What employers will want in their workforce


Expect fewer employees working in corporate offices and more virtual learning and training for workers, which will require employees to be more nimble to changing work environments.

That’s what a panel of officials from several major corporations told community college workforce development advocates this week meeting at the virtual Workforce Development Institute, held by the American Association of Community Colleges. The company leaders outlined changes coming in their workforce, including training, recruitment and management. The discussion was geared to help community colleges determine how to adjust their education and training programs to ensure students are prepared for those jobs.

While it is still uncertain how jobs will evolve or what new ones may emerge post-Covid — and what skills they would require — the panel did agree the pandemic has likely changed the workplace environment, which will shape jobs, needed skills, training and more. Lisa Lang, head of Learning and Education Americas at the Siemens Foundation, discussed the need for “learning agility,” which she defined as “the ability to rapidly learn, unlearn and relearn based upon new and dynamic and changing situations in the business.”

Covid has brought on many changes in the workplace, which include more employers willing to allow employees to work from home or another location rather than at a traditional corporate office, the panel members said. Learning agility would help those workers prepare themselves for any work-related changes, such as new technology and ideas, she said.

“More than just learning the skills, it’s developing that mentality to increase learning capacity,” she said. Siemens uses a “continuous cycle of learning” that is necessary for an unpredictable future workplace, she added.

A nudge prompted by the pandemic

Lang said the technology to offer full digital learning on a broader scale already existed, but many companies, including Siemens, had not used it much. But when the pandemic hit, companies began to utilize it and plan to continue to do so after the pandemic. It was among the factors in Siemens’ decision to shift more of its jobs from a traditional office environment.

“This is something that we feel employees really need to be prepared for,” Lang said. It will include how workers do their jobs and how companies manage, coach and measure performance, she said.

Siemens is already moving into that area through its training and professional development, Lang said. It’s a challenge for a company with 300,000 employees worldwide. Still, Siemens aims to develop online training content that is more personalized for employees, something close to a “Netflix-like experience,” she said.

Changes accelerated

The pandemic has also accelerated technological changes at many companies, including Visa, said Robert Thomson, a senior vice president at the company who leads its U.S. government engagement unit.

Visa is essentially a technology company in the financial sector, processing more than 200 billion transactions annually valued at $11.3 trillion, Thomson said. Nearly half of its 20,000 employees are in its technology division.

“We needed highly skilled talent to support our business, and that includes technicians, programmers, coders, engineers, analysts and a range of other critical skills,” Thomson said.

But again the industry is changing rapidly. In fact, the pandemic has prompted technological advances expected over the next five years to occur in just a few months, he said.

Flexibility and agility have helped companies transition quickly during the pandemic and have become a standout competency for employers and employees, Thomson said. Recruiting, onboarding and training have all transitioned online during the pandemic and have done so rather successfully, he said. He added that virtual learning will continue to change the landscape in terms of apprenticeships, skills training and lifelong learning.

At the same time, a growing number of companies have made equity and diversity in their workforce a priority, Thomson said.

“That means we have to provide greater opportunities to populations in our society that have been overlooked or underrepresented in the workforce,” he said. “And here, community colleges have just an absolutely vital role to play.”

Going into the community

Greater diversity and inclusion are also a commitment for CVS Health, which employs more than 300,000 workers, said Charnetia Young, manager of business development at CVS Health Workforce Initiatives. She noted that the company is refocusing on a diverse and inclusive workforce, including military veterans, people with disabilities, youth, people of color, English as second language learners, and others. Community colleges are one way for the company to engage those learners, she said.

Part of CVS Health’s training efforts include going into communities where these learners live in order to showcase career opportunities, Young said. The company also has had more than 9,000 registered apprentices over the last five years, and it wants to expand that to 19,000 over the next five years. Data show 36% of those apprentices are Black.

“We want to be reflective of the communities that we serve,” Young said.

Also among its new initiative is to train inmates in the Second Chance program so they have viable opportunities to work at CVS upon their release, she said. CVS Health plans to serve 9,000 participants in 20 locations across the country.

More collaboration

3M — which makes the popular N95 filtered masks among its products — also is including equity and inclusion in all aspects of the company’s work, said Maureen Tholen, 3M’s sustainability director. It is among the company’s main goals, which include building a culture of safety and health and collaborating more with stakeholders to better prepare students for the workforce, Tholen said.

Developing a culture of safety and health begins with education, when students learn the skills that they will need in their careers, Tholen said. “A strong start is really important,” she said, noting that new workers are more likely to be injured on the job.

Tholen emphasized that the company seeks a blend of technical, workforce and personal skills. “We are looking for people who are agile and adaptable and able to pivot and learn continuously,” she said.

3M teams with various organizations to ensure it has well-prepared employees, from certification providers to student technical clubs, Tholen said. 3M uses MAP (Manufacturing Academic Partnerships) to develop pipelines with education systems near their manufacturing centers. It also works closely with other companies, who are often their suppliers and customers.

“It’s just a great opportunity to work together,” Tholen said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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