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New skills open doors for job hunters

Thousands of Americans have been forced back to school because their skills don't match the current job market.  By CNBC's Diana Olick.
/ Source: CNBC

At forty-something, Ed Stern started over, as a nurse.

“I said, you know, where is there a growth market?” he said. “Where is there a place that I can go that I'm going to enjoy what I'm doing, feel good about the work that I do and at the same time have amazing growth potential?”

A former technology executive, laid off when the bubble burst, Stern went back to school, retraining in order to survive.

“I approached it just like any other business opportunity,” he said.

Stern is one of thousands of Americans forced back to school because their skills don't match the current job market.

“Whenever we see an economic downturn, enrollments swell in community colleges across the country as people look to our institutions as the place to get needed skills to become employed or reemployed or advance their careers,” said George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Community colleges like Northern Virginia, which offers fast-track programs to retrain it workers.

“We are seeing a lot of students coming in who are really IT programmers and are very experienced — 20-30 years in the field — and suddenly they're out of a job,” said BJ Beyer, director of continuing education at the Loudoun campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

Laid off last year, former mainframe programmer John Croston just finished a four-month program in Web design.

“Actually, I was offered a job yesterday afternoon,” he said.

If any business is booming today, it's higher education, in-class and online, the faster the better.

Online degrees are soaring: one online educator, Apollo, has had a 700 percent increase in its share price over the last four years.  Career Education's net income is up 77 percent during that same time.

Experts predict that in ten years there will be over 30 million job openings but only 23 million workers with the right degrees to fill those jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses have the largest projected job growth over this decade. Total job openings will be more than 1.1 million.

Given the tremendous growth potential in nursing, it's not surprising that more and more people are being drawn to the field. The trouble is while there are plenty of vacancies for nurses in hospitals, nursing schools are packed to the gills.

“We don't have the faculty to be able to educate all of the students who want to go into nursing,” said Cheryl Peterson, a senior policy analyst at American Nurses Association. “So that's a huge problem.”

And here's another:

“People that are out of jobs don't have the finances to fund their education,” said Buyer.

It's a Catch-22 that keeps some on the sidelines while others find success with a new game plan.