Imperatives for a successful post-pandemic workforce

Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, inspired listeners during his 2021 State of American Business Annual Address Jan. 12. He outlined the components of a “Rally for Recovery,” stressing the importance of investing in people — “For the many Americans who are out of work, we must prioritize finding them jobs through inclusive growth, and when needed, retraining.”

Donohue said, “Our lawmakers should fund rapid training programs to connect the unemployed with jobs in new sectors. Employer-led initiatives should be prioritized to ensure training is aligned with industry needs and in-demand skills. Some of the best-paying sectors — such as health care or financial and professional services — have more job openings than available workers.”

The chamber CEO’s keynote also emphasized that the U.S. economy will grow faster as we improve the living standard for millions of Americans while we tackle systemic inequalities in education, employment, entrepreneurship and the criminal justice system. The chamber’s Equality of Opportunity initiative advocates for reform in Washington while working among chamber partners to address the issues across the country.

Donohue concluded, “We have to confront the reality that we have people without jobs and massive amounts of jobs without people.”

The pandemic has accelerated trends that were already under way in manufacturing and most other sectors. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report predicts that 85 million jobs worldwide will be displaced due to the disruptions of the pandemic and digitization/automation by 2025; among those who retain their jobs, half will need reskilling/upskilling by 2025. Some will need to learn to code, while others will learn to leverage technology-enabled business intelligence to understand how to greatly increase productivity, competitiveness and innovation.

Although the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reports that 522,000 jobs are open nationwide, the majority of the opportunities are not the factory (or office) jobs of past decades. NAM identified a list of top skills needed for these evolving positions: computer skills, digital literacy, programming skills for robots/automation, working with tools and technology, ability to adapt to new technologies, and data-driven problem-solving and decision-making.

A commitment by employers and workers to continuous learning and skill-building throughout the lifespan is critical to future-proof the workforce, especially as studies suggest that the half-life and relevance of career/job skills is about five years (or less) — including those in upper management.

State, regional and local efforts that address a gamut of needs are well under way in Ohio, including JobsOhio’s Go Forward strategy, Ohio’s TechCred program, the Ohio Department of Education’s Aspire and Ohio Means Internships and Co-ops programs, Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, JumpStart’s Access Tech digital learning initiative in Cleveland (funded by Verizon), Franklin County’s Building Futures collaboration, TechCorps, Columbus Works, Per Scholas and many more.

The challenge is to build partnerships and coalitions to achieve optimal and sustained impact. The prosperity and wellbeing of our state depend on our collective efforts.

Author’s note: WELD is a member of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee

Barb Smoot is President and CEO of WELD