Several workforce experts discuss the future of work during a seminar at Harvard Business School.
Each has relevant insights into the role of employers in driving economic inclusion, the opportunity as we rebuild the economy, and what it means to be a workforce entrepreneur. Here are five of my main takeaways from the seminar.
Crisis brings inequity to the surface
The structural economic inequalities that have been slowly gaining attention over the last few years have now been thrust into the spotlight through the COVID-19 pandemic. Those affected most by unemployment are disproportionately lower income (from households earning <$40,000/year), people of color, and other marginalized populations.
There is an opportunity for leaders, particularly employers with outsized influence on the economy, to impact a recovery that prioritizes equity, stability, and mobility for all. There are big benefits to changing the system while it is already in flux. Now is the time to embrace change.
Adaptability is everything
The pandemic has required organizations to flex new muscles—and fast. The payoff for flexibility is huge. It’s something we – Grads of Life, Covalent, and Propel America – are embracing in our own organizations, as well as recommending for others. We’re looking at blended services and relaxing rigid models so we can create responsive solutions—both for students and employers.
Flexibility is just as important for students, especially the vulnerable populations we serve, as it is for organizations. As Paymon pointed out when discussing Propel’s recent innovations, creative solutions for virtual training should be built with flexibility for both the learner and the employer in mind to maximize positive outcomes.
Education is about to be overhauled
COVID-19 is having a huge impact on education and training. We are seeing remote learning take off like never before. This presents huge opportunities to increase access to education, especially if we’re able to support people in overcoming technology gaps. Students are also demanding a clear ROI in education, which will help to address the student debt crisis. Education might never be the same after this experience and the path ahead is one of scaling digital platforms and opening demand-driven training and education opportunities to more of the country.
I also hope the current crisis accelerates a rejection of the bias that a college education is the only way to upward mobility. There are many pathways to the first rung on a meaningful career ladder. Implementing that change in perception is critical in tackling the underlying racism and discrimination that have created systemic barriers in our workforce.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
When it comes to effectively preparing Americans for the future of work, we have to remember, as Matt said, there is no silver bullet solution. Each industry has specific needs based on its existing connections to education and training systems, in-demand and changing roles, and other unique circumstances. Pathways and programs must remain as tailorable as possible to allow employers to access and adapt training to meet their specific needs.
We are also going to be dealing with some real disruption in demand in the coming years. Some industries have been frozen due to COVID-19, and others have been overwhelmed. We are expecting a rise in demand for training with an emphasis on fast-tracking talent to fill roles as quickly as possible.
Move from response to recovery will be deliberate
As employers move from response to recovery, we’re expecting to see a lot more attention on equity and community engagement strategies as employers think about how to holistically support our economic recovery. It is imperative that we help employers see that they do have a holistic role to play. For the past several years, scarcity of talent has been employers’ motivation in tapping into traditionally overlooked talent pools. We are now in a new ecosystem where, in addition to understanding their role in preparing Americans for the future of work, employers must ensure that already vulnerable populations are not left further behind.
Speaking with Matt and Paymon reminded me how many of us dedicated to building a stronger economy that works for all Americans are out there. As we face unprecedented challenges, being reminded that we have leaders with clarity of purpose, working to prepare the next generation of workers and support businesses in being efficient, effective, and fair was inspirational. A big thank you to Paymon, Matt, Rachel and the students at Harvard who tuned in and shared their thoughts and questions.
This post originally appeared on Grads of Life BrandVoice on Forbes here.