In Coursera’s 2021 Global Skills Report, the U.S. ranked in the “middle of the middle” in workforce skills development, according to Allison Lands, Skills Transformation Consultant at Coursera. The report showed that the U.S. had a well-rounded workforce but lacked the cutting-edge innovation that placed other leading countries in leading positions. In the webinar “Building the Resilient Workforce: Skills Development for Rapid Change,” Lands attributed this to issues of regional inequity across the U.S. that would need to be addressed before the U.S. can advance to a leading position in workforce skills development.
Unexpected changes and shifts can create new skills needs while eliminating others. The pandemic led to job growth in healthcare and technology, while many jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries disappeared. Workers in declining industries need opportunities to develop skills to transition to industries experiencing growth; otherwise, unequal supply and demand within the workforce can further drive social and economic inequity. A study by Deloitte on human capital trends found that workers making the lowest wages experienced 80 percent of the job losses in 2020. Lands championed that state and local governments should work alongside employers to invest in members of the workforce who will be most vulnerable in times of rapid social and economic change.
Lands’s insights were echoed by Amy Titus, Managing Director at Deloitte, who emphasized the importance of “change acumen” – an ability to look at changes needed to survive and innovate them into ways to thrive. During the pandemic, many employers viewed the implementation of new policies as a form of short-term survival. To embrace change acumen is to consider how to leverage such solutions to bring long-term innovation and improvement to the workforce. On the pandemic’s push for employers to adapt to changing needs, Titus said, “This is an opportunity.”
For example, many organizations saw remote work as only a temporary solution to pandemic workplace closures. However, remote work can also bring job accessibility and accommodation to workers who are inhibited by factors such as location, care commitments, unreliable access to transportation, and difficult personal schedules. Remote work thus has the potential to increase opportunity and growth while improving worker wellbeing and performance. Deloitte’s study found that organizations that embrace change acumen have been more successful in the long run.
The onus to build a thriving workforce does not fall entirely on employers. State and local governments also play a key role in this initiative. During the pandemic, as unemployment rates rose rapidly, state and local governments in New York, Tennessee, and Minnesota partnered with online learning providers and employers to bring free virtual skills training programs to unemployed workers. Workers were able to schedule courses around their own availabilities and connect directly with employers seeking new talent. There is long-term potential for these programs to drive workforce resilience, as public policy that improves access to education, training, or reskilling can safeguard groups that are the most marginalized as well as fill gaps in workforce demand.
Governments and employers hold equal stake in building workforce resilience. To remain strong through unexpected high-impact events in the future, they must work together to address social and economic inequity which will lay the groundwork for a healthy and innovative workforce.