It’s happened again. Just 12 years after the Great Recession wrecked the Las Vegas economy, we have now tumbled into a more severe economic downturn than the last one.

Nevada’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 28.2 percent (per the Nevada Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation May Unemployment Report, 2020), the highest in Nevada’s history, and the highest unemployment rate in the country. About one in three Nevadans are out of work, and young people who are entering the labor market now will face more challenges than ever. At face value, the timing could not be worse for a young person to enter the labor market in Nevada. More than ever graduates entering the job market for the first time must compete with far more experienced workers who have been in the labor market for years.

While all of this is true, we must remember that with every dark cloud, there may be a bright side—if students receive the right guidance and make the right moves.
So what are the prospects for employment opportunity now for the graduating class of 2019?To begin with, jobs in the hospitality and gaming industries have been downsizing dramatically. Automation is already replacing many front line hospitality jobs as resorts opt to use contactless hotel check-in and other similar touch-free services.

Soft Skills: So what does the future hold for recent graduates, and how must they prepare to make themselves valuable to employers? First, students must sharpen their soft skills and interpersonal skills. Every high school student in our high schools would benefit greatly from the types of soft skills that Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG) teaches. If you want to know what employers are looking for, ask them. That is what I have done for years, and here are some of the things I have learned. Employers want to hire people who will arrive on time, pass a drug test, and be teachable. This may not seem like a high bar, but I have heard countless horror stories from Human Resources professionals of people showing up to look for work in pajama pants with their dog in tow.
So, you’ve got a pulse and some of the basic soft skills described above. What else are employers looking for? Employers are looking for people who can do a few basic things aside from punctuality and a clean drug test. You need to be able to work well with others. That means that you have what is described as emotional intelligence. Can you be considerate of others and communicate effectively? Are you able to solve problems when you are having trouble with a co-worker? If you can, employers will find that very appealing.
If you want to shine in the job market, you will also need a couple of other qualities. You must be able to follow directions, and you must be able to solve-problems independently. If your desire is not to be replaced by a machine, you must be able to do things that machines cannot do. Among these skills is the ability to identify and solve problems.

Some Post-Secondary Education, But Not A Bachelor’s Degree: So, we have established that hospitality and gaming jobs in Nevada are more scarce than ever. We have also established that you need soft skills. What else? Well, if you are going to be successful not only in finding a job, but finding one with a livable wage, and one that may include benefits and stock options, soft skills are not enough. You need more education, but you do not need a four-year degree. This is where middle skills training and middle skills jobs come in.

Why should I Be Interested in Middle Skills Jobs? The answer is simple. Middle skills jobs are where the job demand is, even in the midst of this economic downturn. According to the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, 60% of jobs in Nevada in 2020 are middle skills jobs. What does a middle skills job look like? First, middle skills jobs are found in high demand occupations including healthcare, information technology, mining (in Nevada) and the skilled trades like electrical work, plumbing and air-conditioning. All of these jobs require additional education, but not a bachelor’s degree. And the education required rarely takes place in a university. Training for these high demand, well-paying job fields takes place at your local community college or is offered through apprenticeships and internships directly through employers or labor unions.

Jobs in these middle skills professions pay considerably higher than jobs in other occupations that are in lower demand, and for those that require no skills or training. Middle skills jobs also provide career ladders for advancement that lower skilled jobs do not. One of the coolest things about middle skills careers is that they are also more recession proof. Regardless of economic conditions, everyone living in Las Vegas needs an air conditioning unit that works, and an X-Ray technician who can take and read your CAT scans.

So What Do I Do Now? If you are a J4NG student, you already know what to do. You work with your JAG Specialist who can help you plan for your career pathway years before you graduate. If not, talking to your guidance counselor. If that is not helpful, seeking guidance from your One Stop Career Center or WIOA (Workforce Investment Opportunity Act) provider may give you the avenue you need to find your pathway. The best thing about this option is that WIOA often pays for the tuition, fees and other costs to pursue short-term training options. They can even help you with other costs such as transportation, childcare and work-related equipment costs.

The Bottom Line: There is plenty of opportunity out there for recent high school graduates, and even for the hardest hit class of 2019. But you are going to need some additional education beyond high school. For some recent graduates, they don’t want to get any more schooling. But here’s the thing. It’s worth it. You will earn much more in the medium-term once you finish your initial training, and you will earn much more over a lifetime as you advance in your chosen career. When you are in the twilight of your life, you are also more likely to have a pension or a 401K retirement account that will help you ease your way into retirement.
All in all, middle skills careers are the hottest ticket on the market, and young job seekers should be actively pursuing careers in these fields!