Why Now Is the Time to Take a Gap Year
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the pandemic may be offering you a perfect time to take a breather and boost your skillset.
Once reserved for the privileged few, now is the time to consider taking a gap year. This refers to a yearlong break, often between high school and college, where students look to gain some “real world” experience before deciding on a particular course of study for their undergraduate work.
Traditionally, students have spent their gap year doing volunteer work, traveling or focusing on personal development. In the past, studies have shown that students who take a gap year perform better academically.
While COVID-19 wreaks havoc on all of our lives, it’s also accelerating trends that were already underway, like remote working and learning. It’s also giving many pause as they begin to think about embarking on a traditional college experience. Tuition costs have exploded over the last decade, and yet the median income in the U.S. has remained flat for the past 20 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. A 2019 Sallie Mae survey, “How America Pays for College,” found that most families rank financial concerns over academics when picking a college, and 80 percent of families said that cost considerations dominate the decision-making process. Couple this with the very real possibility of remote learning for many college and university students, and you have many reconsidering what the year ahead will bring.
While high unemployment and an uncertain market continue to trigger fears, there are also longer-term considerations that make a gap year look increasingly attractive. McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2030, approximately 14 percent of the workforce will have to change careers because of automation and artificial intelligence, and Amazon is reportedly planning to spend $700 million to retrain about a third of its American workers to do more high-tech tasks with the goal of retraining 100,000 workers by 2025.
One way to future-proof your long-term career aspirations is to make the time to invest in yourself now; get up to speed on market dynamics, and gain professional experience and the skills that will be the most desirable in tomorrow’s economy. According to a Pew Research Center, 63 percent of workers learned new work-related skills (or upgraded their skills) in 2016. This ranged from earning a certificate to taking a class or attending a conference or event on a particular subject. A gap year can help set students on the right path, giving them the opportunity to invest in developing the skills that will make them most marketable from the starting line.
The emphasis on skills over experience is quickly becoming a driving force across American corporations. IBM is calling it the “New Collar” economy, recruiting for roles that don’t necessarily require a college degree but are needed for some of the fastest growing professions like cybersecurity, coding, cloud computing and digital design. At Momentum Learning, we conducted a career outcomes report and found that the average starting salary among qualified graduates was $65,764 per year. This is after taking a 16-week coding course.
Over the next year, many of us will grapple with big decisions — where to live, when to return to the office, when to send our children to school. As students start to think about their professional lives and long-term career aspirations in the midst of this pandemic, I can think of no better time to consider taking a gap year to invest in yourself and build the skills, acumen and professional know-how to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow. If there were ever a time to take the road less traveled, it’s now.
Jessica Mitsch is CEO & co-founder of Momentum Learning.