in this subject.”

Online Education for the New-Collar Work of Tomorrow

COVID-19 & The Job Market

Unfortunately, Deepashree is not the only one who lost her job during the current pandemic. In the U.S. alone, more than 38.6 million people have sought jobless benefits in just nine weeks. To put this in perspective, during the Great Recession 37 million claims were made in the entire 18 months. 

What’s more, around 57 million jobs are at risk of being eliminated, according to an estimate by Mckinsey. The report also estimates that in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland, some 59 million people are vulnerable to unemployment. These numbers will grow when you take into account how many jobs will be lost to increased automation.

The pandemic has posed great challenges to school and college students, as well. COVID-19 has resulted in schools getting shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom in around 186 countries. Most colleges and universities have also temporarily shut their doors due to COVID-19 and will remain closed during the fall semester and many classes will be remote when the schools reopen. 

However, many workers and students have realized the importance of online education during an economic downturn, and are upskilling or reskilling themselves to prepare for the future of work. 

Can Online Education Save the Day?

As one Berkeley economist has noted: “The pandemic and subsequent recovery will accelerate the ongoing digitalization and automation of work – trends that have eroded middle-skill jobs while increasing high-skill jobs during the last two decades and contributed to the stagnation of median wages and rising income inequality.”

Mckinsey’s “The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow” report pointed out that job losses will be less for diversified economies and areas with higher education attainment. And with the traditional education system coming to standstill, millions of students and working professionals are now turning to online education, in one way or another. 

This has led to a major behavior change. One of the biggest challenges for online education has been to maintain student engagement. With online learning providers improving their offerings by striving to offer holistic learning experiences and the learners realizing the need, engagement rates have witnessed a spike. 

This pandemic paves the way for disruption in the education system that many were calling out like the philosopher-historian — Yuval Noah Harari — in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Major global events often lead to faster disruption and innovation — the growth of E-commerce post SARS. Countries around the world are taking different approaches to integrating technology into their education system. For instance, on February 9, nearly 200 million primary and secondary school students in China started their new semester – online. The trends are similar when you look at higher and professional education. At Udacity we have seen our graduation rate is up by 4x after the lockdown.

Enterprises are also encouraging their employees to further their learning and development. SEAT, one of Udacity’s enterprise clients told us, “SEAT has now asked their learners to put more time into Udacity, as production is shut down and everyone is working from home. As a result, a learner has graduated after only 15 days (vs 3 months) from the Intro to Self-Driving Cars Nanodegree program.”

What Can You Do to Mitigate the Risk?

This pandemic has touched almost every sector in an economy. As reported by Mckinsey, beginning with the leisure and hospitality industry, the impact of Covid-19 was soon witnessed in manufacturing, retail, parts of healthcare, and service sectors like IT and ITes. There is no doubt that the nature of work is going to change in the post-pandemic world. 

These are tough times for everyone and the best you can do is to be prepared. Jobs of tomorrow are not going to be the same as the jobs of today or yesterday. As a senior IBM leader in their IT org told us, “Learning can be a comfort; it’s something we can control. If your situation allows it, use the time you used to spend commuting to focus on your Nanodegree program and learning new skills.”

And this is our recommendation to you as well. Try to use your time at home to learn a new skill and prepare yourself for the future jobs. The future is of hard-employable practitioner level skills in fields like programming, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, data science. There can’t be a better opportunity for you to train yourself in one of these emerging new-collar jobs.

Finally, as Deepashree rightly puts it together, “During such a testing time in my career, there’s probably nothing better than to intellectually connect with the subjects I am passionate about. I definitely believe that the Udacity Nanodegree program will help me get better visibility and hone my skills further.”