Strengthening Economic Resiliency:
Investing in the American Worker
November 13, 2020
By Kiley Lambert, Bloomberg Live
Economists and experts may look back and refer to 2020 as a “lost year.” The COVID-19 pandemic had a drastic and immediate impact on American workers, businesses and the economy. In many ways the pandemic was a catalyst—accelerating trends that were already in motion such as workplace flexibility, mobility, and digital transformation.
In this briefing, we engaged with top leaders to gather their insights on what it will take to get America back to work–what the future job market might look like, the role of technology in creating the next-generation of jobs, and the role of policy in creating good, high-paying jobs as the labor economy continues its shift toward high-skilled work.
Click here to view video of today’s event.
- Rob Falzon, Vice Chairman, Prudential Financial, Inc.
- Tamla Oates-Forney, SVP, Chief People Officer, Waste Management
- Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft 365, Microsoft
- Patrick T. Harker, President and CEO, The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
- Carol Massar, Anchor, Bloomberg Businessweek TV & Radio
- The Future is Unwritten
Many of the technology trends toward digitization that companies were grappling with before the pandemic have been accelerated as work forces have moved to fully or mostly remote environments. But are these trends necessarily a net positive?
- Rob Falzon, Vice Chair of Prudential, said that the surveys Prudential has conducted have shown a definite acceleration toward automation and digitization but the jury is still out on whether it’s going to be good or bad in the long run for American workers. “To date, it’s been good,” Falzon said. “Productivity is up pretty significantly or maintained if not up, I guess I should say. And in part that’s because of the adoption of technology and the fact that the workers have gained the skills to apply the technology that we have.
“But in a remote environment, and as the technology begins to progress, whether workers can keep the skills and gain the new skills, I think is the question mark. And I think we’re already beginning to see at the edge, some fraying of that, where they’re not getting as much learning. They’re not learning as much on the job. And that’s the concern, that if we want to have this be a good inflection point for American workers, I think we need to look back at how we’re doing with regard to ongoing training for those workers.”
- Tamla Oates-Forney, Chief People Officer for Waste Management, said that the move to remote work, even under such dire circumstances, has shown the “art of what’s possible.”
“I like to look at it as a glass half full,” Oates-Forney said. “ But I think it is something that we’re going to have to continue to monitor to determine how we lead, manage and teach differently to ensure we’re able to capitalize” on the learnings gained during the last several months.
- Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, said that Microsoft research has shown higher levels of burnout among workers due to the erasure of the line between home and office, but on the flipside, the rapid implementation of technological tools has added flexibility that workers enjoy.
“82% of managers say that they’d like to have more flexible work from home policies, post-pandemic, and 71% of employees are saying that they’d also like to continue to work from home after the pandemic,” Spataro said. “So we tend to see it as, you know, having challenges and silver linings. We think that how all this works out is kind of up to us, which is very exciting. I think we can band together and find the good and capitalize on it.”
- Patrick T. Harker, President and CEO of The Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said that retraining and re-skilling are at the heart of any future American worker success story. Marginalized communities have been hit hard by both the pandemic itself and the knock-on economic effects. Getting those communities back to work is key.
Automation has already negatively affected the availability of many jobs and the pandemic has accelerated those trends.
“Here is where we really need to focus on retraining those people into different jobs as quickly as we can,” Harker said. “ And there are jobs for them.”
Citing a study done by the Cleveland Fed, he talked about the ability to map existing skill sets on to new jobs. “They said, take a low skilled job that may be going away because of automation or because of the pandemic. Say, travel, tourism or hospitality. Map that skill set that they have like a sales skill set to a higher paying job. And what’s the skill set that you need, the training that you need to do that? They looked at 33 metro areas across the US and roughly half the jobs they could match from one skill set to a higher skill set with an average increase in salary. So this is real. That’s the opportunity if we just work together to make this happen.”
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