The pandemic has shifted the workplace and workforce in ways no one could have predicted.
So, what now? What can employers and educators do to help “skill up” the workforce to meet the demands of the changing workforce landscape?
Let’s look at some numbers. As we’ve seen in Oregon, unemployment skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic and is hovering around 6%.To improve on that figure and keep the state competitive, research tells us nearly two-thirds of the workforce will need new skills to succeed in the post-pandemic economy.
This is a trend the workforce has been experiencing since before the pandemic. The number of skills required for a single position has increased by 10% year-over-year. An Indeed survey also found recruiters and job seekers said skills better showcase a candidate’s abilities compared to credentials.
In addition to spiking unemployment numbers, the pandemic also accelerated the future of work. We see shifting skill sets, more remote work, a growing freelance workforce and collaboration through software. These changes are creating significant new skills requirements.
With this in mind, employers and educators are working overtime to skill-up the workforce.
Skill adjacencies (or skills that are close or related to ones an individual already has) are one way to upskill – and they’re becoming the norm. Oregonians can tap into skill adjacencies to secure employment in the uncertain, post-COVID economy. Job seekers want to know what skills to learn that will translate into a successful career or promotion.
Micro-credential degree programs are another way people can enhance their resume and stand out to hiring managers. These programs let learners focus on specific courses and subject areas to show employers they’ve mastered the skills and knowledge. In turn, they increase their odds of securing employment or advancing in their career. Micro-credentials are particularly useful in continually changing fields like IT. They’re also useful in fields that were disrupted in the last year (i.e., marketing or HR management) that require lifelong learning.
History tells us that earning a degree or certificate after high school can be life changing. Past economic downturns show that higher educational attainment equals better jobs, workplace flexibility, better benefits and higher wages. We also know that companies that invest in upskilling their workforce have fared better.
Employers must commit to continually identifying existing and emerging skills gaps in their workforce. With that insight, they can advance education and training partnerships that reskill and upskill their employees.
But these efforts can’t be launched now and disbanded after the crisis passes.
Whatever talent reskilling companies do now also should be used to expand reskilling programs going forward. By building institutional learning and evaluating what works and what doesn’t, businesses put themselves in a position to apply those lessons during disruptive events in the future. And they also give themselves a competitive edge.
Oregon leaders understand this need and are taking action.
Oregon is one of 20 states partnering together under the Reskilling and Recovery Network. Included in the network are state and community college leaders with workforce and industry partners. Together, they identify and scale strategies that give workers the necessary skills to succeed in an economy reshaped by the pandemic.
Upskilling and reskilling have never been a better investment. As the workforce changes the credentials, knowledge and experience it requires from candidates, Oregonians need to do the same to remain competitive. Focusing on in-demand skills might be exactly what they need to catch an employer’s eye. Whether they boost their resume by taking a short online course or pursue certificates while earning a degree – possibilities are endless. As they reskill and upskill, they will equip themselves with critical expertise to excel in a competitive job market.
Tonya Drake, Ph.D., is WGU regional vice president Northwest and WGU Washington chancellor.
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