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'What I've Learned Is To Figure Out What I Value In My Everyday Life' - Understanding The Great Resignation

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Courtesy of Josh Elwood
Josh Elwood left his job as an associate teacher in the Waukee school district after the 2019-2020 school year. He moved to Portland to help take care of his niece Ruby. He plans to move back to Iowa in the fall of 2021.

There is growing evidence that the pandemic has profoundly changed Americans’ relationship with work. Over the past 18 months, we’ve heard a lot about how many companies have had to change how they do business, workers that have pivoted to doing remote work and essential workers that have faced challenges like never before.

Now we’re starting to see the results of all of the upheaval — many people are calling it “The Great Resignation.” A new Gallup poll finds that 48 percent of America's working population is actively job searching or at least watching for new opportunities. 3.6 million Americans resigned from their jobs in May 2021.

Charity Nebbe spoke with two Iowans who left their jobs because of the pandemic. You can hear the full conversation here.

Erin Kuester has changed her career and her job twice because of the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic she was a lecturer at the University of Iowa, teaching English as a second language. Now she works in instructional design.

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Courtesy of Erin Kuester
Erin Kuester is a former lecturer at the University of Iowa. After the 2019-2020 school year, Kuester shifted her career to working remotely in the field of instructional design.

On the decision to switch career paths

Kuester: "I love teaching. I still really like the field of education itself. I like helping people learn. I feel like I'm a really good teacher, even though I didn't want to be in the classroom anymore. And so I started looking at opportunities that were education related or administrative positions, program leadership positions, academic advising, things like that. And I ended up getting an instructional design position at another university, working specifically in a teacher's college. And so now I work in creating online degree programs, courses that help get teachers prepared to be in the classroom."

On the challenges of working remote and the housing market

"I live in Cedar County, but I've been working remotely for a university that's out of state. So I'm actually there right now. I'm not in Iowa because we've gotten the call to be in the office permanently. So it's just been a kind of an interesting experience, being back in the office."

Nebbe: "And when you got that job, obviously you were doing it remotely at first, but you knew that eventually this was one that they wanted you to do in person, right?"

"Yes, I did. And they said it wasn't a remote position. It was just remote until we needed to come into the office. And so I had actually thought about relocating to this new state. And we were, my husband and I, were in the process of doing that. We were really excited. We thought it'd be a new beginning to move someplace new. But then the housing market, it just got so difficult in this other state that we were looking at it, that we knew it was going to be impossible to move, especially because, where we live in Cedar County, the cost of living is relatively cheap, and so once we figured out that moving and relocating to this new state was going to be way too difficult, I got back on the job market and started looking for a permanent remote position."

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Iowa Photo Co.
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Courtesy of Erin Kuester
Erin Kuester and her husband Corey McDaniel. Kuester says her new career has allowed her "to have that time at home with my husband and family." Kuester also said she feels like she is "not wasting my day on things that aren't important to me, like commuting or being on campus or in the office."

Nebbe: "So I think a lot of people probably are experiencing what you are experiencing, where they took a new position that allowed them to work remotely, and then needed to move back into the office. Now, you had the extra challenge of having to move to another state and trying to find housing in a state that is growing rapidly with a difficult, difficult housing market. So you're actually staying with family right now so that you can be in the office in person."

"Yeah, I'm actually very lucky that my brother lives in the city that we had been thinking about relocating to, and so I've just been staying with him to sort of finish out my current job, because I did find a new permanent remote position. It starts in October. And so I'm just sort of here treating this as an extended vacation and hanging out with my brother, because I don't get to see him that often because he lives across the country. But yeah, definitely everybody has been sort of experiencing this where, you know, they were remote until they needed to be back in the office, but decided the remote actually is a really, really nice way to work."

What this experience has taught Erin

"I think what I've learned is to figure out what I value in my everyday life, being able to have that time at home with my husband and family and just not wasting my day on things that aren’t important to me, like commuting or, you know, being on campus or in the office."

On what made Josh shift careers during the pandemic

Josh Ellwood was an associate teacher in the Waukee School District until he left his position at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

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Courtesy of Josh Elwood
Josh Elwood left his job as an associate teacher with the Waukee school district after the 2019-2020 school year.

Ellwood: “Last spring I'd kind of been getting a little bit of outside pressure from my family, and also from teachers and staff that I was working with at the school, that maybe this would be a good fit for me, like long-term. And it was something that I was considering as a career move. And, obviously, things happened how they happened last spring. And so we left school, spring break 2020, and then we didn't come back. And as an associate teacher you don't operate with a ton of your own agency in a school setting. You work with teachers out of their classrooms. You don't really have your own space. Your schedules are designed for you. And that's part of the job, and that's fine. And I loved that job. But it became clear to me over the course of last summer that return to school face-to-face was likely, based on trends I was seeing in state government, it did not look like mask mandates were going to hold up or were going to stay around for very long. Most of my guesses were accurate. And so I, I took off. I got an offer to come out to Portland from my sister and take care of my niece and babysit for them and nanny for them, if you will. And I'm glad I did it. But at the same time, I'm so sad that I had to leave the school."

Nebbe: So you felt like you needed to leave for your own personal safety. And we know that another para-educator near your school passed away because of COVID-19. So that really reinforced that you made the right decision for yourself. Your family also needed you in that moment because they were working from home and had a small child. Is that the situation?

"Yeah, that's right. So my niece, who's now three, had to leave daycare. And so they were both working from home. She was is working for Wells Fargo. (My sister is) the manager of Wells Fargo out here in Portland. And my brother-in-law is a community college teacher. And they were both working at home in a relatively little house for three people to be in all day, even smaller when it became four. But that's okay, because we moved to a bigger space eventually. So they were kind of at their wits' end after about three or four months of having to kind of tag team parent duties and their work responsibilities."

"So you have been living away from Iowa, helping them out, and now you're looking at your future. What do you think is next to you for you?"

"I'm actually driving back to Iowa next week. I'm going to be coming back. I've been out here for about a year, and I'm not certain — I think that I could return to school if I had to. Fortunately, I have some savings built up since I've been out here. So it's not my top priority to immediately get back and find work. I would much rather take my time and find a place to return to work that kind of shares my values and my concerns as far as health goes, as far as community goes. So at this time I'm coming back, but I don't know for certain what it looks like, as far as me re-entering the job field."

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Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River