BLOOMFIELD, NJ. – Ronell Rodriguez was hired as a technician at Koeppel Mazda dealership in Jackson Heights, New York in September, three days after graduating from Universal Technical Institute (UTI).

His training program took only 51 weeks. He is thankful he pursued his passion for cars and certificate in automotive technology at a top trade school, especially given continued high levels of national unemployment.

“I wasn’t really a college type,” said Rodriguez, who enrolled in UTI right after high school. “I wanted to work on cars and do something hands on.”

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Now Rodriguez goes to work every day to a job he loves in an industry that has been designated as an essential service during the health crisis. Survey research shows that many young New Jerseyans have strong reservations about the current job market in a COVID-19 economy, and the 140,000 job losses across the U.S. in December only reinforce their concerns.

According to new research 64% of New Jersey residents surveyed, ages 18-35, are not confident that all office jobs will come back after the pandemic. The study conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with UTI also found that 66% of New Jerseyans have actively considered pursuing a different career during the pandemic — one that makes them happy.

“People want to be fulfilled and happy going to work each day,” said Shawn Alexander, president of Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Bloomfield. “They also want something stable, a career that remains in demand and offers upward mobility even during tough economic times.”

Around 51% of New Jersey survey respondents are looking for a new job that would allow them to avoid office work. Nearly half of New Jerseyans surveyed also said they had been pressured to take a conventional career path through college.

Rodriguez knows that pursuing his passion through a trade school, not college, was the right choice for him.

“I have friends in college who don’t know what to do, who don’t know what career to pursue,” Rodriguez said. “I would probably be in the same situation.”

Among all states surveyed, the average respondent said they began thinking about a career change at the age of 28, but 68% of respondents said it’s never too late to pursue a new career.

Industry demand for trained technicians is expected to remain high through the pandemic and beyond. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated pre-pandemic there would be more than 110,000 job openings for auto, diesel and collision repair technicians on average annually across the U.S. through 2028. During an economic downturn, people and businesses keep their vehicles longer and trained technicians remain in demand to maintain and service them.

“Making a career shift through training for a skilled trade is not only possible, but it can also be extremely rewarding,” said Alexander. “Demand for automotive technicians remains high despite the current economic climate. Transportation industry careers can be highly technical and rewarding jobs with great earning potential, upward mobility, and stability.”