Students from Philadelphia OIC Workforce Academy during a panel discussion

Life after High School in a Post Covid-19 World

Graduation season is upon us. This is the season of celebration. This is the time to celebrate all that our students have achieved. It is a time to celebrate the next phase of their young lives. Yet high school students today face a future that is radically different than many of them imagined. Many of the traditional paths are not available to today’s graduates because of the global pandemic. Preparing graduates for a post COVID-19 world requires, resilience, adaptability, and flexibility.

In December 2019, the national unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. Before the global COVID-19 pandemic, the job market was the best it has been in 50 years. Today, the unemployment rate is 14.75% and it continues to rise. Many economists predicate that America is heading into a depression. Choices that students made just a few short months ago now seem unrealistic.

The best path forward for graduating seniors in a recession is often to continue their education. Yet, colleges have also been severely impacted by COVID-19. It is not clear whether some colleges will open this fall or will instead operate virtually or will open with a combination of virtual and physical classes. As a result, some students have decided not to attend college this fall but rather will take a gap year to explore other opportunities. These graduates now join the ranks of other students who do not see college as the immediate path forward. Whether a young person chooses college, vocational/ technical school, or the military, post-secondary education will broaden their career choices and increase their income potential.

It can take a sluggish economy 18 months to two years to recover. The additional complicating factors of the pandemic shutdown and the riots arising from the protests for justice means that we are experiencing an economic vortex for which we have no play book for recovery. Despite these daunting circumstances, the best path forward and the best advice to give your graduate is to invest in yourself. Education and job training ensure that when the opportunity occurs your graduate will be ready.

Although the short-term outlook on the economy looks bleak, this season will pass. Now is the time to prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The options are varied. Post-secondary education takes many forms. For example:

College or Community College

For many high school students’ college is the most direct path to the future. Community college or a four-year university offer a broad set of skills that increase in value over time.

A bachelor’s degree is often a prerequisite to many high-paying career paths. This choice takes time and money to pursue. It is also not time barred. If you cannot go to college today, it is never too late to get your degree.

Military Service

The Armed Forces provides superior and often cutting-edge training for many careers. Many careers are created in the military and then transitioned to the civilian economy. For example, Geographical Information Systems or GIS is a technology which was created by the military and is now used by every industry. The leadership opportunities in the military are second to none. It is also a great way to pay for post-secondary education. The GI Bill covers tuition for undergraduate and higher-level degrees.

Vocational and Technical School

Industry certifications obtained from technical or vocational schools are available for banking, energy, hospitality, culinary arts, environmental services, automotive repair, facilities management, information technology, dental hygienists, HVAC technicians, welders, medical technicians, and various other careers. Many certification programs can be obtained in less than a year.


An apprenticeship involves job-based learning. It is a paid career-training program and frequently involves traditional classroom instruction in addition to on the job training. Apprenticeships are most common in the construction trades, but are also available in manufacturing, healthcare, finance, telecommunications, and transportation.


Volunteering for a not-for-profit organization is a great way to contribute to the community and to enhance your skills. Charitable organizations are often short handed and welcome people with energy and commitment. Volunteering is a way to gain experience and position yourself for a paid position.


Tough times do not last forever. The economy will flourish once again. While it may be more challenging in a post-COVID-19 world; these options will provide your graduate with a road map for a career that is rewarding and impactful.

Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes

President & CEO

Philadelphia OIC

Storied Workforce Development agency eradicating poverty in Philadelphia.