The New World of Work: Navigating an Accelerated Present

Few areas of daily life have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as much as the way we work, and as society edges closer to reopening, it has become abundantly clear that “the future” of work is, in fact, here—and today’s students and workers are not as prepared for this reality as they should be. To accelerate this important conversation and new ways of working, thinking and partnering, APCO helped shape and lead a session at Solve at MIT, the annual flagship event for the MIT-affiliated marketplace for social impact innovation. The session, “Future That Works for Everyone,” brought together leaders from across sectors and organizations impacting this topic.

The Adecco Group*—one of world’s largest talent and workforce solutions companies had a unique perspective on the skills needed to succeed in the changing workforce landscape—and Wiley—a global education and publishing company—are at the center of helping both students and companies forge new paths from education to employment. Aspen Institute, which is building a coalition of employers through its UpSkill America effort, which is focused on the needs of most disrupted industries in America today. Meanwhile a leader from Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement—an initiative offering Bachelor’s degrees and pathways to dignified employment for refugees and other learners that would otherwise not have access to higher education—spoke about new competency based education models.

Our discussion focused on the role of flexible career-connected education that creates continuous learning opportunities for workers throughout their career; importance of upskilling initiatives to help employees adapt to new digital demands and realities; successful models for providing on-demand training that are responsive to worker skills gaps and workplace gender dynamics and how to accelerate the post-pandemic return of women to the workforce.

A few key takeaways and themes from our discussion include:

  • New and more accessible models of upskilling and reskilling are on the rise and employers are welcoming on-demand training to keep employees learning and growing on the job. For example, a partnership between General Assembly and Disney created an opportunity for non-technical female Disney employees to complete a 15-month training to become trained computer programmers, allowing them to shift from blue-collar to more skilled work. This partnership highlights several elements that are key for the future of workforce development, including upskilling, diversity and inclusion and employee retention
  • Traditional college or university degree is no longer sufficient in ensuring employment. We ought to redefine the relationship between higher education institutions and employers given the rapid transformation of skills, employer and market needs, with a view not only towards the 18-22-year-old population, but also adults and “continuing learners.” On demand and on-the-job training opportunities are on the rise, creating new collaborative models between employers and universities to create more efficient training opportunities for today’s workers.
  • Investment in employer-led upskilling and reskilling programs will be key to transforming the workforce. One in three workers would change jobs to learn new skills. Today, employers are investing in a variety of areas, including basic skills development (English, literacy, numeracy, basic digital skills), skilled trades and areas of acute skills shortages, such as nursing, IT and cybersecurity, as well as college degrees and certificate programs for their employees. The world of upskilling is vast—from these basic competencies to new developments in machine learning. Recently, Amazon launched its own Machine Learning University to enable their workers to keep their skills up to date.
  • Women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, losing nearly $800 billion in income(equivalent to the combined GDP of 98 countries, according to Oxfam). To help women remain or return to the workforce (and not be displaced by the next crisis), employers need to create a workplace culture and benefits package that provides more flexibility (whether through part-time or remote work), equitable pay and support for childcare responsibilities as co-investment between government and employers.

Tune in to our full session and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if your organization is engaged on these topics and you would like explore additional collaboration opportunities.

*The Adecco Group is an APCO client.