Changes in 2020 affect workers and the workplace

The world seems to be spinning faster than ever due to many changes in 2020. One day we were predicting that more and more people would work remotely. The next day it happened because COVID-19 demanded new business practices. One day we were fretting about AI taking over jobs. The next day automation forced many people to learn to work with technology. Many of the changes in 2020 forced us to consider how business practices, human talents and skills, and higher education are tightly intertwined.

Fast change to remote work
Fast is one way to describe the changes in 2020.There wasn’t time to create elaborate plans and timelines. To continue production and services many business transitioned to remote work in record time. The short time in which this happened shows how fast things can happen when businesses are under pressure, says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum. But to make this transition a real transformation companies will need to “embrace reinvention and prioritize workforce training needs,” Schwab says. The focus on talent may become more important than financial concerns. “Talent is a precious resource. Capital is always available, but good talent is unique.”

Some of the changes in 2020 had been in progress for quite some time. The pandemic just accelerated the speed of change. For years, technology, robotics and AI have been changing how things get done. This has also created the need for people to seek out training and education that will equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to meet the demands of the new marketplace. Karin Kimbrough, chief economist with LinkedIn, states, “We know that prosperity coming from capital markets is best when every member of the society can enjoy it and partake. But right now we know that these gaps exist.”

Continual education for workers
Changes in the workplace and marketplace reinforced the idea that businesses need a variety of skills to function. Analysists, AI specialists and others with advanced technical skills will be working alongside jobs that demand soft skills such as creativity, problem solving and communication. And beyond the pandemic and the changes it has brought, hybrid jobs that blend technical and soft skills are becoming important says the WEF. This requires continual education for workers. “In an ideal world, everybody should be certified regularly on upskilling,” Schwab said.

The need for regularly upskilling accelerated another of the changes in 2020 that had already been underway: the type of post-secondary education workers seek. Many people are choosing short-term credentials as their education goals, rather than seeking degrees. The pandemic has changed where and how we work, and in many cases, the work that has to be done. Short-term credentials are ideal for people who want to increase their skills or need to find new jobs due to the pandemic. “As we’ve entered into this horrid pandemic recession, certifications are going to become very core to some of our re-skilling and re-employment efforts,” says Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Certifications also help people who already have degrees improve their current skills and add new ones. This need for education creates opportunities for employers to support their employees with tuition benefits they can use for lifelong learning.

Support employee development
High on the list of changes in 2020 was growing employees stress and burn-out. During the pandemic, workers have faced many challenges such as reduced hours and change in work conditions. Job descriptions changed, workers took on new roles and uncertainty created stress and burn-out. Initiatives that create high employee engagement and help relieve stress and create mutual benefits. Gallup studies show that employee engagement is an even stronger predictor of success during a recession than in non-recession times. They also show that high levels of employee engagement result in positive outcomes in customer loyalty, profitability and sales.

This all creates an opportunity for employers. Supporting employee engagement includes helping employees reach their career and education goals. Employers that provide education benefits demonstrate that individual employees are important, that their skills are valuable and that developing a diverse workforce is a priority. This creates a sense of well-being that shows in employee performance and results in mutual benefit. The Gallup studies found that “employee wellbeing and engagement are highly reciprocal (influencing each other) and additive (boosting each other.) When employers support wellbeing they support their employees’ engagement, performance, and productivity as well.”

In spite of all the changes in 2020, American workers are resilient. An ADP study shows that 84 percent of workers feel optimistic about the next five years in the workplace, and 75 percent feel upbeat about the year ahead. Higher education institutions are businesses can continue contributing to that resilience.

By Adrienne Way, Edcor owner and CEO