Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

For several decades, people were taught there is a clear path throughout life, which was the secret to success: Earn a four-year degree from a respected college and don’t have children early, and all will be well. For millions, however, that straight line to success has proven not to be an available path.

The winds of change began to blow a few years ago, fueled by a dearth of talent and employer desperation, leading to a more skills-based approach to hiring and employee development. Then, that wind of change kicked up when Hurricane Corona hit in 2020. There is no security in a storm. No one is immune.

This storm flipped the idea of “the straight path plan” upside down. Whether a person had to file for unemployment, was furloughed, took on new tasks in his or her current role to cover for lower staffing, or is a business owner who had to shut down, there are no clear “next steps” for a journey of uncertainty that nobody living has ever traveled. It has left workers asking more questions than ever, evaluating themselves and their profession, and being more creative to prove their value and transferable skills.

Right now “the straight path” is out the window. People are feeling scared of the unknown, frustrated with the bumps along the road and unsure of where to turn. So, what can we do to put the struggling workforce back on track?

2020 Lessons Learned: The Importance of Reskilling

In the 2020 workplace, the importance of transferable skills was heightened like never before. Before the pandemic, most people were asking, “What do I want to do?” In 2021, the biggest question millions of people will be asking themselves is, “What else can I do?”

While some of these people may return to the jobs and businesses they were in before, many may decide to move on to new jobs or even new careers. Some may feel shaken in what feels like an uncertain future and move on to something that feels more secure — a natural reaction to something as shocking and unsettling as the level of job loss the world witnessed last year.

Previously, the phrase “transferable skills” most often referred to skills needed to enter the technology industry. Now, job seekers are looking for skills that are transferable into any industry that is hiring. The COVID era has caused job seekers to question what their skills are and how else they can those skills, particularly in sectors thriving in the pandemic.

In turn, job seekers are more willing to reskill to find a job. In fact, in a recent survey by Strada Education, 35% of respondents said they would change fields if they lost their job — which, considering unemployment numbers, means we could have nearly 20 million people looking to switch things up this year. These individuals will need the right resources to remap their plan — perhaps not to find “the job,” at least right now.

Planning for 2021: Bridging the Gap

Millions of American workers now find themselves in a position where they are looking for any job that will pay the bills. Typically, people looking for “any job” to recover from financial or job loss want to better understand their skills and how they can apply them to other careers. However, people often struggle to identify how they can apply their skills to another career, and they need specific support to do so.

Educational institutions, government agencies and workforce development organizations, as a result, need to revamp their own offerings to provide short, COVID-resilient, job-specific training. This training needs to address the particular needs of employers in a given industry and should focus on quickly helping workers identify the skills and areas of success that they can apply to other areas of work. Doing a deep dive into an individual’s desires for work through a career interest survey and an essential (soft) skills assessment, along with coaching, will help individuals in this position explore a wide range of career possibilities.

Employers will also need to be open to hiring outside of their comfort zone and enable professionals to stretch their skills past their resume. As such, they need to recognize that excellent candidates may be people they would have not hired in the past — people who may look different, sound different, have different backgrounds, or have or little to no relevant education. Employers need to see that this risk of hiring someone they would have previously not considered could have more of a benefit for the company in the long run.

Innovative workforce development programs and a new way of thinking about the traditional path forward will make work better in 2021 and beyond. In the meantime, with “the straight path” feeling more uncertain than ever, it’s important for the workforce to stay resilient, flexible and open to reskilling to chart a new career journey.