The Skills Revolution: Preparing for Life After COVID-19
Around the world, the future of work is playing out in workers’ present lives. Concerns over automated technology and its impact on jobs have reached a peak as, globally, workers are displaced and work transforms under the weight of economic uncertainty.
As COVID-19 touches the world, forecasts predict an unemployment rate of 30% by the end of the second quarter of 2020. And even if the economy rebounds by the third and fourth quarter, it’s possible that many of the recently unemployed will not get their jobs back. In this case, there will be a critical need to rapidly reskill those people and place them into new high-quality jobs.
Vulnerable workers need fast, affordable ways to upskill from home, in order to access employment opportunities as they emerge during the eventual period of coronavirus economic rebound — and beyond. We need solutions that fill a short-term need but deliver long-term impact, creating more sustainability in both workers and the economy as we experience dramatic shifts in the labor market.
Our solutions need to encompass several key learnings, including:
- Investments should be collaborative. Revolutionizing our approach to reskilling will require significant investment. As we design new solutions, employees must be central to the development and adoption of reskilling efforts. And, as part of this, Workforce Boards — a network of federal, state, and local offices that support economic expansion and develop the talent of the nation’s workforce, have historically struggled to move workers along upwardly mobile career paths — need to be included in the deployment of new reskilling efforts.
- Reskilling needs to be rapid. Even before coronavirus swept the world into a lockdown, reskilling practices needed to be flexible. Now more than ever, we need programs that workers can complete from home at a rapid pace, reaching vulnerable workers displaced by drastic unemployment spikes.
- Solutions must be human. We need solutions that play to the innate, transferable strengths of individuals — abilities like creativity, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. In the age of automation and a widening skills gap, the labor outcomes will disproportionately affect certain demographics, and programs need to account for that in the design and deployment.
- Success is benchmarked by careers. Robust, meaningful reskilling initiatives must be measured by long-term placement in upward career paths. The skills that we equip new workers with must connect to the fastest-growing professions of the future — effectively future-proofing their future paths.
Over the last weeks, Walmart invited 150,000 displaced workers from the travel industry to retool for jobs in its retail stores. Hundreds of thousands of teachers spent Spring Break learning how to run classrooms online. Ultimately, coronavirus will pass, but the need for workers to rapidly upskill will remain. Whether it be another pandemic, the inevitable rise of AI and robotics, or other technologies that will lead to workers’ displacement, the solutions that are developed now will be effective in swiftly preparing and placing vulnerable workers into new jobs.