The future of work is here.

In a pre-COVID-19 world, there were seemingly endless articles with predictions on the future of work. It seemed all but certain that automation and other disruptive technologies would fundamentally change the labor market—but how dramatically? And when exactly? 

Some of the most-cited statistics came from McKinsey’s Future of Work Report: 1.4M people will lose their jobs by 2026 as a result of technological change, while 47% of total US employment is at risk of being entirely automated. And then there’s the data on education: 88 million people will need reskilling for the future of work. Of those, 64 million don’t have a college degree. 

Now, it seems those numbers will only increase, and the timeline will shorten. It’s becoming clear: the future of work has arrived, and sooner than we might have thought. 

The question remains, however—now what?

What the research says about automation in recessions

First of all, it’s worth taking a look at the data available. While we are living through a moment unprecedented in modern history, there are some lessons we can learn from past recessions. 

Research by Nir Jaimovich and Henry Siu looked at three recessions over the past 30 years and found that 88% of job loss took place in routine, automatable occupations. Other research by Brad Hershbein and Lisa Kahn of the University of Rochester examined around 100 million online job postings. They found that the most affected metro areas were replacing workers who performed routine tasks with technology, but also more highly skilled workers. 

Whichever way you look at it, frontline workers will need new skills for the job market of the future—and they could use some help. 

It’s not too late for companies to support and prepare their workforce

Although mass furloughs and layoffs have come sooner than expected, business leaders can still cushion the blow for frontline employees. It’s even still possible to go further and set these employees up for success in the long term. 

Through both boom times and recessions, there is still one key that can unlock opportunity and economic mobility: education. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of 66% more than those who have only a high school diploma, and are far less likely to face unemployment. Certificate holders earn 20% more than high school graduates without any postsecondary education.

Make sure you align program offerings to future of work jobs 

So what are the jobs that are not easily automated? There are a number of middle-skill jobs that can provide stability and opportunity in the face of technological change and uncertainty. For example, jobs in these fields are in high demand—and are likely to remain so:

  • Trades, such as plumbers and registered electricians
  • Healthcare, such as surgical assistant or radiological technician 
  • Technology, such as computer user support specialist  or information systems analyst 

Some employers have a head start in preparing their workforce for jobs of the future. Lowe’s implemented their “Track to the Trades” program in 2018, providing tuition assistance to their associates to pursue training in fields such as carpentry, HVAC, appliance repair, electrical, plumbing, and more. Walmart created a best-in-class education benefit program in 2018 as well, and has continued to expand it over time. The retailer started with tuition assistance in fields such as business administration and supply chain management, and has since added eligible degrees in IT, cybersecurity, and healthcare. 

If you haven’t yet begun to focus on upskilling and reskilling your workforce, or if you want to double down on your strategy, it’s not too late. One place to begin is by learning more about the Next Chapter Program, a jobs-first solution to help America’s downsized employees find work and gain skills to secure their place in the job market of the future. 

Written by Guild Education

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