During the last several months, the coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the business world and the employment status of millions of Americans. Even those who kept their jobs are now working under markedly different circumstances. Leaders from global staffing firm Randstad noted that digital and organizational transformation will shape the labor market in 2021, in addition to the efforts made toward economic recovery.
While the recovery seems to be in progress, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a net job loss in December for the first time since May when the numbers began improving after a precipitous fall in April. The recovery is also marked by an uneven experience across race and gender lines during the pandemic that will almost certainly affect the labor market for years to come.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has had the most significant impact on the labor market since the Great Depression," Karen Fichuk, CEO, Randstad North America, said in a Jan. 13 webinar. "We still have more than 10 million jobs to be recovered, and economists have suggested that our country is unlikely to experience a full economic rebound until 2021."
The wide-scale shift to remote work has created an increased need for technical skills, as employers reported accelerated adoption of technology in 2020 due to the pandemic. As a result, employers are increasingly understanding the significant upskilling their workforces will require if employees are to withstand the continuing evolution.
"Most employers are saying that they are building new organizational structures for the future that allow them to adapt to change, become more agile and operate faster," Fichuk said. "We think we're experiencing a broad based strategic shift away from rigid linear hierarchies and structure in the workforce."
Employers also will benefit from looking internally at current employees in non-technical roles in to address digital skills gaps. In the current labor market, building worker capability now has a slightly stronger case in the "build vs. buy" argument.
Fichuk cited a Deloitte study which found that more than half of corporate leaders believe that "half of their workers will need to be reskilled over the next three years." Additionally, Randstad’s own data found that "23% of respondents said that they're using their downtime during the pandemic to focus on upskilling, or re-skilling" to prepare themselves for the future job market.
"Verizon reskilled 20,000 of its employees so they could apply for new positions within the company," Fichuk said. "Shell trained its workforce on artificial intelligence. Walmart, JPMorgan Chase and AT&T have created skilling programs to retain their employees that can lose jobs because of automation."
Technology roles are increasing, understandably, given these trends. However other roles have seen growth as well despite the challenging economic conditions, Fichuk said. This has included diversity & inclusion roles, call center and customer service jobs, manufacturing and warehouse jobs and those in grocery.
Employers also are wise to the increased flexibility and benefits they need to provide, as a way to ensure they are properly supporting employees for success. The job losses reported in December were all attributed to women, who suffered a net loss of jobs while men had a slight net gain. This underlines the importance of support for people with families.
"Around one in five working age adults said that they were not working because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements," Fichuk said, "and while keeping parents in the workforce will be key for our economic recovery, only 32% of organizations returning to work has a childcare plan."
The burden of childcare and household work has fallen disproportionately on working women, some research has shown. "The pandemic has led one in four women to consider downshifting or quitting their jobs entirely. They refer to this as the women's recession," Fichuk said. "This is in large part due to the fact that women are three times more likely to take on childcare in the household chores than men."
The economic impact of the pandemic is also being felt differently depending on the job that an individual was holding, with Fichuk acknowledging the "K-shaped recovery" that many have spoken of.
"Probably one of the most concerning impacts of the pandemic is the creation of a bifurcated economy," Fichuk said. "We're now experiencing really a tale of two workforces. [...] At the height of the pandemic, what we saw is that low wage jobs were lost at about eight times the rate of high wage ones."
Traci Fiatte, CEO, professional & commercial Staffing at Randstad USA, spoke to the impact of remote work, and how it has opened up new geographies to compete for talent around the country. Virtual recruiting processes are here to stay, Fiatte said. And while employers are realizing new standards for flexibility, mental health support and childcare benefits, salary remains the top priority for job seekers.
"[W]e actually are seeing salaries increased by three and a half percent for most high-end-demand roles," Fiatte said during the webinar. "So in order to retain your top people [...] you also have got to make sure that your salaries absolutely are competitive."
One complication with salaries, given the expansion of remote work, is the leveling that may need to occur as a result of location. Before, jobs in New York City or San Francisco paid a premium to accommodate for the cost of living as well as the high concentration of high-paying jobs in those cities.
"There's not enough data to suggest exactly what's going to happen with that," Fiatte said, "but it is at the height of conversation in not just HR departments, but executives at large."