“I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about is keeping my mind open and learning and being willing to take chances."By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The pandemic has rolled through our region like an economic tsunami.

We’ve lost close to 80,000 jobs, and major industries like leisure and hospitality may never be the same.

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When Nick Fiorina lost his job to COVID-19 cutbacks last May, his thoughts turned immediately to his 3-year-old son Lorenzo.

“Being a single dad and knowing I had to provide for him, I just sort of dug deep”, said Nick.

He was certainly not alone.

In the first weeks and months of the pandemic, southwestern Pennsylvania shed more than 200,000 jobs. And while most of those jobs have come back, 78,000 haven’t and may never. Even after the pandemic ends.

Unemployment has fallen in the region from 20 percent last April to a seemingly more acceptable 6.7 percent today, but that figure is deceiving.

That’s because about 50,000 laid-off workers have left the workforce and have given up looking for work entirely.

“The worst parts of the regional economy, much like rest of the nation, are leisure and hospitality. Full-service restaurants are still down 50 percent or more from a year ago”, said University of Pittsburgh researcher Chris Briem.

Main street businesses, stores, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues still struggle and will for the foreseeable future, leaving countless workers in the lurch.

Manufacturing has also taken a hard hit.

When Nick lost his job at a specialty goods firm, he began looking at other fields.

“My mother and father taught me at an early age to be a chameleon, to be able to adapt and be flexible with everything in life, especially in the workforce, because it’s ever-changing”, said Nick.

Much of the region’s future now lies in fields like healthcare, technology and financial services.

Now the challenge for laid-off workers is to reinvent themselves, get the training and education they need, and try to find a new niche.

“Thankfully I came to CareerLink and they helped with everything,” said Nick.

At the federally-funded job training center PA CareerLink, Nick found counseling, leads and skill-honing in mock interviews and resume writing.

And he discovered some strengths he didn’t know he had.

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“You may not realize the skills that you have because you’ve done this one thing for so long, but turns out it really does apply to other fields and other industries,” said Sean Stanbro with PA CareerLink.

Thanks to what he learned at PA CareerLink, Nick recently landed a new job.

He’s now a customer care representative at a JPMorgan Chase Bank in Shadyside.

Nick says it’s a better job, pays more than his old one, and is enough to support himself and Lorenzo.

“I knew financial services was going to where I could make a living and make a good living. I’d be on solid ground and I’d be stable again,” said Nick.

Looking to reinvent yourself in the workforce? Here are some links to help you get started:

COVID also delivered a body blow to Main Street, where retailers, restaurants and gyms have been especially hard hit by shutdowns, restriction and a wary public staying away.

“There are a lot of jobs that just aren’t going to exist anymore in the restaurant business,” said Station chef/owner Curtis Gamble.

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The Station restaurant laid off half of its staff and now relies on digital outreach for business, abandoning indoor dining completely in favor of subscription meals and catering large format dinners.

Gamble believes it’s the wave of the future as millennials and GenZers prefer home dining to white table cloth service.

“We had to totally rethink the way we were engaging with people,” Gamble said.

Like many retailers, Roberta Weissburg Leathers in Shadyside has amped up their digital output to stay connected with old customers and reach new ones. Weissburg has online shopping and email blasts advertising deals on her specialty leathers foods and jewelry. She’s now reaching 3,000 customers each week.

“They could get it on Amazon, but they can’t come in and try it on on Amazon. They can come here and not only do they try on the necklace in the person, but I show them the scarf, the gloves or the earrings that go perfectly with it,” she said.

The key is to adapt to weather the pandemic and hopefully thrive in a post-COVID world.

Pittsburgh FIT has been augmenting spaced-out indoor workouts with online instruction for group classes and personal trading, like Weisberg, staying open to new ideas and trends.

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“I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about is keeping my mind open and learning and being willing to take chances, be willing to experiment with things we’ve really never done before,” she said.