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Part 1: COVID-19 and the Changing 21 st Century Workforce by Salvatore Lorenzo As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, millions of Americans struggle with long-term unemployment and permanent job loss. As noted in a recent New York Times article, companies that are barely surviving “may be increasingly unlikely to ever recall their employees,” forcing the unemployed to develop new skills and transition into entirely different career paths that look more promising. “By summer’s end, more than 57 million people had sought unemployment benefits since mid-March,” writes Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “And we know many jobs aren’t coming back because the pandemic accelerated a shift toward jobs demanding higher levels of education and skills.” Merisotis adds that prospects for more continuous learning opportunities need to be developed “on a vast scale. That means strengthening our community college system, making training more affordable and accessible for adult learners, and breaking barriers of inequality that the pandemic exposed.” Lower-income strata impacted by pandemic express growing doubts about higher ed To get an understanding of where to start the vast scaling that Merisotis suggests, it’s important to first ask where are all the pandemic-driven job losses are occurring? According to a September National Skills Coalition report, “more than 40 percent of the 50 million job losses during the first four months of the pandemic have been concentrated among workers earning less than $40,000 a year.” While these workers believe that pursuing a college degree could help them transition into a more lucrative career, they also feel hesitant to enroll. As noted in a Strada Center for Consumer Insights work and education survey, while 42% of these potential students believe that COVID-19 has made them more likely to enroll in higher education, their “confidence in the value of education has fallen” when compared to 2019. “Adults considering enrolling in education are 18 percentage points less likely to believe it will be worth the cost and 25 percentage points less likely to believe additional education will get them a good job.” The Strada survey also noted the following interests, considerations, and worries these potential college students express: In 2020, interest has shifted toward nondegree pathways. In 2019, half of adults considering enrolling in education expressed a preference for nondegree pathways, but in 2020 that share has grown to 68 percent. Compared to 2019, in 2020 adults without degrees are more likely to cite the ability to pay bills and take care of immediate needs as the primary benefit of education. Motivation for educational attainment has also shifted from a means to greater self-confidence to a way to better support loved ones. Adults without degrees place finding a job or career they love among their priorities, along with basic needs. Worry about finding a satisfying career ranks nearly as high as worries about needs such as having enough to eat or paying rent. Adults without degrees need more information about education and career pathways. Fewer than 1 in 3 say they understand available career pathways, valuable skills, and details about potential education programs “very well.” The need for additional financial aid While the unemployed continue to struggle, even those maintaining employment in the relatively lower-earning tiers of the population historically still encounter significant road blocks in their quests to further their education. More than 40 percent of college students are over 25 years of age. Thirty percent are parents, and 60 percent work at least part-time. Many start attending college only to ultimately drop out before earning a degree, mostly due to the numerous financial challenges they deal with, living paycheck to paycheck. In a report by the Graduate! Network and New America, authors Hadass Sheffer, Iris Palmer, and Annette B. Mattei take a close look at these students whom they refer to as “comebackers.” They describe that postsecondary institutions and employers need to design better systems to keep these comebackers enrolled. On the employer side, Sheffer et al. note that “35 percent of employed comebackers have employers that do not offer educational benefits.” In addition, 7 percent were not aware of any tuition benefits being offered by their employers, and of those who did work for an employer with an tuition assistance program, 12 percent did not qualify for such benefits, and 19 percent who did qualify did not take advantage of them. Of those who did report employer education benefits, those in higher income brackets were more likely to say they had access to employer benefits and were more likely to use them. Comebackers earning $24,000 or less were more likely to say their employer did not offer education benefits or that they did not qualify for benefits even though their employers offered them. The older the worker, the more likely he or she was to have used employer education benefits, peaking at age 50. In an effort to “boost education attainment and ensure a skilled workforce,” the Graduate! Network created a Bridging The Talent Gap initiative, which garnered 4,000 employer participants. These employers assert that “more education beyond high school increased worker retention, productivity, profits, customer satisfaction, and development of in-house leadership skills.” Despite such obvious benefits, “three-quarters of their employees noted that education costs (beyond employer-provided financial asistance) are a big challenge.” On the institutional side, Sheffer et al. explain how states and colleges can help ease the financial challenges lower-income comebackers face through supplemental grants and programs. They point to several promising strategies along these lines, such as Tennessee Reconnect, the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, Purdue University’s Span Plan, Wayne State University’s Warrior Way Back, the University of Akron’s Adult Focus, and the University of Memphis’s Finish Line program. Sheffer et al. also “encourage faculty to form mentoring relationships with returning adult students,” suggesting that department chairs can facilitate such relationships in partnership with campus student services offices. Reskilling the 21 st century workforce Even with an economic recovery expected on the near horizon, the growing need for a reskilled workforce and an increase in affordable educational opportunities is not expected to fade away. In a recent Lumina Foundation webinar, Chauncy Lennon, vice president for the future of learning and work, says that the employment hiring marketplace seeks out skills from potential applicants that frequently go beyond college degrees. In other words, “It’s often about building a constellation of different kinds of credentials,” he explains. Therefore, “to help individuals, there needs to be more information and understanding about what the labor market looks like, where the demand is, and what credentials are essential to meet those market needs.” What skills and credentials are employers seeking? For an in-depth resource on this topic, see “Workforce Basics: The Competencies Employers Want,” a website that summarizes a report of the same name, published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The report claims that the pandemic has intensified a 50-year, across-industry economic trend in increased demand from employers for employees with marketable cognitive competencies and decreased demand for physical labor. Cognitive competencies, as defined by edupedia, are “Skills associated with the acquisition of knowledge and the processing of information through thought, such as reasoning, intuition, perception, imagination, inventiveness, creativity, problem-solving, and oral and written expression.” Soft skills like communication, problem solving, customer service, etc. will likewise continue to be in high demand. Yet, within specific industries, only certain combinations of soft and technical skills are worth pursuing through postsecondary education and training. For example, computer programming languages are a subset of technical skills that experience significant volatility in demand from employers. Emsi’s 2018 and 2020 “Top 10 Skills Demanded by the Top 10 US Companies” reports, by Meredith Metsker, indicate that corporations like Amazon and Apple dictated substantial shifts of programming/developer skills needed from their workforces through job postings from 2012 to 2020. During this time, for example, Amazon’s need for Java proficient employees dwindled while their AWS workforce experienced extreme growth. For Apple, job postings requesting C-language proficiency diminished while postings for Python increased rapidly. This is the kind of information students need to be made aware of through strong institution- provided advising support that can help them better navigate the complex market of in-demand careers and skills. The new world of changing work environments As modifications in desired skills manifest in the hiring marketplace, the pandemic has also permanently altered our physical and virtual work environments. For example, in “COVID-19: Is this what the office of the future will look like?” published by the World Economic Forum, 10 ways in which the world and workplaces could change are presented, ranging from augmented reality workstations and sanitation issues, to co-working set ups and how we will greet each other. The World Economic Forum has also recently published “The Future of Jobs Report 2020.” Some of the report’s key findings include: Technology adoption rates will accelerate, with cloud computing, big data, and ecommerce remaining as high priorities. New technology integrations will both reduce and expand the workforce, and company’s utilizing contractor work is expected to increase. It is estimated that 85 million jobs worldwide will be displaced by 2025, while 97 million new jobs may develop that adapt to a division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms. Employers will seek out the following skills: critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, and skills in self- management. “Companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less, and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.” Remote work will increase, and about one-third of employers will attempt to build a better sense of community among employees by deploying digital tools that are geared toward promoting well-being and good health. “Comparing the impact of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the impact today is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.” Online learning and training, along with new programs geared toward reskilling and upskilling, will continue to increase, including personal development courses and learning a variety of relatively new digital skills. Finally, the Future of Jobs report notes that the pandemic has brought about an “increasing urgency to address the disruption underway both by supporting and retraining displaced workers and by monitoring the emergence of new opportunities in the labour market.” It is suggested that to more effectively confront this urgency, “governments must pursue a holistic approach, creating active linkages and coordination between education providers, skills, workers and employers, and ensuring effective collaboration between employment agencies, regional governments and national governments.”
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© Copyright 2021/Lorenzo Associates, Inc.
EDUCATIONALPathways
COVID-19 and the Changing 21 st Century Workforce by Salvatore Lorenzo As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, millions of Americans struggle with long-term unemployment and permanent job loss. As noted in a recent New York Times article, companies that are barely surviving “may be increasingly unlikely to ever recall their employees,” forcing the unemployed to develop new skills and transition into entirely different career paths that look more promising. “By summer’s end, more than 57 million people had sought unemployment benefits since mid- March,” writes Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “And we know many jobs aren’t coming back because the pandemic accelerated a shift toward jobs demanding higher levels of education and skills.” Merisotis adds that prospects for more continuous learning opportunities need to be developed “on a vast scale. That means strengthening our community college system, making training more affordable and accessible for adult learners, and breaking barriers of inequality that the pandemic exposed.” Lower-income strata impacted by pandemic express growing doubts about higher ed To get an understanding of where to start the vast scaling that Merisotis suggests, it’s important to first ask where are all the pandemic-driven job losses are occurring? According to a September National Skills Coalition report, “more than 40 percent of the 50 million job losses during the first four months of the pandemic have been concentrated among workers earning less than $40,000 a year.” While these workers believe that pursuing a college degree could help them transition into a more lucrative career, they also feel hesitant to enroll. As noted in a Strada Center for Consumer Insights work and education survey, while 42% of these potential students believe that COVID-19 has made them more likely to enroll in higher education, their “confidence in the value of education has fallen” when compared to 2019. “Adults considering enrolling in education are 18 percentage points less likely to believe it will be worth the cost and 25 percentage points less likely to believe additional education will get them a good job.” The Strada survey also noted the following interests, considerations, and worries these potential college students express: In 2020, interest has shifted toward nondegree pathways. In 2019, half of adults considering enrolling in education expressed a preference for nondegree pathways, but in 2020 that share has grown to 68 percent. Compared to 2019, in 2020 adults without degrees are more likely to cite the ability to pay bills and take care of immediate needs as the primary benefit of education. Motivation for educational attainment has also shifted from a means to greater self- confidence to a way to better support loved ones. Adults without degrees place finding a job or career they love among their priorities, along with basic needs. Worry about finding a satisfying career ranks nearly as high as worries about needs such as having enough to eat or paying rent. Adults without degrees need more information about education and career pathways. Fewer than 1 in 3 say they understand available career pathways, valuable skills, and details about potential education programs “very well.” The need for additional financial aid While the unemployed continue to struggle, even those maintaining employment in the relatively lower-earning tiers of the population historically still encounter significant road blocks in their quests to further their education. More than 40 percent of college students are over 25 years of age. Thirty percent are parents, and 60 percent work at least part-time. Many start attending college only to ultimately drop out before earning a degree, mostly due to the numerous financial challenges they deal with, living paycheck to paycheck. In a report by the Graduate! Network and New America, authors Hadass Sheffer, Iris Palmer, and Annette B. Mattei take a close look at these students whom they refer to as “comebackers.” They describe that postsecondary institutions and employers need to design better systems to keep these comebackers enrolled. On the employer side, Sheffer et al. note that “35 percent of employed comebackers have employers that do not offer educational benefits.” In addition, 7 percent were not aware of any tuition benefits being offered by their employers, and of those who did work for an employer with an tuition assistance program, 12 percent did not qualify for such benefits, and 19 percent who did qualify did not take advantage of them. Of those who did report employer education benefits, those in higher income brackets were more likely to say they had access to employer benefits and were more likely to use them. Comebackers earning $24,000 or less were more likely to say their employer did not offer education benefits or that they did not qualify for benefits even though their employers offered them. The older the worker, the more likely he or she was to have used employer education benefits, peaking at age 50. In an effort to “boost education attainment and ensure a skilled workforce,” the Graduate! Network created a Bridging The Talent Gap initiative, which garnered 4,000 employer participants. These employers assert that “more education beyond high school increased worker retention, productivity, profits, customer satisfaction, and development of in-house leadership skills.” Despite such obvious benefits, “three-quarters of their employees noted that education costs (beyond employer-provided financial asistance) are a big challenge.” On the institutional side, Sheffer et al. explain how states and colleges can help ease the financial challenges lower-income comebackers face through supplemental grants and programs. They point to several promising strategies along these lines, such as Tennessee Reconnect, the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, Purdue University’s Span Plan, Wayne State University’s Warrior Way Back, the University of Akron’s Adult Focus, and the University of Memphis’s Finish Line program. Sheffer et al. also “encourage faculty to form mentoring relationships with returning adult students,” suggesting that department chairs can facilitate such relationships in partnership with campus student services offices. Reskilling the 21 st century workforce Even with an economic recovery expected on the near horizon, the growing need for a reskilled workforce and an increase in affordable educational opportunities is not expected to fade away. In a recent Lumina Foundation webinar, Chauncy Lennon, vice president for the future of learning and work, says that the employment hiring marketplace seeks out skills from potential applicants that frequently go beyond college degrees. In other words, “It’s often about building a constellation of different kinds of credentials,” he explains. Therefore, “to help individuals, there needs to be more information and understanding about what the labor market looks like, where the demand is, and what credentials are essential to meet those market needs.” What skills and credentials are employers seeking? For an in-depth resource on this topic, see “Workforce Basics: The Competencies Employers Want,” a website that summarizes a report of the same name, published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The report claims that the pandemic has intensified a 50-year, across-industry economic trend in increased demand from employers for employees with marketable cognitive competencies and decreased demand for physical labor. Cognitive competencies, as defined by edupedia, are “Skills associated with the acquisition of knowledge and the processing of information through thought, such as reasoning, intuition, perception, imagination, inventiveness, creativity, problem- solving, and oral and written expression.” Soft skills like communication, problem solving, customer service, etc. will likewise continue to be in high demand. Yet, within specific industries, only certain combinations of soft and technical skills are worth pursuing through postsecondary education and training. For example, computer programming languages are a subset of technical skills that experience significant volatility in demand from employers. Emsi’s 2018 and 2020 “Top 10 Skills Demanded by the Top 10 US Companies” reports, by Meredith Metsker, indicate that corporations like Amazon and Apple dictated substantial shifts of programming/developer skills needed from their workforces through job postings from 2012 to 2020. During this time, for example, Amazon’s need for Java proficient employees dwindled while their AWS workforce experienced extreme growth. For Apple, job postings requesting C-language proficiency diminished while postings for Python increased rapidly. This is the kind of information students need to be made aware of through strong institution-provided advising support that can help them better navigate the complex market of in- demand careers and skills. The new world of changing work environments As modifications in desired skills manifest in the hiring marketplace, the pandemic has also permanently altered our physical and virtual work environments. For example, in “COVID-19: Is this what the office of the future will look like?” published by the World Economic Forum, 10 ways in which the world and workplaces could change are presented, ranging from augmented reality workstations and sanitation issues, to co-working set ups and how we will greet each other. The World Economic Forum has also recently published “The Future of Jobs Report 2020.” Some of the report’s key findings include: Technology adoption rates will accelerate, with cloud computing, big data, and ecommerce remaining as high priorities. New technology integrations will both reduce and expand the workforce, and company’s utilizing contractor work is expected to increase. It is estimated that 85 million jobs worldwide will be displaced by 2025, while 97 million new jobs may develop that adapt to a division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms. Employers will seek out the following skills: critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, and skills in self- management. “Companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less, and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.” Remote work will increase, and about one-third of employers will attempt to build a better sense of community among employees by deploying digital tools that are geared toward promoting well-being and good health. “Comparing the impact of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the impact today is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.” Online learning and training, along with new programs geared toward reskilling and upskilling, will continue to increase, including personal development courses and learning a variety of relatively new digital skills. Finally, the Future of Jobs report notes that the pandemic has brought about an “increasing urgency to address the disruption underway both by supporting and retraining displaced workers and by monitoring the emergence of new opportunities in the labour market.” It is suggested that to more effectively confront this urgency, “governments must pursue a holistic approach, creating active linkages and coordination between education providers, skills, workers and employers, and ensuring effective collaboration between employment agencies, regional governments and national governments.”
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