What jobs and their availability will look like in the wake of COVID-19 is uncertain, but there is little doubt the landscape of employment is changing.
“Before the pandemic, it was a seller’s market in terms of hiring,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president of the Society for Human Resources Management, who spoke Tuesday before a joint board meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees. “CEOs from across all sectors and demographics were telling us that it was difficult to hire talent because there were not enough potential employees looking for work.”
In a post-pandemic world, that is no longer the case, Taylor said during the virtual meeting with college leaders. With high unemployment and continued uncertainty about reopening, the job market has changed.
Citing the lessons learned from working at home, Taylor noted that companies are taking different approaches to returning to work. In about 50 percent of cases, companies plan to fully reopen offices by the end of July. Others have determined that working from home fits well within their culture.
“Returning to work is viewed by some as a protection of livelihoods,” he said.
Taylor also noted that there is a difference in expectations among younger employees and students, who are concerned with safety and assume that companies and colleges will protect them from COVID-19.
“Companies and schools have developed ways to sanitize and provide personal protection equipment, but no place can guarantee 100 percent safety from COVID-19,” he said. “Employees and students will have to determine how the culture of the organization serves their needs going forward.”
Some companies will sustain the work-from-home model, while others will reopen with everyone reporting to an office or offer a hybrid approach.
“If the culture is that all employees work from home, that may be a good fit for those with concerns about the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” Taylor said. “Leaders need to understand and communicate their expectations for the culture of on- or off-site work.”
Talent strategy has transformed due to the pandemic. Many traditional organizations now realize that some work can permanently be done remotely and can use that to strategically reimagine their workforce.
“Some work will no longer need to be done in an office environment, which means that it also can be done from anywhere,” he said. “And companies can hire someone that lives in an area with a lower cost of living and pay them less for the same work. The workplace is now a buyer’s market.”
Community colleges’ role
Taylor noted that in the current climate, community colleges are perfectly positioned to provide critical education and skills for those looking for work.
“Many students are looking at education as a consumer, which is different than it has been in the past,” Taylor said. “Community colleges are able to respond to the needs of local employers and provide skills that are needed to get people back into the workforce quickly, and they already have programs that will serve sectors with the most need.”
Those sectors, Taylor predicted, are healthcare, cyber science, teaching and law enforcement. Looking at the whole of the sector is critical, he noted.
“It’s not just allied health programs, but the support services needed, including technology, building maintenance and all of the areas that are required to provide medical care,” Taylor said.
What can community colleges do? They should look to connect with employers and let them know that they can help companies with their human capital issues, Taylor said. He also said that soft skills or “power” skills – including teamwork, conflict resolution, office etiquette and more – were in demand.
Taylor noted that the skills gap between education and employment will remain an issue, but community colleges can help by examining different ways to help close the gap.
“I’d love to see coding camps for 45-year-olds,” Taylor said. “We have a gap in the generational knowledge of technology, and some are not willing to learn new skills. Community colleges can help to bring technology education to older generations and provide them with the skills needed to stay relevant in the workforce.”