As we look ahead to 2021, it will be critical for the incoming administration to prepare to inherit a challenging labor market in which millions of Americans remain unemployed. More than 11 million jobs have yet to be recovered, and economists have suggested that our country is unlikely to experience a full economic rebound until 2024.
However, while the future of the workforce remains uncertain, the labor market provides some promise for displaced and struggling workers. The latest jobs report shows encouraging signs of job growth across multiple industries, including manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, and healthcare. It will now be up to the next President to support this ongoing recovery and lay the groundwork for a strong and sustainable labor market.
Such an effort will be dependent on the Administration’s ability to get every American back to work. People of color, for example, who were underrepresented across almost every industry prior to the pandemic, are now facing higher rates of unemployment compared to their white counterparts, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. In other words, the pandemic has exposed deep-rooted vulnerabilities in the workforce and has underscored the need for policies that will promote a fair and even recovery.
At the same time, a McKinsey survey found that the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated a digital transformation where nearly 83% of surveyed executives have reported faster adoption of automation in the new work-from-home, digital environment. This newfound dependency on digital skills and the latest technology, coupled with pandemic-induced job loss, has underscored the importance of realigning workers and their skills to match with the new realities–and opportunities–of the economy.
While the current administration has not yet conceded, President-elect Biden must double down on his commitment to rebuild America’s workforce. It will be critical that he follow-through with and prioritize the following initiatives to best support struggling workers and ensure they are well-positioned to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever before.
Skilling employees has been top-of-mind for private businesses and past administrations, and the current pandemic has only made this need more urgent. By 2022, 54% of all employees will require significant upskilling to meet the demand for automation and artificial intelligence roles. These numbers will likely increase as the pandemic persists.
Companies like JPMorgan, Accenture, and Amazon have already launched programs focused on upskilling Americans for in-demand jobs, and Randstad U.S. has been working with companies across almost every industry in a goal to reskill 40,000 jobseekers by the end of 2021. But efforts from the private sector must be accompanied by a strong presidential platform that recognizes the transitioning needs of American businesses.
Thankfully, the Biden Administration has already committed to investing $50 billion in workforce training and four-year tuition scholarships for students coming from low-income families. These investments will play a significant role in driving our economic recovery by matching displaced workers with the opportunities that exist in the economy—particularly the month over month demand that Randstad U.S. is seeing in technology-based industries.
Support a balanced economic recovery
The next administration must also reaffirm its commitment to supporting and empowering all of our country’s workers, especially skilled tradespeople. Despite a transitional shift to a remote work environment, 60% of workers in the U.S. economy cannot work remotely due to their labor-intensive, on-site jobs. As a result, our country is facing a bifurcated economic recovery in which these workers are being hit the hardest.
President-elect Biden’s commitment to a holistic infrastructure plan, however, could help a resurgence in interest towards blue-collar jobs—including construction workers, electricians, engineers, and a number of other roles—that have historically faced a labor shortage prior to the pandemic. This initiative, which is expected to bring millions of jobs to the U.S., could help to bridge a widening employment gap and address an existing scarcity in skilled trades.
Additionally, an investment in U.S. products and services through the Administration’s “Made in all of America” plan could bring much-needed job-growth to a sector that has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Randstad U.S. has already seen encouraging signs of demand linked to the growth in e-commerce sales in recent months, and these policies would likely help spur even more growth and match displaced workers with existing opportunities in the industry.
Promote workplace flexibility
While promoting job growth and prioritizing skilling is essential, perhaps equally as important is the need to create a foundation that promotes workplace flexibility to support workers. A recent report from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org. found that one in four women have considered downshifting or quitting their jobs amid the pandemic, largely due to the added pressure of childcare and rigid workplace policies.
In fact, even prior to the pandemic, Randstad U.S. found that 32% of employees were considering leaving their employers due to a lack of workplace flexibility. President-elect Biden’s commitment to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, bonus payments to childcare services, and diversity and inclusion initiatives can help keep women employed while also ensuring that minorities are well-positioned to succeed in the labor market.
It is nearly impossible to predict how any policy will shake out in an uncertain labor market, but Americans deserve a strong policy platform that will continue to drive our nation’s economic recovery. While the coming months will continue to be a learning curve for all of us, the three priorities outlined above will undoubtedly play a fundamental role in getting displaced Americans back to work and supporting our nation’s workforce.
Karen Fichuk is the CEO of Randstad North America and executive board member Randstad NV.