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Some people returning to school instead of the workplace

Posted at 6:14 PM, Sep 21, 2021

TULSA, Okla. — Many businesses around the country are experiencing a side effect of the pandemic - a worker shortage.

Some are wondering where did those employees go?

Some of those returning to work are doing so in a new career field. While others, like Lily Robistow, are taking the time to go back to school.

Robistow is in her first semester of the respiratory care program at Tulsa Community College. But this isn’t what she originally planned to do.

“My grandma was a teacher.," Robistow said. "My mom was a teacher. So it sort of felt like a natural fit for me.”

After teaching for two years, Robistow moved to Oklahoma in March of last year. She arrived just as the pandemic started and everything changed.

“It really made me think about my priorities and what made me happy," Robistow said.

She said COVID pushed her to follow her dream of being a respiratory therapist. Once she graduates from TCC in May 2023, she’ll be working in hospitals and doing what she loves in a new way.

“This is a career that allows me to still help people, fulfill that need, give back to the community while also ensuring I have a good work-life balance that was harder to achieve as a teacher," Robistow said.

Robistow isn’t alone in her career change.

Pete Selden, vice president of workforce development at TCC, said many students enrolling there are wanting to make changes whether to their education level or in their career. They’re getting out of industries like restaurants and finding something new.

“Folks had time to kind of examine their situation and say, ‘Is this something I want to do long term? And when we get back to a normal or back to work, like, is this what I really want to be doing?” Selden said.

Selden said TCC saw an increase in enrollment in their non-credit programs early in the pandemic. People are working toward a job with a good work-life balance and better wages.

“If I’m going to work 40+ hours a week, I need to have something that’s going to give me a family-sustaining wage," Selden said. "You know, at least be able to pay the bills, not cause me to work two or three, sometimes three jobs at a time.”

For those considering taking the leap into a new career, Robistow said do it. She said any short-term transition pain is worth it in the end.

"In that sort of transitional time in the summer, I was uncertain about how am I going to continue to pay my mortgage?" Robistow said. "How am I going to continue to pay my car payment? And thinking about those other responsibilities that you have when you return to school later in life. And now that I’m actually here, I found that there are so many resources to help me.”

Like Robistow said, there are resources for those looking to make a career change or go back to school such as Goodwill Industries, Tulsa Community WorkAdvance, Green Country Workforce, TCC and Tulsa Tech.

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