As an IT project manager and support analyst, Maryanne Pilson saw changes in the industry – an ongoing move towards hiring abroad, leaving fewer opportunities for her.

So Pilson got proactive and decided to re-invent her career. She went to the Delaware County CareerLink office and took advantage of the tuition assistance program to learn the skills needed for a commercial driver’s license. She got licensed in about six weeks, and two months later, she had a job.

The Delaware County resident loves her new gig.

“Travelling, meeting and working with people all over the country, the feel of freedom on the open road,” Pilson replied when asked what she liked best about the change.

The move to send jobs off-shore is a continuing problem for many careers. So is automation. Add these long-term employment shifts to the economic impact of COVID-19, which has sledgehammered service industry work, and thousands of people are either unemployed or under-employed in the area.

Delaware County spokesperson Adrienne Marofsky estimated the COVID-19 layoffs at about 14,000.

For people like Pilson, who needed to find new work in a new field, there are programs that will provide those skills and, in many cases, help you land a job as well.

Delaware County Workforce Development Board Executive Director Kate McGeever said low-income underemployed or unemployed residents can take advantage of federal funds set aside for job training.  “It is federal funding, and it costs the county nothing,” said McGeever.

It also costs the job-hunter nothing, which is a huge relief for anyone trying to figure out how to pay the rent and buy food, much less throw a few classes into the list of bills.

If you are wondering what “under-employed” means, McGeever said it’s working less than 30 hours a week, which has become more common in the COVID-19 economy.

These kinds of programs are available all over the state, and job-hunters can access them by visiting the local Workforce Development Board. “This is a program that is available in every workforce development area in the United States,” McGeever said.

Bucks and Montgomery counties also offer the same kind of workforce training – or for many, retraining – to help residents weather this changing job market.

“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 has had a sudden, devastating effect on the regional economy and workforce system in Southeast Pennsylvania,” prefaces the Southeast Workforce Planning Region’s proposal for 2021-2024. “Industries that had been thriving in the region were halted while others struggled with supply chains and workforce needs to meet demand.”

In response to the pandemic, the Southeast Workforce Planning Regional revised strategies to “allow ongoing response to the evolving impact of the pandemic,” the report states.

What are some of the highest-demand industries in the region? According to the report, some of them include:

  • Delaware County – aerospace products manufacturing
  • Bucks County – chemical products and preparation manufacturing
  • Chester County – financial investment activities
  • Montgomery County – pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing

The Southeast Workforce Planning Region noted that local workforce development boards are seeking out employers to partner with, so job-training offers and job possibilities closely align.

In Chester County, where the county Workforce Development Board, county Economic Development Council and the Manufacturing Alliance of Chester and Delaware Counties, this effort resulted in a three-week manufacturing skills course that started in mid-February.  Like the course that Pilson took, it was completely free of charge, and an added bonus was that there were a number of employers interested in interviewing the students as soon as they finished the coursework.

“We have more jobs than we have people signed up for the course,” said CCEDCs Jim Lauckner.

Lauckner noted that many who come from service-industry jobs like bartending, waiting tables, or hotel staff, are likely to assume that they are not cut out for manufacturing work, but he hopes they think again.

“I know there are plenty of people who need jobs, and these are jobs that are perfect for folks like those in the hospitality industry – where you have to be punctual, you are accustomed to being on your feet for 10-12 hours, and you are reliable,” he said in February before the course kicked off.

Noting that the “people skills” earned by those dealing with the public daily, are always in demand.

“These are folks that know how to deal with the customer, with changing dynamics, with pressure,” he said. “Yes, it is a career change. But, as I said, we have employers ready and interested in hiring these students.”