Education benefits gained popularity during the past few years, as employers of all kinds looked to stand out in a labor market in which job seekers had the upper hand. With the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, that dynamic has changed. Employers are less worried about retention and more concerned that workers' skill sets will become obsolete, necessitating layoffs and worsening skills gaps.
Many employers were planning for an eventual economic downturn, Rachel Carlson, co-founder and CEO of Guild Education, told HR Dive. The company is an education benefits provider recently valued at more than $1 billion. "What I think we're seeing with COVID-19 is an acceleration of what we were expecting to come," she said.
This acceleration has left millions unemployed, with many wondering how their skills align with other jobs in this new economy. In a recent survey of unemployed workers, more than half said they were not confident they could find new jobs with their current skill set; the same amount were unsure how to communicate transferable skills on their resume.
With that population's concerns in mind, Guild focused on education as an outplacement benefit. The end result was Next Chapter, which Carlson described as a "jobs and education marketplace."
"I think education is a tool and an access point that can accomplish a lot for organizations," Carlson said. "We're really now seeing employers set up to talk about the transition component." Her company announced the acquisition of the design firm that helped it build Next Chapter last week, with the goal of adjusting to the shifting landscape in this space.
Navigating two paths
Before the pandemic, Carlson said, Guild was mostly supporting recruiting, retention and development for corporate partners. Founded in 2015, the company's clients include Walmart, Walt Disney, Lowe's and Chipotle.
Now, the Next Chapter platform helps laid-off workers translate their skills to existing job openings. "We've done the work to map the competencies and skills that a worker has accumulated in their job in a way that LinkedIn doesn't know how to reflect for a blue-collar or no-collar worker," Carlson said. "People are really good at the interactions of empathy and cognitive decision making," for example, she said. "I think we often overlook how much of the front-line workforce in America is doing that every day in their current role."
Non-traditional sourcing channels can create a profound talent management advantage. When CVS Health needed to hire 50,000 new employees in a short amount of time, it built out channels to hire furloughed and laid-off workers from more than 60 corporate partners, dramatically increasing recruiting productivity.
"Even for different types of roles all through the organization, you can draw what I refer to as competency parallels," CVS Health VP of talent acquisition Jeff Lackey previously told HR Dive. "It's not a terribly big inferential leap to think the people who are on the front lines of a customer service experience for a [hospitality company] have been trained in customer care, in exceeding customer expectations," Lackey said.
Guild Education aims to have Next Chapter offer a wider range of employers a chance to quickly tap into similar labor markets.
Upskilling for the future
The platform's other focus, according to Carlson, is helping laid-off workers understand how to pursue education to "secure a strong career in the future of work and in the economy of tomorrow." It identifies skills gaps, and provides access to training and education to build the skills workers need, while also showing them jobs available in their community.
Skill-building with an eye for the future often includes developing digital or digital-adjacent abilities. Companies have worked with coding schools to support upskilling needs while others, such as PwC, have developed stronger training programs internally.
Whether as an internal development vehicle or a responsible benefit for laid-off or furloughed workers, some say employers have an imperative to put more effort and resources into upskilling employees, for the good of themselves and the labor market. "Every HR officer should look at their talent needs and become a chief reskilling officer," Scott Cawood, CEO of WorldatWork, a total rewards association and compensation firm, wrote in a recent opinion. "Instead of focusing on job descriptions, performance reviews and annual incentives, HR leaders can take the time right now and build new thinking, new capabilities, and new strategies, and plan to invest in reskilling now."
Carlson said she believes creativity and empathy around meeting talent needs will help employers stand out in the future, particularly with so many workers presently struggling. Such efforts may be key to coping with the predicted emergence of technical-adjacent, or 'hybrid roles.'
"Helping [hourly or blue collar workers] understand their own capabilities so that they then see how that translates into a digital economy is probably the most interesting work we're doing," Carlson said. It's empowering to help workers understand they've been doing this work, in an analog world, she said; "And it turns out, that's not going to go away in a digital world."