Companies and policymakers can help facilitate workforce transitions
The scale of workforce transitions set off by COVID-19’s influence on labor trends increases the urgency for businesses and policymakers to take steps to support additional training and education programs for workers. Companies and governments exhibited extraordinary flexibility and adaptability in responding to the pandemic with purpose and innovation that they might also harness to retool the workforce in ways that point to a brighter future of work.
Businesses can start with a granular analysis of what work can be done remotely by focusing on the tasks involved rather than whole jobs. They can also play a larger role in retraining workers, as Walmart, Amazon, and IBM have done. Others have facilitated occupational shifts by focusing on the skills they need, rather than on academic degrees. Remote work also offers companies the opportunity to enrich their diversity by tapping workers who, for family and other reasons, were unable to relocate to the superstar cities where talent, capital, and opportunities concentrated before the pandemic.
Policymakers could support businesses by expanding and enhancing the digital infrastructure. Even in advanced economies, almost 20 percent of workers in rural households lack access to the internet. Governments could also consider extending benefits and protections to independent workers and to workers working to build their skills and knowledge mid-career.
Both businesses and policymakers could collaborate to support workers migrating between occupations. Under the Pact for Skills established in the European Union during the pandemic, companies and public authorities have dedicated €7 billion to enhancing the skills of some 700,000 automotive workers, while in the United States, Merck and other large companies have put up more than $100 million to burnish the skills of Black workers without a college education and create jobs that they can fill.
The reward of such efforts would be a more resilient, more talented, and better-paid workforce—and a more robust and equitable society.