As the U.S. recovers from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments must prepare to address permanent changes in the job market that have taken place over the past year. According to Coursera’s latest Global Skills Report, when it comes to skills performance, the U.S. is behind its peers in Europe and Asia. In the report, the U.S. ranks at number 29, which is in the 51-75th percentile. As we move into an increasingly digital future, the U.S. will also have to catch up on technology-related skills. Although American companies own much of the digital market – over two-thirds of the top 70 global digital companies are based in North America – the U.S. is still behind in technology-related skills, ranking only 35th globally.
The U.S. must recover from a shift in the economy that has had four times the impact of the financial crisis of 2008. This is because of the “double disruption” of the workforce – first, by workplace closures caused by the pandemic, and second, by the acceleration of digital transformation, which will eliminate many jobs in the long run. The digitization and automation of many industries have altered the climate of in-demand skills. This will result in further workforce displacement. Workforce recovery thus presents a unique opportunity for the U.S. to rethink accessibility to learning and how to create a modern education system that prioritizes workforce equity.
Although the finance and tech sectors have continued to grow during the pandemic, a large proportion of the workforce will not see this economic prosperity. Workers in the hardest-hit sectors of the economy during the pandemic – transportation, retail, and hospitality – lack the skills necessary to shift to digital jobs that could be accessed remotely. These skill gaps mean that many workers have been left behind as we rebuild our post-pandemic economy and look towards a digital future. In fact, one in three workers currently lacks the foundational digital skills needed to be able to do their jobs.
At the same time, the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of college plans for over 17 million high school students, and 75 percent of Americans believe college is no longer worth its high price tag, especially when so many college graduates are experiencing trouble finding jobs where they can advance their technical skills and increase their value in the job market. Educational opportunities where learners can develop in-demand skills must be accessible to all in order to prevent further workforce inequity, which leads to the social disparities that have caused the U.S. to fall behind in skills performance.
To prevent further exacerbation of these high social disparities, state and local governments are partnering with online learning providers to bring free and accessible learning to their workforces. In the case of New York State, 1.7 million private-sector jobs were lost during the pandemic. To create opportunities for these workers to pursue other career paths, the NY Department of Labor partnered with Coursera to develop an online training platform where displaced workers could learn new skills, earn professional certificates, and advance their careers at no cost. Courses focused on data science, business, and technology, and custom learning pathways were curated based on local job market needs. NY then partnered with local employers to connect online learners to real jobs. This program led to the enrollment of over 25,000 learners in over 100,000 courses.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) also partnered with Coursera to deliver free online learning programs for one full year during the height of the pandemic. While the courses mostly focused on IT and computer programming, county employees were also able to get trained in COVID-19 contact tracing. DEED set an example where these programs can also help states and localities catch up where they have fallen short, such as filling gaps in analyzing local healthcare data.
Regions experiencing economic growth need to make sure that this growth is also reaching a high proportion of the population and minimizing workforce inequity. In a webinar presenting the Global Skills Report, Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, who is a Skills Transformation Consultant at Coursera said, “We believe that this moment presents a unique opportunity to build more inclusive modern scalable educational systems. Reskilling the millions of workers that have been impacted by the pandemic and automation means that now more than ever, the world needs innovative private-public reskilling solutions.” Without this, the U.S. will not reach its full economic potential in the path to recovery.
To download Coursera’s 2021 Global Skills Report, click here.