Bridging workforce gaps with continuing education

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You may know that continuing education can help you advance in your job or switch careers. But have you considered how pursuing new learning can help you land a job in an in-demand field or address labor shortages?

Anna LaMonica always wanted to earn a graduate degree. As a single parent working full time and caring for a young child, she found a fully online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program to help her achieve her career goals and fill workforce needs in nursing.

“I am very optimistic about finding a job in my field after I graduate. The possibilities are endless,” LaMonica says.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, healthcare — and other industries such as business, education, social services and engineering — includes numerous “hot jobs.” These occupations with projected growth offer competitive salaries and many job openings. (Find information on “hot jobs” at www.jobcenterofwisconsin.com/WisConomy.)

headshot of Anne Niendorf
Anne Niendorf

If you’re in a growing field or considering a career change or upgrade, consider these additional benefits of choosing an in-demand industry: broad choice of employers, job security and willingness of employers to accept unconventional backgrounds or qualifications.

Continuing education – a degree, new certification or other training – could be your ticket to enter or advance in a “hot job.” For example, a school counselor could take a substance use disorder counselor certificate program. In the tech industry or at any company, you could consider a data analytics or coding boot camp to boost skills and become a software developer. Home health aides or certified nursing assistants might benefit from earning an associate or bachelor’s degree to become a registered nurse.

Because employers are eager to fill these in-demand jobs, they may be willing to pay for you to add continuing education units, certifications, professional development or even degrees to your resume. It’s more expensive for employers to hire and recruit new people than it is to invest in current employees’ education.

Other financial aid may be available to returning adult students as well. For example, those willing to work in underserved areas may be eligible for scholarships, loan forgiveness and other incentives. UW–Madison’s Wisconsin Teacher Pledge offers to pay tuition and licensing fees for students who meet eligibility criteria and promise to teach at Wisconsin schools after graduation.

And while going back to school may be daunting, new options such as online or hybrid programs and flexible scheduling can help adults with other obligations and responsibilities continue their education.

While increasing her earning potential and filling nursing needs in healthcare, LaMonica is finding other advantages of returning to school. She adds, “After completing my DNP program, I am excited to demonstrate to my daughter the positive influence one can have on their community. I want to emphasize the significance of advocating for underserved and marginalized populations, showing her the transformative impact nursing can have on the wellbeing of diverse and often overlooked communities.”

Contact us at Continuing Studies if you have questions about returning to school.

The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Anne Niendorf, a student services coordinator, can be reached at anne.niendorf@wisc.edu. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on February 11, 2024.