Workers find success with upskilling programs, land higher-paying jobs following the pandemic

Loses during the pandemic should motivate you to do more, not less

Alicia MacHale’s pandemic experience was all too real. Her grandfather died. She left her job at the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office to help her children learn remotely. Money was so tight that she and her husband struggled to pay the bills, but things changed when she was watching television one night with her daughter.

MacHale saw a local news story about the Digital Upskill Program from the Greater Sacramento Economic Council and the Greater Sacramento Urban League. It was a partnership with the city’s government, using money from the CARES Act to provide digital skills training for some of the city’s most impacted communities. She applied. She was accepted.

"I went from making minimum wage at the Sacramento Coroner’s Office to making $70,000 annually," she tells FOX Business in an interview conducted at the Zennify offices in Sacramento. The tech consulting firm hired her when she acquired the news skills from the upskilling program.


Rey Justo is MacHale’s colleague now at Zennify, but in the pre-COVID days, he had a job installing fireplaces. He lost that position during the pandemic and was even forced to move in with his in-laws for some time. Justo was collecting enhanced unemployment benefits from the state and federal government, but that motivated him to do more, not less.

Back view of large group of students paying attention on a class at lecture hall. (iStock / iStock)

"I was actually making more money than when I was as a lead installer," Rey says of his time on unemployment. "I looked at that as an opportunity to go back to school. I was really trying to amp up my education to get a better job for my future."

Justo and MacHale are two success stories in a relatively small program one city that provides hope for a solution to one of the most daunting challenges in today’s labor market. Job openings are at historic highs, and experts say the skills gap between what workers know and what employers need is one of the big reasons.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, believes that gap can be closed if more people believe in themselves. "I think people with technology skills want to make it seem more complicated to make themselves seem more valuable. But really, a digital skill is now going to be a lot like reading and writing." He says the applicants to the program find they’re perfectly capable of learning these new skills once they get over the initial intimidation.


Then, the sky is the limit.

"I still pinch myself. It’s a completely different dynamic in the house," MacHale says. "My husband and I are big on never letting the kids feel the struggle that we feel, so a lot of weight has been on our shoulders up until now. Finally, it feels like I can breathe a breath of fresh air and just provide a life that I know they deserve."