October 12, 2020

“Only on the fringes of an ecosystem, those outer rings, do evolution and adaptation occur at a furious pace; the inner center of the system is where the entrenched, non-adapting species die off, doomed to failure by maintaining the status quo.” 
-“Let My People Go Surfing”

The current employment statistics can be confusing. There is elevated unemployment. There are also many not seeking work because of very legitimate health and safety concerns. Families are struggling to choose between working and caring for their children as daycare and schools carefully return. There are jobs, even great jobs, available.

Many stable and growing employers are reporting that the ability to recruit and retain workers is one of their highest priorities and where they need the most help. Money is flowing into the workforce system, but it remains difficult for both employers and individuals to navigate their way to finding one another.

The events of this year have exposed any system that did not have alignment between demand and supply and had not invested sufficiently in technology. Our workforce system was no exception. The U.S. had historically low unemployment going into the crisis, but hundreds of thousands of workers had been sidelined because of the opioid crisis and millions more whose skills had become outdated by algorithms and robots.

There was already great work underway in many organizations, cities, and states, including here in Ohio. There were programs to reskill workers, changes in policies to allow citizens that had been incarcerated to gain employment, and changes in the workplace to become more flexible and inclusive. We learned that we needed to be doing much more and faster.

2020 is upending our old system and creating an urgency to invest in the training of workers, the building of broadband to enable flexible work and learning, and an openness to different modes of work that would have taken years to become commonplace. Perhaps most importantly, we were painfully reminded of the biases preventing many from the opportunity to thrive at work or to work at all. Kudos to those that had the foresight to begin the work years ago, otherwise the obstacles would be even greater. Shame on all of us for not meeting these challenges with the appropriate scale and urgency in the first place.

Solutions are emerging each day out of necessity, and our system is responding. I have few solutions to offer, but I will convey some ambitions.

First, we should align our systems and attack each alignment. Employers, workforce providers, and educational institutions must continue to obliterate the lines between them – the market demands it. Opportunities should not go unfilled because we have too few people with the skills or because they are unaware that a great job exists within their reach.

Second, we must use our entire workforce. Our diversity, our demographics, and our open system are advantages that have not been fully exploited. We are currently the world’s largest and most advanced economy, and we don’t currently use all of the unique talents of our people. We have much to gain and everything to lose by looking past these issues.

Finally, a thank you to the educators, workforce professionals, training specialists, recruiters, and human resources leaders that work on these issues each day. You deserve our attention, gratitude, and assistance to meet these challenges.

Some helpful resources and programs:

-Kenny McDonald