Enabling workers to skill-up during COVID-19

Crises tend to prompt reevaluations. For many, this feeling arrives
with middle age. For others, it may come when they feel their careers have
stalled. As COVID-19 continues to suppress the American economy, millions of
workers are being forced against their will to think hard about their next move
and how to get there.

Early on in the pandemic, the Strada Education Network developed a weekly survey of 1,000 American adult workers looking to monitor how COVID is disrupting their careers. In their latest survey results, the researchers found that just over a third would look to transition into a new career field if they lost their job because of the pandemic. They also found that 30 percent feel that if they were to lose their job, they would need more education to find a new one. These findings suggests both a strong and growing sense that, for many people, this is a moment of reckoning in their careers and an increasing recognition that upskilling is a necessity.

Workers participate in a training session at the EDF Construction, Skills and Innovation Centre at Bridgwater and Taunton College, May 4, 2017. Picture taken May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Unfortunately, the poll found that the training these
workers desired seemed out of reach. In fact, two- thirds of disrupted
low-income workers felt they could not access the training they needed if they
wanted to. Additionally, more than half felt unsure that they would see a
payoff if they invested in training. This speaks to the great uncertainty American
workers feel about what training investments make sense during a period of
great uncertainty in the labor market.

This brings full circle the need to empower workers, particularly those who are newly unemployed, with financial support, expansive and diversified training options, and access to the most up-to-date labor market information (LMI). In our recent report: “A Roadmap to Reemployment in the COVID-19 Economy,” we outlined what Congress can do to enable workers to pursue their career ambitions with the assistance of state workforce agencies and employers by providing critical resources and flexibility.

The roadmap proposes funding Personal Reemployment Accounts
(PRAs) that would provide workers with resources that are devoted to training,
job-seeking, and employment-related costs. With expanded and diversified
training options, workers can have maximum choice in selecting where PRA
dollars can be spent, ultimately allowing them to direct their own career
transitions. We also proposed investments in advanced LMI tools that more
accurately reflect real-time demand for skills in their local economy that help
workers make more informed investment decisions training programs.

Millions of these newly unemployed workers are well equipped and ready to address their own training and education needs without one-on-one assistance from the publicly funded workforce system. All they need are the resources and tools to make the best decision and investments for themselves and their families. Enabling them to do so is critical to ensure our economic recovery and to help workers survive and thrive during an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.

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