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The OCR: How to manage the future of work and reduce the employment gap

Blog originally published by The Orange County Register on August 7, 2020.
Despite recent surges in the stock market and the promising jobs numbers in the wake of the pandemic, the recovery has been quite uneven, hurting Black and Hispanic workers more than white employees, for example.
The disparate effects of both the pandemic and nationwide protests and unrest reinforce the importance of addressing the widening national employment gap between the Haves and Have-Nots. The contrast between professional, educated, new-economy workers, and the rest of the workforce has never been sharper. These two crises together serve as a wake-up call for investing in re-shaping the American workforce.
Silicon Valley is home to both sides of this growing chasm. Some fortunate technology companies sit near their all-time high market values—including Amazon, Twilio, Wix, Salesforce, Shopify, and Zoom—but others face a much bleaker outlook, dealing with layoffs and complete shutdowns. So, while many are quickly regaining their footing, their neighboring small businesses and service-sector employees are struggling for their livelihoods.
Distributed work disruption
This widening gap exists not just among individuals, but across companies, industrial sectors, and countries. Even before the pandemic forced the world to work remotely in March, a shift to distributed work was underway that industry leaders have been evangelizing for years.
This disruptive change—a variant of work-from-home—has made poorer, less-educated workers more vulnerable than ever. Many companies have already announced plans to shift to distributed work structures, including Twitter, Square, and Coinbase. But what will happen to employees who are not in white-collar, office jobs?
One of many effects of more distributed work will be to broaden the employer’s job applicant pool. As they recruit for open positions, employers will be less restricted to their office locations, rewarding skills but punishing those lacking and further exacerbating this employment gap.
Addressing the widening skills and employment gap
What should employers and employees do, and how can governments and public-sector organizations help?
First, enterprises should follow the best practices of companies that have invested heavily in training, and upskilling. Industry expert, Josh Bersin, explains we will have to “learn our way out of this crisis.” He points to MacQuarie Bank and Novartis as examples of companies that have successfully accelerated learning programs in response to COVID-19. Privately-held Mars, Inc., is another company investing heavily in corporate training and upskilling, working with solutions to help employees with their management and learning needs.
Second, larger companies like Mastercard and T-Mobile are showing how they can help small businesses and their employees by offering tangible benefits and valuable programs. Policymakers should follow their lead by offering tax incentives and rebates to companies that make concrete upskilling and corporate learning investments with tangible results.
Also, public-sector and industry leaders should follow the example of India’s leading IT and BPO association NASSCOM, with 2,000 member companies representing 90 percent of the country’s IT revenues. The association’s upskilling initiative, called FutureSkills, is used by companies that include Wipro and Tech Mahindra.
With nationwide support coming from Prime Minister Modi and other industry leaders, FutureSkills now reaches over 250,000 end-users being measurably educated and certified in programs that include Blockchain, Data & Analytics, Cybersecurity, and Automation. Furthermore, these programs are being quickly and successfully adapted to meet the changing remote work needs of employers.
The U.S. needs to call on the private sector, organized labor, and centers of higher learning to commit to giving Americans more tools needed for higher-paying jobs in an increasingly competitive job environment.
We also need to ensure that we reach minorities who do not otherwise have easy access to these employer-based initiatives. With 40 million Americans out of work and income inequality increasing, we don’t have time to waste.
Steve Westly served as Controller and Chief Fiscal Officer of the state of California from 2003 to 2007. He is a former VP with eBay, former Tesla Board Member, and the founder of The Westly Group, a large sustainability venture capital firm.
Philip Levinson is Vice President & Head of Marketing at EdCast, the venture capital-funded knowledge management SaaS company with corporate learning customers that include ANZ Bank, Dell EMC, HPE, CHRISTUS Health, Diageo and Schneider Electric. 

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