First in a series of reports by The Sierra Nevada Ally: Nevada Formulates Innovative Skills Training Programs for a 21st Century Workforce, produced in collaboration with the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization that supports rigorous reporting on how communities respond to problems.
For Nevada’s displaced workers, the pandemic and the shutdown of the economy was the biggest crisis in their lifetimes. It shook people’s confidence in every part of the state. Workers lost their jobs and livelihoods at the fastest rate since the Great Depression of 1929.
The Covid-19 pandemic added food insecurity, shattered home lives, and mental and physical disabilities to the depressing mix.
ADP Research Institute tracked the impact of COVID-19 on the labor market. Between February and May 2020, data showed that displaced workers nationwide were, on average, mostly female, of color, younger, and had a lower wage. Nevada was no different, relying on a top-heavy economy of service work, gaming, mining, and tourism. These sectors shut down throughout the heart of the pandemic and are only now reopening.
Comparing the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, today’s crisis is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.
Many of today’s displaced workers lack the basic skills to transition back to work that will require basic competencies in comprehension and computation.
According to @usedgov, 54 percent of U.S. adults 16-74 years old—about 130 million people—lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of 6th-grade level.
In 2019, The NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) the Nation’s Report Card on K-12 Education in America reported that students’ basic science proficiency in the 4th grade scored below 36 percent, in the 8th grade at 35 percent, and in the 12th grade at 22 percent.
An economy’s most valuable asset is its human capital. Companies value investing in their workforces by funding education and training systems that continually shift into a future of inclusive and sustainable employment.
“There is a “sea change coming,” said Stacey Bostwick, GOED (Governor’s Office of Economic Development) Director of Workforce Development, in a phone interview recently.
“It is our job, and those of industry and our educational partners, our time to build up the job training infrastructure to support this change. Institutions are already making the needed changes in terms of their investments and culture.
“We are mapping out pathways for workers to retrain, gain mastery in new areas of emphasis, and fill gaps for employers. Primary research shows us that with shifts to automation, a host of jobs are not coming back. And new skills are needed. That’s where we come in.”
Jeff Maggioncalda, Chief Executive Officer of Coursera, a global online learning platform, has reiterated the latest thinking, “The pandemic has disproportionately impacted millions of low-skilled workers.” He recommended that “… the recovery must include a coordinated re-skilling effort by institutions to provide accessible and job-relevant learning that individuals can take from anywhere in order to return to the workforce.”
Analytical thinking, problem-solving, information technology, content creation, and cloud computing have become some of the top skills needed.
Maggioncalda stressed that the recovery this time must include providing stronger safety nets for displaced workers, improving the education and training systems, and creating incentives for investments in markets and the jobs of tomorrow. The most competitive businesses will invest, re-skill, and up-skill their current employees and future hires.
Earlier manpower and workforce training programs, going back to President Nixon’s 1970s Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) and President Reagan’s 1980s Job Training Partnership Act, threw enormous sums of federal dollars at the unemployment problem, with little tangible results. Eighty percent of the $51 billion federal dollar programs were used to create a hodgepodge of public service paying jobs in the public and nonprofit sectors. Only 20 percent of all federal dollars went for skills development and retraining.
Research shows that most of these public service jobs did not create private-sector jobs as envisioned, nor did they re-skill the new workers.
Instead, multiple scandals surfaced. The majority of local governments, facing fiscal crises of their own, became what was known as “CETA Junkies,” and took advantage of the bill’s broad discretion to use the federal funds to subsidize budgets and pay their regular workers.
In 1986 and 1990, the Cato Institute delivered scathing critiques of multiple federal manpower and job training programs.
“Federal job training programs will almost always be either unnecessary or worthless,” concluded the Cato in 1986. “Either the government will be training people for jobs that the private sector would have trained them for anyhow–or the government will be training for jobs that don’t exist. Federal training programs have tended to place people in low-paying jobs, if trainees got jobs at all. So if the programs have any effect at all, it is simply to help some low-income people get jobs instead of other low-income people.
“The surest way to create jobs would be to reduce unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other federal benefits for able-bodied non-workers. Other reforms that would help would be to abolish the minimum wage, lower taxes to stimulate economic growth, and reduce paralyzing regulation on local business creation.
“Bad training is worse than no training at all. The federal government has tried every imaginable manpower scheme in the last quarter-century, and has failed dismally every time. The sooner the government stops making false promises and giving people false hope, the sooner low-income people can begin learning real skills in the private sector.”
Prior to the pandemic, the fastest-growing jobs were middle-skills-type jobs that require training beyond high school but not a college degree, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Nevada has a long-range, strategic plan in place to build on that data, with public-private pathways and partnerships between industry, educational institutions, and the public sector.
The state’s plan emphasizes earning while you learn, multiple immersive training platforms, and skills-match strategies to accelerate the time it takes for a displaced worker to establish a new career path and get back to work full time.
Demand-driven training has replaced outdated training and education programs even in local community colleges that were mostly known for focusing on two-year degree programs and as a pathway to university. Non-credit programs now outstrip the traditional two-year and four-year degrees. Workers need new jobs now, not two years from now.
In 2021, for the first time in many years, studies are now showing that displaced workers appear to be in a better position to benefit from a resurgent economy and the shifts taking place in a tight labor market.
To fill positions, businesses now express a willingness to increase wages, hire and train those individuals with non-traditional qualifications, and accept remote working arrangements.
Employers and job training programs are intent on creating attractive enough conditions to lure and train workers in good-paying jobs in mining, logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, tourism and service industries.
In a phone interview with Karsten Heise, director of strategic programs for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, he told the Ally that “ … our displaced workers have a long history of work experience.
“Some have been unemployed for the first time in their life. They are most affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. They want to work.”
Heise believes that most displaced workers seeking reemployment already have most of the skills needed to be successfully trained and hired in new jobs.
“For example, the manufacturing sector is growing. The healthcare sector too, as is logistics. These are high-demand occupations.
“To quickly match them with meaningful work, our Skills Decoder Platform, offered in our local libraries and community colleges, uses immersive technologies to help match our displaced, job-seeking individuals with certain employer needs, translating workers’ experience into credits.
“Viewing a virtual rendition of a workplace environment and the various aspects of day-to-day work, an out-of-work individual has the ability to see what job might fit their profile and to pivot his/her career.
“There is a massive acceleration of technological change, a fourth industrial revolution you might say,” said Heise.
“Fortunately we recognize that we’re also facing a skills shortage to meet the demand. New skills are needed at any given moment to weather the changes taking place in a multitude of industries.”
As far back as 1974, Studs Terkel, author, broadcaster and Pulitzer Prize winner, in his oral history opus Working, an account of working folks in America, wrote that workers look for “daily meaning, as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
It will take one to six months on average to upskill today’s workers. Within one year, employers will see a return on the job training investment, according to the World Economic Forum. These jobs will include machinists, digital and artificial intelligence managers, construction trades, renewable energy and construction trades, automobile mechanics, healthcare technicians, and customer success specialists.
The data shows that workers don’t need to have the perfect background to start transitioning into the task-specific jobs of today and the emerging professions of tomorrow.
Joe McCarthy is the general manager of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Support his work here.