President Biden’s first month in office has been action-packed. During the first three days of his term, President Biden signed 30 executive actions, many of which aim to deliver economic relief for workers and small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Enacting the COVID Economic Relief Executive Order was an important step toward supporting the 10 million American workers who are currently unemployed, the 14 million renters who are behind on payments, and the 29 million adults and 8 million children who are struggling with food insecurity. But this is only the beginning of what’s needed to navigate through this crisis.
Moving forward, we hope the Biden-Harris administration will prioritize further legislation to address the impact of the pandemic on our workforce by investing in workforce development solutions. More specifically, we are looking to the new administration to help RAISE Every Worker and get our workforce ready for the future by enacting policy that will help close the global skills gap that’s harming workers and businesses across America.
To help accomplish this, we have outlined five key workforce policy areas the Biden-Harris administration should consider as they get to work on the future of work:
The first tenant of 1Huddle’s policy plan for our workforce is all about reskilling.
The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report found that half of all employees around the world will need reskilling by 2025 – and that doesn’t include all the people who are currently unemployed.
A substantive reskilling effort is crucial to driving post-COVID recovery, because over the past year everything has changed: the way we work, the way we live, and even the way kids go to school. Before the pandemic, the rise of automation and emerging technologies was transforming job markets across the globe, and industry leaders knew there would soon be an urgent need for large-scale upskilling and reskilling efforts. But now, these trends have accelerated so rapidly that the future of work is no longer in the future — it’s here and now.
Yet despite this reality, the U.S. still spends only 0.1% of GDP on programs that help people adjust to workplace changes, and federal investments in skills training has decreased by nearly 40% over the last two decades.
This decreased federal investment in our workforce has occurred at a time when the global skills gap continues to widen and we face an unprecedented need for rapid upskilling and reskilling in every industry. Simply put, we have too many 20th century solutions to 21st century problems. So, what can the Biden-Harris administration do to help?
First, the administration should enact legislation to provide tax incentives to companies that make the investment to upgrade existing learning technologies to ensure a safe workplace for employees and customers.
Secondly, the administration should modify the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Wage and Hour rules to remove barriers that limit our most vulnerable workers from accessing short-term skill training while being remote or off-the-clock.
Let’s break that second priority down a little.
The FLSA was enacted in 1938, and it’s responsible for a wide range of labor laws that affect all employees like minimum wage, overtime pay, and youth employment standards. It was originally created to support workers and improve workplace conditions, but many of the FLSA’s labor rules are outdated and haven’t been updated since before the internet was created. Now, many of the rules that once supported workers are actually holding them back.
If we want workers to have the freedom to upskill anytime, anywhere and stay competitive in the modern workforce, then the FLSA should be updated to reflect the rapidly changing needs of today’s workforce.
If we don’t act now, the skills gap will continue to widen and businesses will be restricted when it comes to investing in their people’s training and development.
Today in America, more than 41 million workers — 31% of the workforce — lack digital skills. And nearly half of all recent college graduates are forced to take jobs that don’t require a college degree, while they struggle to pay off an average student loan debt of $30,000 per graduate.
But these problems have a solution: and that’s where public-private partnerships come in.
One of the key findings in WEF’s Future of Jobs Report is that if we create greater private-public collaboration on large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives, then we could boost global GDP by $6.5 trillion and create 5.3 million new jobs by 2030.
These types of partnerships would also help transform colleges and universities from time sinks into skill factories by giving students and staff a clear idea of what skills industry leaders are looking for in new graduates.
In order for this alignment to take place, the Biden-Harris administration can prioritize initiatives like: Making a federal commitment to occupational digital literacy, developing a measurable national standard for industry-specific digital upskilling efforts, and working with businesses, nonprofits, and the education sector to drive national upskilling initiatives such as providing fiscal incentives to create jobs in the green economy and supporting technological innovation.
Why is investing in a future of work infrastructure so important?
Well, let’s take a look at the facts:
These facts tell a clear story. The vast majority of workers today who need upskilling and retraining the most aren’t getting it. And the small amount of time and resources that most companies devote to these efforts go to top-level executives who need it the least.
If we want to create a more equitable, diverse, thriving future of work where all workers are supported and have the ability to level up and remain competitive, then the federal government needs to play a part in investing in a mobile-first future of work infrastructure that can be used to reach all workers.
This can be accomplished by taking actions like offering tax incentives for companies that are investing in virtual learning, training and development technology that is targeted toward digital and other in-demand skills, and by modifying FLSA and wage hour rules that limit workers’ ability to take control of their own learning and development.
Supporting workers’ freedom to learn and upskill is a bipartisan issue.
President Bill Clinton said “our people compete in a world where what you can earn depends largely on what you can learn.” Years after, President George W. Bush said “our responsibility is clear…to make it easier for people to find good jobs by giving them the education and training they need to succeed.”
Workers who want to succeed in today’s workforce know that upskilling, learning, and reskilling are lifelong endeavors. Because today, the ‘half-life’ of skills is only five years, meaning that many of the skills a worker has now will be worthless by the time they start their next job or move to a new industry.
This means workers need support to help them upskill and reskill more than ever, since the average worker now spends only four years at any given job, and only 25% of the world’s workers even have permanent jobs to begin with. The other 75% of workers are temporary or informal jobs, or are on a short-term contract. And over 1.6 million American workers today are gig workers, meaning they work freelance for companies like Uber, DoorDash, or Wag.
These workers are in dire need of resources and support, yet their ability to continue learning and upskilling is being limited by outdated labor laws and knowledge discrimination, which exists because what you know is valued based on where you learned it, not how well you know it or can apply it.
To fix this problem, we need a fresh approach to credentialing. Skills that workers develop on the job or from nontraditional programs are often viewed by employers as less valuable, which impacts both employers and workers. Employers are left with fewer tools to identify qualified candidates, and workers have less exposure to career opportunities because they are unable to market their full skill sets—includes past work experience and skills acquired from nontraditional learning programs.
The Biden-Harris administration can step in to invest in a digital credentialing ecosystem that recognizes work experience, nontraditional learning programs, and is portable for the employee to take with them throughout their career.
President Biden’s plan to provide students with access to two years of free community college or other high-quality training programs without debt is an important step toward supporting future workers and ending knowledge discrimination, but there is still more to be done.
The fifth and final component of our RAISE Every Worker policy plan is to eliminate discrimination.
There are many different kinds of discrimination that restrict workers, including discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and age. Other kinds of discrimination are less obvious, like knowledge discrimination, discrimination based on past court involvement, and discrimination caused by the digital divide and racist algorithms and tech design practices.
Systemic inequality has gotten worse over the course of the pandemic, as the burdens of this economic crisis have hit communities of color and other underserved workers the hardest. Right now in America, one in ten Black workers and one in eleven Latino workers are unemployed. Women’s progress in the workforce has also taken a severe hit during COVID. The latest jobs report found that employers cut 140,000 jobs in December, and women accounted for all of those job losses.
These inequities harm workers, managers, and businesses. Rising inequality makes it harder to spot future talent, and stunts workplace growth and innovation. But there are policy solutions the Biden-Harris administration can take to help end these kinds of discrimination.
First, they can work to remove barriers that prevent workers from accessing school or training activities including childcare, housing and medical care. For example, many workers don’t leave their dead-end jobs because they don’t want to lose their health insurance, which prevents employees from investing in their own learning and pursuing better jobs.
Another way to decrease hiring discrimination is to to ban the box on job applications that asks candidates about their past court involvement. Today in America, more than 65 million people “need not apply” for jobs from numerous organizations because of a criminal record. Preventing workers from even applying for jobs is a discriminatory practice that stunts business growth and discourages people from working to improve themselves and invest in their careers and development.
These are just five workforce policy areas that businesses and the Biden-Harris administration should consider supporting as we work toward a more innovative, equitable, and vibrant future of work.
This article is a call to action, because the future of work is no longer in the future—it’s here and now. The jobs that will emerge in the decades to come will require all workers to be creative, adaptive, and flexible critical thinkers, and it is our responsibility to ensure we give every worker a chance to succeed when they show up to work.
Ready to join the movement?
Head over to 1Huddle’s RAISE Every Worker policy page to check out our full policy plan and see if your company is on the right track to creating a more prepared, connected, and equitable workforce.
Sam Caucci, Founder & CEO at 1Huddle
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