Frightening. Scary. Unbelievable. And though there’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of my fellow Americans, in this case, I’m not referring directly to the latest delta variant statistic. What I’m talking about is the widening gap in the labor market that the pandemic has laid bare.
The numbers don’t lie: Ten million available jobs. More than 2 million retired people are not coming back to the job market. In what’s being dubbed the “Great Resignation,” more than half of working Americans say “they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months.”
Amid the pandemic, nearly every industry — whether it’s retail or restaurants, manufacturing or farming — has been impacted by an employee shortage. As many have pointed out, the “mismatch between worker demand and supply has been a defining characteristic of the pandemic recovery.”
In my view, there are three immediate commitments we must make to address this complex issue.
Advance and upskill our workforce.
First, companies must provide their employees with more opportunities to advance their existing skill sets. Unfortunately, far too many organizations are overlooking or discounting strengths that already exist among their employee roster. These transferable skill sets — including technical, research and critical thinking skills — can be applied across many different roles in many different areas.
The good news is that many companies, particularly as we move toward building a post-pandemic economy, are increasingly more aware of their upskilling needs and are working hard to address them. For example, Harvard Business Review reports that companies like JPMorgan Chase, Amazon and PwC are investing hundreds of millions to provide upskilling training to their employees.
In addition to these efforts, because of the lack of technical talent, many companies are working to upskill their existing employee base and new hires by offering different technical immersion programs that teach everything from coding to design.
Rethink our current approach.
Secondly, as companies focus on providing more enterprise training programs like the ones above, it’s vital that we simultaneously reconsider our current approach to the hiring process in general. That starts with abandoning the idea that a four-year college degree is a precursor to career success and stability.
The truth is that we live in a world in which more and more learners are opting to avoid the weight of student loan debt and look for more flexible and cost-efficient alternatives such as immersive learning and industry certification programs to help them learn the skills they need for the increasingly in-demand jobs in data science, healthcare and other fields.
Many companies are leading the charge in deciding that a lack of a college degree shouldn’t be a barrier to career advancement. However, more companies need to follow this lead and, applying the same principles to their workforce, recalibrate how they evaluate prospective candidates. Throughout my career in varying fields like telecommunications, digital media and education technology, I’ve seen firsthand what can happen if you read between the lines of someone’s resume.
In other words, by sourcing talent with varying backgrounds, companies are more likely to find individuals with the skills, dedication and sheer will to succeed. We simply must think beyond what a potential job candidate has done in their past professional and academic life and consider the potential of who they could become in the future.
Hire and plan for tomorrow.
That’s why the third thing we need to do is plan for the workforce of tomorrow. As someone who currently works in education services, this is especially important to me. We all have heard the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet, we keep refusing to learn from our mistakes when it comes to education. As a country, we must commit to thinking about the learning process in ways that will strengthen our workforce — not just three or five years from now, but for decades to come.
Thankfully, there is some bipartisanship around this effort. For example, the U.S. Senate recently passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that “allots money for workforce training" and even helps pay some of the salaries of the trainers implementing these updgrades.
This is a solid first step, but we need to do much more. One important tool in this effort is career learning programs, which pair middle and high schoolers with applied learning experiences in data science, sports medicine and many other fields.
Even if a student is unsure of their potential future job path, career learning provides them with a way to explore different options and refine their professional and academic dreams. Right now, school districts can make career training more accessible by providing online programs for in-demand fields like software development and nursing, or cybersecurity and agricultural science. Right now, I believe more partnerships between public schools and the private sector can help build a stronger pipeline of qualified workers. If we don’t rethink our approach to education and our widening workforce needs, our country’s economic future will remain in jeopardy.
However, we know one thing for sure: our country isn’t lacking talent; what’s lacking is the will to connect the right talent with the right opportunities. That means the current “worker shortage” is likely to last as long as companies continue to subscribe to the status quo when it comes to developing, identifying and hiring workers. Business, tech and school leaders must work together to take more steps toward progress. Our nation’s workforce deserves it.