The global COVID-19 pandemic has enhanced the uncertainty around the Future of Worki. The plans county officials had prepared or implemented in January 2020 were, in many cases, put on hold or abandoned altogether as county governments became frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. As 2021 continues to unfold, county leaders are balancing a need to address urgent pandemic-related economic hardship, plan for economic recovery and consider the implications of the Future of Work for local economies.
Just as the impacts of COVID-19 have been felt more profoundly in some communities than others, the Future of Work will have differential impacts. Workers of color, already disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are at particular risk for displacement by automation due to overrepresentation in impacted jobs. This reality existed prior to the onset of COVID-19, and it is likely to be even more pronounced as these hard-hit communities face an uphill battle to economic recovery. Such inequities are just one challenge county leaders face when planning for the Future of Work and an equitable economic recovery in the coming years.
The urgency of planning for the Future of Work, coupled with new resources from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), create an opportunity for counties to prioritize recovery needs through efficient resource allocations. County success in this endeavor relies on a variety of supports to plan for the Future of Work.
- Platforms for cross-county idea sharing on targeted topics. Workforce and economic development experts believe conversations with other county leaders about topics such as solutions which can incorporate Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding and attracting and retaining new businesses are key forums for local innovation. Sixty-eight (68) percent of county leaders agreed that this type of collaboration and information sharing is useful.
- Information on promising practices for engaging local Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) and other partnerships. Some counties are successful in partnering with WDBs and other regional economic partnerships, while others experience fraught relationships. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of county leaders believe information sharing on cultivating partnerships will help advance engagement with WDBs.
- Resources and partnerships for enhancing broadband access and bridging the digital divide. As counties predict a permanent shift to more remote work in the future, ensuring access to quality broadband connections and digital literacy is critical.
- Support and programs for retraining workers. This need is particularly prevalent in areas that have seen a massive decline in certain industries, such as rural counties that have experienced a decline in the coal industry or counties reliant upon a hospitality industry devastated by the pandemic.
- Resources specifically directed toward low-income residents and residents of color. The disproportionate impacts of both automation and the pandemic on the employment prospects of communities of color necessitate direct, dedicated support for county residents of color and low-income residents. Counties need information on practices and funding to address disparities through Future of Work programming.
- Information about funding opportunities for the Future of Work and economic recovery planning. Eighty-five (85) percent of county leaders indicated a need for additional information about sustained funding opportunities.
iThe Future of Work is a term used to encapsulate the rapid changes transforming the traditional workplace and highlight the shared uncertainty around what the workforce landscape will look like in the coming years.