What Challenges Does the COVID-19 Pandemic Pose for Career Coaches and Job Seekers?

With the huge increase in the number of people unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, we reached out to several Indiana career coaches, who have either graduated from the inaugural Skillful Indiana Governor’s Coaching Corps (SGCC) or are current members of the second SGCC cohort, to ask them about the challenges they have experienced in recent weeks.

What we found was that despite the many challenges they face, they have been able to adapt quickly to the new normal in order to continue helping their clients through this difficult time.

What we found was that despite the many challenges they face, they have been able to adapt quickly to the new normal in order to continue helping their clients through this difficult time.

Adapting to Working Remotely

We were interested to learn that reading a client’s body language is a technique that many career coaches utilize to get a full picture of how their clients are feeling, even when they might not be saying anything with their words. However, working remotely denies career coaches the ability of seeing their clients face to face, and so it can be harder for them to communicate with their clients. Thomas Utnage, from Northeast Indiana Works told us,

“One thing that I’m rather good at is being able to read somebody’s body language when they’re uncomfortable about a situation, but since the pandemic, the opportunity to read somebody’s body language is no longer available.”

Although for some coaches this has hindered their ability to communicate with clients, Thomas found a silver lining.

“I think that this situation has provided me with the opportunity to truly focus more on what is being said, I’m now focusing on my client’s tone of voice, their pace of speech, and truly hone in on their ability to communicate; this is helping find the questions that I need to ask so I can help them better.”

We also learned that finding the necessary tools, such as computers and office equipment, needed to work remotely has also been a challenge for many career coaches. In Indiana some career coaches had to either borrow equipment from workforce centers in their region or use their personal equipment. Unfortunately, using their own equipment came with its own set of challenges, such as not being able to upload documents to the State server and not knowing how to keep their documents secure when working with a client from home. After the first two months of working remotely, most career coaches has the equipment they needed, but every now and then they continue to grapple with the challenges of using equipment outside of their normal place of work.

Uncertainty

Although career coaches are used to working with clients during difficult times in their lives, they are seeing a lot more uncertainty in recent weeks. Kathy Erdman from WorkOne-New Albany told us that she’s noticed a lot of anxiety in her clients.

“I reached out to ten customers today, they’ve recently filled for unemployment and seven of them are planning on returning to work with their employers, but they’re just not sure when they’ll be able to return. That’s been difficult for them. It raises the question of are they going to have a job to go back to?”

What makes matters worse is the uncertainty people are feeling about how safe it is to  look for work in the middle of a pandemic and what happens if remote jobs are not available.

Finding Employment

Stephanie Butram, from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, who has been working with clients from a manufacturing background, has seen a decrease in manufacturing jobs since the start of the pandemic.  To support those clients  who feel comfortable returning to work and to continue working in this industry, Stephanie has helped her clients apply for temporary positions at General Motors which is hiring 1,000 temporary workers in Kokomo, Indiana to produce ventilators.  She is helping them to identify the transferable skills they have which will be valued in this new role, and ultimately find longer-term work.

A decrease in employers hiring means a decrease in opportunity and an increase in competition. For the job seekers who were unemployed before the pandemic began, one of their concerns is how will they be able to compete with people who have been unemployed for a shorter period of time than they have, but they also face much greater uncertainty in general at this time.

After learning about the challenges career coaches have overcome themselves during the pandemic, we asked them about the main concerns they have been hearing from job seekers.

Family Concerns

Health concerns are, naturally, top of mind. A lot of people are worried about their loved ones who continued to work as essential workers, and if they are unemployed, they are worried about their own health because it can be difficult for individuals to find a job that they can perform remotely. Childcare amid the pandemic is also a big concern. Many childcare centers and schools have closed their doors, forcing parents to teach and care for their kids while also juggling work. Those who are unemployed and looking for a job, have many questions, such as, What happens when you find a job? Who will watch your kids while you’re at work? It’s difficult to focus on anything else if you’re worried about your family’s well-being.

Filing for Unemployment:

The pandemic has led to a huge surge in displaced workers, millions of people have filed for unemployment insurance since mid-March. States across the country are under strain with so many people filling for unemployment. There have been reports of late payments and systems crashing as millions of people file claims.

“I’ve heard a lot of concerns surrounding unemployment. There are people that can’t get into the system, they can’t access anything, and they aren’t sure who they can call to help them. If you are in Indiana you can call the customer service line at 1-800-891-6499.”- Stephanie Butram.

The pandemic has made an already stressful process even more difficult. To find local resources you can visit the national employment website here.

Digital Literacy & Access

Kathy Erdman tells us that most of the clients they work with have limited computer skills. “It’s been difficult to enroll customers, now that we’re working remotely because there are a lot of documents they have to sign electronically, and a lot of our customers don’t really know what that means or what we’re asking of them.”

The problem is not only varying levels of digital literacy, but also digital access. While the digital divide is narrowing substantially, there are still 21 million Americans lacking access to broadband.  We spoke to John Schlatter, from the Center of Workforce Innovations, an organization that offers several free trainings to help upskill people and get them into better jobs.. “We serve Gary, Indiana, and a lot of students there don’t have access to technology, so they have difficulty accessing online classes. For them, we’re having to come up with some low-tech solutions.”- John Schlatter

Although there is no easy solution for the challenges career coaches are facing, they are resilient and creative. They have found ways to work around and, in many cases are overcoming these challenges. They are providing crucial support for the huge number of people currently facing unemployment and will continue to help them to navigate this crisis as best they can.

Are you are a career coach? If so, thank you! You are doing an incredibly important job.

If the issues described above sound familiar to you, we’d like to invite you to join our free, online community just for career coaches, where you can access resources, tools and support from your peers. You can also ask questions, share advice and network with others in your field.  Learn more by visiting our Skillful Coaching Community of Practice page.