Post-Covid Winners Will Build Rather Than Buy Talent

The pandemic laid bare the cracks in our workforce infrastructure, but CEOs can turn this calamity into opportunity by building a new learning ecosystem for cultivating talent.

Unlike the recession in 2008, the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 has touched every single American; for many, in unfathomable ways. Workers who have been laid off need access to better career navigation and guidance, wraparound support services, and targeted educational experiences so they can fill their skills gaps and move ahead.

The pandemic has laid bare how fragile our multiple, fragmented systems of K–12 education, postsecondary education, and workforce training are. But it’s precisely the cracks in our workforce infrastructure that reveal how we turn calamity into opportunity. Instead of continuing to work in parallel silos, we need to design a new learning ecosystem that is fundamentally more navigable, supportive, targeted, integrated and transparent.

• Navigable. Newly laid-off workers don’t have the technologies and tools they need to analyze their talents, bring them to the surface, and assess their skill gaps. They want information about how to choose the right career pathways—the type real-time labor market information and consumer reviews provide. They need a bird’s-eye  view of the current  and future job market,  including all of the career pathways open to them based on their interests, skills, past training, and experiences. Navigation will give adults better information to guide them through complex systems, and better assessments to help them make sense of their skills and experience and figure out how to translate and transfer their capabilities into better jobs.

• Supportive. Job seekers want guidance on which pathways will be most effective, targeted, and affordable in helping them grow and thrive in the labor market. To stay focused on their education and career goals, learners need comprehensive wraparound supports, be they person-to-person or tech-enabled, to help them overcome hurdles and manage multiple commitments and competing priorities. Better support services will foster the success of all working learners, from the beginning of their explorations all the way through their new working lives and subsequent career transitions.

• Targeted. Job seekers need access to a precise and relevant education tailored to their needs: the right skills, the right pathways, at the right time.They also need to know that the education they choose will be worth the investment—and clearly signal value to a prospective employer. More precise or targeted learning experiences must provide not only the knowledge but also the human and technical skills, professional networks, and hands-on practice that equip learners to be ready to work.

• Integrated. Working learners need the time, the funding, the confidence, and the resources to integrate education and training with their existing responsibilities. A newlearning ecosystem will reduce education friction and make advancement achievable by offering better funding options, new opportunities to learn while earning, or in the flow of work.

• Transparent. The hiring process must be transparent, open, and fair—and enable job seekers to prove their competence and skills. When skills become the primary currency of the job market, employers will be able to access a more diverse pool of qualified candidates who have proved they have what it takes for the work ahead.

For CEOs and business leaders, the opportunity is clear to integrate learning opportunities into the workday, so workers can continue to earn a living while building new skills. Cultivating talent must happen on the job. The companies that thrive in the future will be ones that “build” —not “buy”—talent and offer reskilling opportunities in-house.

Few companies have invested in the cultivation of new skills for their workers. Only about a fifth of employees, according to Accenture, report getting on-the-job training from their employers. Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, shows in 1979, young workers got an average of 2.5 weeks of training per year, but by 1995, the average had dwindled to under 11 hours per year.

Moreover, in our current models, employers tend to place most of the burden on employees to spend what little time they have away from work to pursue educational opportunities. Organizations often do not carve out time for reskilling or upskilling. The expectation is that workers will somehow stack more training on top of all of the other demands in their lives.

Time is the biggest barrier—the biggest point of friction when it comes to talent development. Organizations often do not carve out time for reskilling or upskilling. For instance, despite all of the new-fangled upskilling initiatives or the hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into Amazon’s or JPMorgan Chase’s new programs, the tacit expectation is that employees will magically find extra time to retool themselves on top of the myriad other responsibilities they are juggling. Workers do not have “time off” to develop new skills on their own.

The workplace must become the classroom of the future. It’s time to reimagine on-the-job training as a way for workers to build new skills for emerging and better jobs.

To create a better functioning ecosystem, we will need communities and stakeholders to mobilize differently and work together toward a common vision, centered on the needs and the lived experiences of working learners. Ultimately, this isn’t just about the people affected by the coronavirus. We will all need better ways to seek out the relevant information, funding, time, advice, support, and skills training to navigate the many more job transitions to come in the future of work.


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