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Start 2021 on a new professional path: data gives you the advantage

By Erik Slagle

There isn’t much to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said: it was the toughest year most of us have experienced. And if you were affected by job loss, a reduction in hours, or any other kind of career-related impact, this column is for you. As someone whose professional roles touch on everything from getting into college to getting into a new career, I can share some things for someone at any stage of their “job life” – including starting over when life necessitates it.

There are resources you may not be aware of, websites and agencies that can help you chart your next course. And none of it will cost you a dime: they’re all available to you now, for free, if you know where to look.

If you want to start 2021 by taking back control of your professional future, it will help to start with an assessment of what you want. A field with the most immediate openings? The fastest projected growth? Higher average starting salaries?

What about your skills? Are you willing, or able, to change fields? Could you go back to school if the right job called for it? What about a shorter career training path? Are you mobile – in other words, are you willing to relocate if the opportunity is right? Flexibility will be key if you want to make the fastest progress on this exciting, but nerve-wracking, new road.

Let’s assume you want to stay in New Jersey. How do you know what jobs are growing the fastest? Visit (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, so you know it’s legit), and toward the bottom of the page click “State Profiles” and then select New Jersey. You’ll find several options on planning your next move – from fastest-growing to highest-paying, plus information on fields with declining employment. You can even find out who the state’s largest employers are. Choose your priority, and Search. You might be surprised at what you find – for example, “Solar Photovoltaic Installers” (who install solar panels on your roof) are projected to double in number in the coming years, the field gets 3 out of 4 “money bags” for earnings, and you won’t need to go back to school for a new degree.

However, “doubling in employment” for this field is small – from about 900 to about 1,800 – so you have to rethink your search. Something with a greater volume of openings, or maybe something you’ve always wanted to do, but never thought about pursuing as a career. Head over to (also government-sponsored), and type in a career that sounds interesting. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into the healthcare field but thought you needed to go to Medical School. Check out “Medical Assistants,” though, and your outlook might change: a few clicks will show you that New Jersey is adding about 2,800 each year, and that you only need a 12-month Diploma or Certificate to start.

There are so many ways you can reposition yourself for career success in 2021, regardless of your circumstances. Throughout the year we’ll look at rebuilding your resume, targeting higher salaries, and “pandemic-proofing” your qualifications in an economic recovery. Watch this column in each issue of the Showcase, and don’t lose hope. Your next job is out there – and it can be a career if you want it to.