Innovation Monitor: A more equitable future of work

Innovation Monitor: A more equitable future of work

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Welcome to this week’s Innovation Monitor.

As many of us approach the one year mark of pandemic life, we’re increasingly ready to build a post-pandemic future. While many anticipate that the traditional 9–5, M-F workweek is long gone, we don’t think a distributed remote working utopia is realistic either. When you factor in the accelerated adoption of automation and AI into workflows and workplaces, the post-pandemic reality of work will show how many jobs will dramatically change.

So this week, as we consider how our workforce can adapt and thrive, we’ll begin with a theory on proximity and disruption on pandemic jobs, and consider the data on how workforces have been increasingly, disproportionately impacted as a result of the pandemic. We’ll look at efforts being made in the public and private sectors in order to support vulnerable workers around the world and in the U.S.

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Erica Matsumoto Proximity & Disruption A recent McKinsey report on work after the pandemic developed a unique way of categorizing traditional sectors, measuring required proximity between co-workers and customers. They assigned an overall proximity score to ten work arenas, consisting of a total of over 800 occupations.

The idea is that jobs with higher levels of physical proximity will experience greater post-pandemic transformation.

The firm believes certain behaviors rapidly adopted during the pandemic will stick around after, such as remote work, virtual meetings, and ramped-up investment in automation.

But the biggest disruption in the job market comes from the need for workers to transition to new jobs: “As many as 25 percent more workers may need to switch occupations than before the pandemic.” How are we, as a society, going to reskill the workforce — especially when marginalized groups are most affected?

“In the United States, people without a college degree are 1.3 times more likely to need to make transitions compared to those with a college degree, and Black and Hispanic workers are 1.1 times more likely to have to transition between occupations than white workers. In France, Germany, and Spain, the increase in job transitions required due to trends influenced by COVID-19 is 3.9 times higher for women than for men.”
MOOCs for All Coursera was already popular pre-pandemic, but when lockdown was enforced, the MOOC platform (massive open online courses) saw tens of millions of new users — both from people with time on their hands and those laid off and looking for new work, according to Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda. According to Fortune, skills that are most in-demand are science, tech, and business — all of which can be done remotely or at least in isolated settings.

As McKinsey noted in an executive summary of their future of work report, “in the computer‑based office work arena, 70 percent of time could be spent working remotely without losing effectiveness, compared to most other arenas, where as little as 5 to ten percent of work could be done remotely.”

“One of the most exciting things about digital jobs is often they can be learned online, and they can be performed online. I think that could [be] a great equalizer of learning opportunity and economic opportunity post-COVID,” says Maggioncalda.

In an op-ed last July, Maggioncalda cited that 230k people took the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, and offered a proven reskilling model with Singapore… Singapore and Sweden “Over the last five years, Singapore’s government has built the SkillsFuture movement, which offers spendable credits for online learning, apprenticeships, and skills acquisition programs. Since the movement’s launch, more than 500,000 Singaporeans have used their $500 credits,” wrote Maggioncalda in his July op-ed.

A more recent public sector success story comes from Sweden. In March last year, a board member at Scandinavian Airlines was part of a board meeting that “temporarily lay off 90% of all cabin staff…. As we discussed, we realized we would have a large group of people doing close to nothing, and, at the same time, an enormous need in our healthcare systems.”

A consortium made up of Swedish private companies and public organizations then made a dramatic move, designing a three-and-a-half-day reskilling program, training hundreds of cabin staff for temporary assistant nurse positions. Other workers were reskilled to assist in nursing homes and schools.

“All involved actors mentioned the overwhelming power of purpose that united them and made it possible to move forward rapidly and in an often-times unconventional fashion. Johanna Adami commented: ‘I have learned the importance of a shared and higher purpose if you want to make something like this happen. In reaching out to other organizations, politicians, and unions, you stand no chance unless you reach for the same thing.’” Equity & Bridging Gaps in the America This month, online higher education platform 2U partnered with workforce reskilling company Guild Education to help Guild’s corporate partners foot the bill for “classes, degrees and professional certificates [for employees],” according to Axios.

But these private sector efforts are far from widespread. According to an Executive Leadership Council webinar, over 40% of jobs held by Black Americans are at risk because of the pandemic. VentureBeat points out that companies have an opportunity to lessen the wealth gap by upskilling vulnerable communities.

Large tech companies can offer plenty of opportunities: there are over 918k unfilled tech jobs in the industry. Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft all signed a Racial Equity Pledge, “committing to hire 100,000 low-income, diverse New Yorkers by 2030.” For an excellent overview on building racial equity in tech ecosystems, see Brookings’ dive.

Public education, however, is behind: Digital Responsibility reported that “fifty-six percent of teachers in low-income schools say that their students’ inadequate access to technology is a ‘major challenge’ for using technology as a teaching aid.”

Female workforce participation is at its lowest rate since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and since the onset of the pandemic 400k more women than men have left the workforce.

Mothers are particularly impacted: “40% of mothers (compared to 27% of fathers) have added 3 or more additional hours of caregiving a day to their schedule. That is 15 or more hours a week, the equivalent of a considerable part-time job.”

In this case, it isn’t just accessible remote education and reskilling that are required to bridge the gender gap in the workforce. “For example, both employers and governments could expand childcare assistance to empower women to reenter the workforce more quickly and smoothly after the pandemic,” suggests Fortune. This Week in Business History February 27th, 1831: A steam-powered coach carries paying passengers over a regularly scheduled route for the first time.

After the recent announcement of the first spaceflight with an all-civilian crew, it’s worth looking back at the first paying-passenger locomotive trip in history. The nine-mile route from Gloucester to Cheltenham, England, was covered round-trip four times each day until June, when the noise, smoke, and destruction of roadways led to public outrage rage and cancellation of the service.

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