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Workforce recovery could help redefine nation

June 18, 2020
By: Ellen Marrison

With efforts underway to return people to jobs, the time is ripe to rethink our approach to the workforce. Instead of returning to the way things were, now is the time to re-think the kind of country we want to have says Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Van Horn and Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, presented their ideas for workforce recovery and lessons learned from the Great Recession during a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Center of Workforce Development webinar yesterday.

Van Horn and Oates discussion built on ideas in a paper that is part of a series titled Leading Workforce Resurgence. Their paper acknowledges that while there is much that is still unknown and too difficult to predict about the economy, they hold that it is not too early to consider how the nation could respond to the crisis and avoid repeating the shortcomings of policy responses during and after the Great Recession.

It is clear that the depth of the economic and workforce damage for COVID-19 is greater than during the Great Recession, which had an uneven and gradual recovery, the authors say. During the entire period of that previous recession, Blacks and Latinos experienced higher unemployment rates than white Americans, a pattern similar to today.

Van Horn and Oates noted that the country should avoid the mistakes made in the last recovery, and focus on more equitable outcomes this time around. Meeting policy and programmatic concerns will be critical to achieving a robust and equitable recovery, the authors maintain. Some of the most important include:

  • Strengthening education and training programs;
  • Creating public service jobs;
  • Meeting mental health needs;
  • Expanding broadband service;
  • Assisting older workers and the long-term unemployed;
  • Helping recent high school and college graduates; and,
  • Supporting postsecondary education.

The recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint, the authors caution and a shared effort by government, business, labor, education and others is needed. That is a sentiment shared by the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has called on all stakeholders to undertake a National Workforce Recovery Call-to-Action.  They have organized the call around three immediate and enduring workforce recovery goals:

  • Expedite American worker’s return to employment and upward mobility by investing in career pathways and implementing skills-based hiring practices;
  • Remove obstacles to the modernization of American education and training to accelerate reskilling and facilitate innovation in workforce development; and,
  • Build the technological infrastructure necessary for the future of work.

In coming weeks, SSTI will be taking a closer look at initiatives that states are enacting to rebuild their workforce and economies, and follow along with the forthcoming reports.