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Working in America: The Other Second Shift — Learning While Working, Part Two

Working in America text written over an image of a business group working round a large table

In part one of this special two-part article in the Working in America series, we explored what’s changed in the how, when and why people across a range of disciplines decide to get the training they need to increase their value in the jobs marketplace. In this conclusion to the piece, we explore the new jobs market realities effecting strategies for balancing learning with work, and the role of professional networks and employers in the mix.

The new reality

Saif Saiyed wasn’t sure what field he wanted to work in as he prepared for college. But he thought he had a pretty clear picture of what to expect once he graduated. “Frankly, my expectations about the workforce weren’t quite up to the reality. I figured once I graduated college, I’d quickly find a decent job with benefits. I found out the real world doesn’t quite work like that. But these past few years have proven a critical stage for me. I’ve learned a lot, in many ways.”


Aerotek contract employee Saif Saiyed


Saif’s story is a great example of how many young entrants to the jobs marketplace are now crafting their career through exploration and experimentation, both at work and in school. After graduating in 2014 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Saif started his search for a job where his degree could be meaningfully applied.

“I was job hunting on my own, went to a lot of interviews but wasn’t having success. A friend from college recommended Aerotek and said he got a job with them. I made contact, and met Sara Stubbs. Within a month, she found me a short contract position working at a large industrial products company. It was a good early learning experience inside a company, but almost immediately I started thinking about going back to school for my master’s degree. I just wasn’t sure what it might be in yet.”

After his first contract ended, our recruiter Sara reached back out to Saif and connected him to the pharmaceutical company where he’s been working ever since. Saif says that the work experiences have helped inform a plan for what’s next in his career and his education. “One thing the real-world experience of these two very different jobs has done is open me up to a range of other areas where I could apply my BS in biology. But the idea of going to grad school was still in the back of my head.”

After about a year at his current job, Saif asked his company if he’d able to continue working full-time and go back to school. They agreed, and Saif entered the DePaul University’s Master of Science program.

Deciding from doing

Like Anthony and Belia, Saif is working full-time and taking a full course load in school. We wondered what his secret was for keeping his energy up and his focus on. “My trick is coffee and tea — maybe Red Bull on exam days — and very strict time management. You really just have to manage it! I was a procrastinator when I was young. No more.”

Yet unlike Anthony and Belia, Saif has been crafting career and education plan iteratively, as he goes. “The big ah-ha for me, from my early job experiences, was that I’d really like to pursue a career in computer science (CS), so that’s the program I’m in now. It’s a completely different area than my undergrad degree but I’ve always been interested in technology and computers. I see so many opportunities in the workforce with people with an advanced degree in CS. It’s a trimester system, a two and half year program, and I have less than a year left. Once I get my master’s I look forward to exploring my next career step.”

We asked Saif where he saw himself in a few years, armed with a diversity of work experience and two degrees at a relatively young age. “It’s a good question. The thing with computer science is that it really isn’t industry-specific. I could work in almost any industry that has software automation. I’ll have my masters in computer science, and I’m really interested in building a career in database management. As far as where I’ll be salary-wise and industry-wise, I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the adventure.”

Employers embracing education

We’ve seen with many clients, a developing understanding around the importance of a constantly learning workforce. The investment in new certifications or even classes to learn all new areas of a business can yield great results through increased revenue and a renewed loyalty from a workforce that is in constant development. Engineering Practice Lead, Emily Vlkojan-Reece details the organic development of a training program with a client: “In Raleigh, North Carolina, we partner with a major technology company, providing engineers that support a range of different projects. We encourage these engineers to continuously develop themselves. Through various training offerings, we help them to develop skills that they can use project-to-project, making them more valuable to our client. In turn, this also makes the employee more skilled and marketable. It has shown us that investing in contract employees pays off not only for the employee and the client, but also in their trust in us as a staffing company.”


Instructor teaching adult learners in a classroom


Trainings range from instructional training video subscriptions to a more intensive “boot camp” style training aimed at rapid skill development. Many of these were developed after Aerotek observed a need within our client’s business whether based on a gap in skill level among engineers, or the need for employees with cutting edge skills. Programs like this are popping up across the nation in an effort to account for gaps in talent, especially among higher skilled professions like engineering and the skilled trades.

The power of networks

When it comes to combining work and learning into rewarding career, each of the approaches taken by our three young professionals is uniquely their own. But one thing we heard or observed from each was their reliance on a network of support.

Anthony Gupta has been relying on his family for invaluable support for his career and educational advancement, speaking with them often about his courses. Saif Saiyed told us that, “One of the keys for me has been working with a company like Aerotek. Entering the workplace right out of school without a set plan for where I might fit best made their role crucial. Their network of companies with jobs allowed me to start building a solid and relevant foundation of work-experience. A foundation that any company I eventually work at will benefit from as much as I do.”

Belia Wong’s thoughtful take on the power and importance of networks is as insightful as it gets. “My husband volunteers with under-privileged youth. And he’s built up an amazing network of colleagues, friends and connections over the years. He’s shown me that your network matters. I’d recommend young professionals start building their networks as early as they can.”

Belia continues, “For me, the winning combination is work experience, education and networks. I’m one of those people that really connects with people. I don’t believe in shallow relationships. In almost any job or school situation I almost always find at least one or two people I truly connect with. That’s the kind of network I’m building. Deep connections stick with people, they remember how you make them feel. They come to you with opportunities throughout life’s journey. I just happened to stumble upon Aerotek and, when I think about it, they’ve become a key part of my network now. They seem to treat the important relationships the way I do — fostering deep connections with the people that matter.”

Jeff Betz, the Aerotek recruiter who works with Belia, couldn’t agree more. “We work hard to treat people and relationships the same way Belia does — deep, personal, real. She’s such a great person with an incredible story. We’re extraordinarily lucky to count people like Belia as part of the Aerotek family.”

In developing this Working in America piece, we were amazed at the divergent pathways people take in acquiring the skills, learning and credentials as they advance their career. We were also humbled by the first-hand stories from people like Belia, Anthony and Saif. What’s become clear to us is the increasing complexity of choices and the crucial personal decisions to make about investing time, money and attention to learning.

Something else became clear for us, reflecting on each of these three young professionals and their stories: some things never change. Things like the human capacity for curiosity and change. The acquired talents of adaptability and flexibility. The enduring thirst for learning and the drive to advance, bettering ourselves as people, as professionals — sons, daughters, husbands and wives — working in America in the 21st century.

If these stories have helped inspire you, or you’re looking for advice on balancing school and work, we encourage you to get in touch. Join the conversation on Facebook. Check out our current local job opportunities or create or modify your free Aerotek career account today.

Belia Wong appears courtesy of Recruiter Jeff Betz, Anthony Gupta appears courtesy of Account Manager Sydney Liguori, Saif Saiyed appears courtesy of Account Manager Brianna Camper and Senior Professional Recruiter Lead Sara Stubbs.