Counties occupy a unique space in the developing future of the American workforce. Not only are counties large local employers — of more than 3.6 million individuals across the nation — counties also serve as local policymakers, partners, program and resource providers and conveners, playing a critical role in developing and implementing a strategic vision for local industry and its workforce.
The Future of Work, a term that encapsulates the rapid changes transforming the traditional workplace and the shared uncertainty around what the workforce landscape may look like in the coming years, has shifted significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This past year has spurred new conversations on affordable broadband, remote work and other dramatic industry shifts across the economy.
To provide perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on these shifts and county economic recovery, NACo partnered with Mathematica to study workforce development plans for the Future of Work at the local level. Several county priorities emerged from a series of town hall conversations with county leaders and survey findings from counties across the nation.
In response to the immediate need of the global pandemic, some workforce plans were delayed or revised. Thirty-four (34) percent of county respondents pivoted to focus on the pandemic, while 52 percent adopted a focus on both the pandemic and non-pandemic-related workforce development; only 14 percent reported no substantial workforce planning changes.
As the pandemic wanes, the county response is evolving to proactive planning for long-term needs from reactive problem-solving. Eighty-six (86) percent of counties anticipate significant small business failure coupled with persistent increases in remote work or telework. More than 60 percent of county leaders expect significant increases in long-term unemployment, reduced educational attainment attributed to COVID-19-related disruptions and persistent declines in local tourism and hospitality sectors.
Local needs in Future of Work planning are not monolithic. Variations in local economies, such as industry composition or geographic location, define county needs and response measures. Some industries (e.g., health care and social assistance) may require shorter time frames for recovery than other industries (e.g., hospitality and service).
Counties are interested in further partnership with local workforce development boards, community colleges, industry and employer associations, nonprofit organizations, K-12 school systems and other counties to address the unique local needs associated with Future of Work planning.
Counties seek opportunities to embrace practical workforce planning for all residents by bridging the digital divide with older adults, reconnecting younger workers’ skills and preferences with local employment opportunities, ensuring equitable access for women who are reentering the workplace and addressing the disproportionate job losses in communities of color.
One distinct priority in county Future of Work planning is broadband infrastructure. Eighty-six (86) percent of county leaders expect lasting changes to how workers and businesses operate, such as remote and hybrid working. Fewer than 10 percent of county leaders reported full coverage of high-speed broadband across the entire county and less than one-third (29 percent) reported that all or most residents had the necessary tools and technology to access broadband from their homes. With the rise in telework, telemedicine and other remote engagements, access to affordable broadband is linked intrinsically to the conversation around workforce planning.
County governments lead the way in preparing local communities for the Future of Work. With proper support and resources, counties can foster relationships between local stakeholders to effectively address needs and concerns, shaping the Future of Work in the community.
The full report Planning for the Future of Work Amid a Global Pandemic and three in-depth county case studies on workforce solutions, generously supported by Walmart, will be released in early June.