- The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a need for workers in all industries to have strong digital skills, according to the National Skills Coalition (NSC). Fact sheets NSC released April 21 assessed the condition of American workers' digital skills across five major industry sectors — health and social work, manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality.
- The analysis was based on earlier data and revealed a digital skills gap in industries now deemed essential. One-third (33%) of workers in the health and social work sector, for example, had limited or no digital skills. "As the pandemic has shown, these skills are of critical importance in providing telehealth services, recording patient data to share with fellow providers in disparate locations, and monitoring the well-being of elders, rural patients, and others who may be isolated," NDC said.
- Workers in the other sectors similarly lacked such skills, potentially posing a problem for pandemic response. Workers in manufacturing, for example, must be able to monitor and interpret data from sensors throughout a manufacturing facility, it explained. Additionally, workers of color are over-represented among those with digital skill gaps, in part due to longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in access to education and training, financial resources and career-path jobs, according to NSC's analysis.
There is high demand for employees who can leverage new technologies as a digital economy continues into the next decade. But skill gaps must be addressed to meet this demand, which requires counteracting disparities and focusing on upskilling, according to the NSC.
A report published in April by the Center for Economic and Policy and Research showed that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people of color are overrepresented in many occupations within front-line industries, such as food and warehouse distribution. The NSC's analysis found that workers in these industries will require upskilling to meet the needs of digital disruption. Latinx employees make up 14% of all workers, but they represent 20% of those with limited digital skills and black workers comprise 12% of all workers, but represent 21% of those with limited digital skills. In comparison, white workers make up 67% of the workforce, but they're 50% of those with limited skills. This disparity is a result of "decades of intentional public policies" that created the "structural inequities in our country," Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, senior fellow at NSC, said in a statement.
Any solution should include public policy, Bergson-Shilcock said. "Federal and state policymakers can act by investing in upskilling for workers and ensuring that workers of color benefit equitably from those investments," she said. "This requires that outcome data be disaggregated by race and ethnicity so that policymakers and advocates can identify where there are springboards or bottlenecks in workforce and education systems that are supporting or hindering racial equity in digital skill-building."
To that end, NSC in January selected coalitions from 10 states to join SkillSPAN, the Skills State Policy Advocacy Network. SkillSPAN is "poised to promote policies that support all workers' career aspirations, boost local businesses, and help states build strong, inclusive economies," NSC said in a statement.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should provide workers with opportunities to upskill and reskill, according to Jeanne Schad, talent solutions and strategy practice leader at Randstad RiseSmart. Many companies are encouraging an informal entrepreneurial type of learning where employees can contribute in areas that interest them, Schad said during a April 23 Randstad webinar on employer branding. This is a way to tap into skills in an environment "where ideas can emerge," Schad said.