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Reskilling key for Idaho residents in post-COVID economy

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Tonya Drake

The pandemic has changed the workplace and workforce in ways no one could have predicted.

So, what do we do now? What can employers and educators do to help the workforce “skill up” to meet the demands of the changing workforce?

Let’s look at the data. As we’ve seen in Idaho, unemployment skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic but came down to 3.2% in March. To continue this momentum and remain competitive, research indicates that nearly two-thirds of the workforce will need new skills to succeed in the post-pandemic economy.

This trend is not limited to the pandemic. For example, the number of skills required for a single position has increased by 10% year-over-year since 2017. In addition, an Indeed survey also found that both recruiters and job seekers said skills better illustrate a candidate’s abilities compared to traditional credentials.

Not only did the pandemic spike unemployment numbers, but it also accelerated the future of work. We see more remote work, shifting skill sets, a growing freelance workforce and collaboration through software-based tools. These changes are creating significant new skills requirements and compounding the trend mentioned previously.

Recognizing these changes, employers and educators are working overtime to skill-up and advance the workforce.

Skill adjacencies (or skills that are close or related to ones an individual already has) are one way to upskill — and they’re becoming the norm. Job seekers are keen to discover what skills will translate into a successful career or promotion, and Idahoans can tap into skill adjacencies to secure employment in the uncertain, post-COVID economy.

Micro-credential degree programs are another way people can enhance their resume and stand out to hiring managers. These programs let learners focus on specific courses and subject areas to show employers they’ve mastered the skills and knowledge (i.e., a course in Excel or Google Analytics). In turn, they increase their odds of securing employment or advancing in their career. Micro-credentials are particularly useful in continually evolving fields like IT. They’re also useful in fields that were disrupted in the last year (i.e., customer relationship management, marketing, etc.) that require lifelong learning.

Past economic downturns show that higher educational attainment equals better jobs, workplace flexibility, better benefits and higher wages. We also know that companies that invest in upskilling their workforce have fared better.

Employers must commit to continually identifying existing and emerging skills gaps in their workforce. With that insight, they can advance education and training partnerships that reskill and upskill their employees to meet the evolving needs of their business.

But these efforts can’t be launched now and disbanded after the crisis passes.

Whatever talent reskilling companies do now should also be used to expand reskilling programs going forward. By building institutional learning and evaluating what works and what doesn’t, businesses put themselves in a position to apply those lessons during disruptive events in the future. And they also give themselves a competitive edge.

Idaho leaders understand this need and are taking action.

Specifically, the Idaho Department of Labor has instituted a program called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The program connects Idahoans who are out of work or underemployed with job training in high-demand fields. The program covers nearly the entire cost of wages for an employee in exchange for a company training them. Another aim of WIOA is to help workers skill up in fields that the economy is short of workers and in turn give them a leg up into a career where they can make a living wage.

In response to the pandemic, Idaho leaders also implemented the LAUNCH program. LAUNCH identified in-demand skills through a statewide survey of Idaho employers and provides training opportunities for skills job seekers may be lacking. The program helps pay for job training for any Idahoan who wants to work in the state. If they’ve been affected by COVID-19, then 100% of their training is covered.

Upskilling and reskilling are a better investment than they’ve ever been. As the economy changes the credentials, knowledge and experience it requires from the workforce, Idaho residents need to do the same to remain competitive. Focusing on in-demand skills might be exactly what they need to catch an employer’s eye. Whether they boost their resume by taking a short online course or pursue certificates while earning a degree, the possibilities are endless. As they reskill and upskill, they will equip themselves with critical expertise to excel in a competitive job market.

Tonya Drake is Western Governors University (WGU) regional vice president Northwest and WGU Washington chancellor.

About Tonya Drake