COVID-19 upended people's work lives. For some, it meant unemployment; for others, safety gear to work in factories or stores. The effects, good and bad, have lingered. The pace of emergency care has not waned. The intensity of interactions between students and teachers has increased. Life went on, and with it, promotions, new factories and greater appreciation on the job. Here, workers from all walks of life talk about how the pandemic changed their jobs.
Kim Colbert, 63, St. Paul resident, high school English teacher
"The hard part, the stressful part, is to be dealing with the vestiges of COVID. We still have students who still really struggle with interacting with each other and with adults. And that really makes an impact on how I personally react to doing my job because you want to be able to do things that are interactive and interesting and you want to be able to talk to students and have relationships with them. At the same time, they are trying to figure it out. These are young people for whom their social interaction was interrupted. ... I think it's going to take awhile for us to get our new bearings and to feel like, 'OK, now I can settle in.' We do not have enough teaching assistants right now in our district to give some of our students who need one-on-one assistance help. So that falls on teachers."
Tyson Pace, 23, River Falls, Wis., resident, scaffold builder for BrandSafway
"I build scaffolding for BrandSafway. I worked for H.J. Martin & Son out of Green Bay, Wis., until a few weeks ago. I was traveling building inventory racks for Menards, Target, Meijer grocery stores. We had to follow some strict protocols. ... Even so, I got COVID twice. I had a few pretty tough days. ... Other than that, the pandemic didn't impact my work life necessarily. I almost viewed it as an opportunity in some ways because I felt as if there were a lot of people who were out of work. And so I felt that it was an opportunity to pursue something bigger. They needed workers and I became a foreman. I was making 30% to 40% more as a foreman because of COVID opening up positions."
Chris Nohner, 38, Centerville resident, senior psychiatric associate at University of Minnesota Medical Center
"We do still see the occasional COVID case. Thankfully testing is so much faster now. But some other things have changed that impact us and patient health. St. Joe's, which had up to 100 mental health beds, closed. Group homes have closed everywhere. And there are some residential places for kids and teens that closed and really limited options for that population. It has affected in-patient care. Now there's a lack of resources. Plus I feel like there are echoes of the pandemic of people not being able to deal with their mental health. We are always full. Always. And I am not exaggerating. My shift starts at 7 a.m. It is quote/unquote normal for me to come into work with multiple people sleeping in the hallway. Before the pandemic, that was rare and very unusual. I do this because I want to help people, but it is very stressful."
Daniel Humphrey, 27, Minneapolis resident, produce manager at Lunds & Byerlys grocery store in Richfield
"The biggest thing that has changed is our own perceptions of ourselves and how valuable we are. It's because after the pandemic began, we were deemed essential workers. It became clear that things just don't operate without us and knowing how much responsibility we have to these communities. The stores were packed. We worried. It was not just some specter of COVID we heard on the news. It was all the people we saw come into the stores without masks on. Today, I still feel important. We know that we are still critical even though the pandemic is coming to an end. We are still trying to see that reflected in our wages and the benefits we get from our employers."
Keith Lambert, 53, Barrington, Ill., president of pollution control and equipment servicing company Oxidizers Inc., which does business with Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and Donaldson Cos.
"When COVID hit, the airlines shut down, but we got letters from the Department of Defense that said, 'You have to continue your services with government installations.' No one was flying anymore and hotels no longer had staff and you couldn't get towels. So we got RVs. We knew we had to address our employees' comfort and concerns. This way, with an RV, they could isolate and drive and still travel. It was a little strange, but I kid you not, some of our customers and some of our people really got it. And the incidences of our people who got COVID were drastically reduced because they could isolate. I believe in business you have to constantly pivot. Sometimes you just have to pivot your business model. We actually grew during COVID because many companies that were in the same spot that we were in just stopped servicing. But we said we are not not coming out and not doing service. Eventually, the RVs went away. Some of our people tired of it. Now people feel a lot more comfortable jumping on airplanes again."
Pam Wandzel, 67, Golden Valley resident, Fredrikson & Byron's director of pro bono and community service
"The challenge of 2021 was really people were balancing so many other things that they were less inclined to take some pro bono cases. And then we started trickling back to the office about June or July of last year. I have seen, especially in the last six months, where people are now acclimated to hybrid. They are asking me for more pro bono projects. They still see the need. And so we are seeing again an increase in lawyers saying, 'Hey, I am looking for something.' The tide is coming back. I sense that more people have become engaged and want to give back to the community again. We are also starting to see more requests from micro-entrepreneurs. During the pandemic, requests from our pro bono nonprofit partners for small business legal aid just basically went down to zero. People were afraid to start a new business during the pandemic. They had a job. They were afraid to give up an income to start a new business. But now, we are really starting to see a lot more energy in that area."
Mike Kiefer, 51, Hutchinson resident, site operations manager at Doosan Bobcat in Litchfield, Minn.
"Shortly before the start of the pandemic, Doosan Bobcat had begun a massive construction project to triple the size of our manufacturing facility in Litchfield. Even though there was great uncertainty in the world, the company remained committed. Along with tripling our facility size, we also more than tripled our workforce in Litchfield from 100 to more than 300 full-time employees. Like many businesses, we worked through a number of challenges during the pandemic. This included supply chain issues, which meant adjustments to our facility's production schedule as we managed through shipping delays or needed to find alternate vendors. For our employees, this may have meant working on a different line or filling in for a different role as we waited for certain supplies to arrive. Onboarding new employees throughout the pandemic brought with it challenges and opportunities, but through it all, we had a common unifier as we together navigated the 'new norms' of business and life. Our team members were a critical part of our success throughout the pandemic, thanks to their willingness to pivot in times of change and learn new skills to meet customer orders."
Daniel Neuville, 25, Champlin resident, carpenter
"When the pandemic started, I was a line cook at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale. I had been there five years and reached the top of my pay range, so I left. I had a buddy who was an electrician who said he was joining the carpenter's union. I followed him there. The biggest thing about the job during the pandemic was having to do manual labor and having to wear a mask 100% of the time. When you are lifting 12-foot Sheetrock that is 125 pounds, the mask restricts your breathing. So having to work through that every day was a lot. Now with the pandemic waning, it has given me a lot greater appreciation of how things are coming back to normal. It has gotten a lot more subdued, without having to work around all those protocols and mandates."