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States address workforce issues pushed to forefront by pandemic

July 15, 2020
By: Ellen Marrison

Faced with the sudden, unprecedented fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont last month launched a new resource to provide workers and businesses in Connecticut with career tools, including partnering with Indeed and workforce training providers. Last week, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill appropriating $55 million for short-term training and support of programs for training of employees and others displaced due to the health crisis. Minnesota is partnering with Coursera to offer free courses to its workers that have lost jobs because of the pandemic. And noting the reality that many of the jobs previously held in the service industry will not recover, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reported that “the first priority for recovery is to reskill and upskill these workers, and get them back to work as soon as possible, at family-sustaining wages that offer them a strong future.” These efforts are just a few of the initiatives underway across the country to address the workforce crisis.

While there has been some recovery in the workforce, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the unemployment rate declined by 2.2 percentage points in June to 11.1 percent, but the jobless rate and number of unemployed are up by 7.6 percentage points and 12 million, respectively, since February. The number of permanent job losers (defined as unemployed persons who involuntarily lost their last job or who had completed a temporary job) continued to rise, increasing by 588,000 to 2.9 million in June, while the number of people not in the labor force who currently want a job was counted as 8.2 million, 3.2 million higher than in February.

Knowing that many jobs may not return at all, states are contemplating ways to return workers to good jobs. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Services launched “Get Hired Illinois” in May, a new portal to connect job seekers  with available job and career training opportunities across the state of Illinois. In June, the state also partnered with Coursera for additional resources for professional development.

Coursera, an online learning platform for higher education, opened 3,800 courses and 400 specializations for free to government agencies serving unemployed workers through its Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative. Enrollment is open through Sept. 30, 2020, for organizations to enroll unemployed workers in courses and newly-enrolled learners have through Dec. 31, 2020, to complete their courses. The states of Illinois, Arizona and Oklahoma were among the first to enroll in the initiative.

The Indiana Governor’s Workforce Cabinet  announced a new effort — “Rapid Recovery for a Better Future” — last month that is centered on meeting individual needs by providing comprehensive support to help workers secure a job, assess and grow their skills, and get the support they need to get back on their feet. The new effort is utilizing $50 million in federal funding through the CARES Act to scale up short-term education and training opportunities through the Workforce Ready Grant and the Employer Training Grant, as well as expanded career coaching and navigation for those who need help figuring out their next steps.

The Mississippi legislation is designed to expand training, including that for emerging technology for both manufacturing and logistics industries; purchasing devices to assist with classroom and/or distance learning; providing short-term tuition and/or vouchers, including, but not limited to, offering certified nursing assistant (CNA) tuition vouchers to allow unemployed and underemployed individuals a short-term healthcare credential and increase workforce for long-term care facilities; and other uses relating to returning workers to employment opportunities. The funds will not be disbursed to the Workforce Investment Areas, which will be in charge of distributing the money, until they certify that priority will be given to those employees who have been furloughed, unemployed, underemployed or otherwise displaced due to the public health emergency, or to those employers who have been forced to reduce their labor force due to the COVID-19.

Others beside state agencies are also mobilizing to assist in workforce efforts. In Virginia, for instance, a nonprofit called the Virginia Ready Initiative (VA Ready) formed in response to the economic hardships of COVID-19 to help unemployed Virginians access training needed to return to work. The nonprofit and its partners provide incentives for the unemployed to reskill for in-demand jobs in high-growth sectors like technology, healthcare, manufacturing and the skilled trades. Upon achieving their new credential in one of 29 selected training programs, "VA Ready Scholars" receive a $1,000 Credential Achievement Award and are offered opportunities to interview at many of Virginia's companies.

And in a different effort, the Ad Council, in collaboration with Apple, IBM and the White House announced the “Find Something New” campaign on Tuesday. It is a national campaign that is intending to help people of all ages, experiences and backgrounds develop their skills for the rapidly changing job market.

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