How can governments safeguard their workforce against unexpected crises, which can bring large-scale economic shifts such as rising unemployment, falling revenues, and a shrinking tax base? Two major recessions in just over a decade have shaken the economic base of governments. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular has led to the closure of many industries, creating an abundance of displaced workers and an immediate need for mass workforce recovery plans.
“Workforce Recovery at Scale”, a session presented at this year’s Coursera Conference, highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected as much as 80 percent of the workforce in the United States. The pandemic has also pushed over 90 percent of businesses to accelerate digitization, which has eliminated many positions while also creating a demand for new skill sets, pushing many organizations forward in their digital transformation plans with adoption of data-driven technologies like AI. It’s estimated that 42 percent of jobs would require new skills every two years just to keep up with the pace of technological change and automation. This has intensified the need for governments to have a strong plan in place to upskill workers to adapt to a digitizing global economy. Investing in online learning programs has helped to make this possible.
Barbados Upskills Workers to Weather Downturn in Tourism Economy
Allyson Leacock, the Director of National Transformation Initiatives for the Barbados Broadcasting Authority (BBA), explained how two major and unexpected disasters disrupted tourism, a major part of the economy in Barbados. The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent eruption of La Soufrière Volcano have resulted in over a 90 percent decrease in tourism, significantly impacting the island’s major industry and leaving its future uncertain. To mitigate the effect that this would have on a permanently displaced workforce, Barbados partnered with Coursera to bring online learning opportunities to these workers so they could develop the skills they would need to find new employment opportunities. Leacock said, “The upskilling becomes an integral part of what we do, and obviously, the online approach and digitization become an inseparable tool for us to be able to achieve that.”
By teaching digital skills such as probability, statistics, data management, and machine learning, Barbados has been able to upskill their workforce to engage with the global economy, as well as advance digitization in Barbados. Leacock anticipates that these programs will be an ongoing initiative.
Punjab Skills Development Fund Leverages Online Learning to Reach Remote Communities
Jawad Khan, CEO of the Punjab Skills Development Fund (PSDF), which operates free skills development programs in Pakistan, explained that prior to the pandemic, PSDF had already begun exploring transitioning to online learning to increase workforce equity. Through a virtual classroom, quality instructors from larger cities would be able to reach learners in poorer areas in a way that was both cost-effective and efficient. The pandemic pushed PSDF to expedite this process. They began by moving their entire IT course catalog online through a partnership with Coursera.
Pakistan’s economy was already experiencing high growth due to a strong digitized workforce. With online learning, PSDF has been able to ensure that these opportunities will reach youth from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. By building curriculum around technology and entrepreneurial skills, Khan aims to train people from marginalized areas to become assets in the global marketplace.
Futuro Health Uses Online Learning to Foster Workforce Equity
Van Ton-Quinlivan, CEO of Futuro Health, shared some additional insights on how online learning contributes to workforce equity. Factors affecting access to education – such as distance from an accredited institution, time and scheduling constraints, and high cost of tuition – can create a socioeconomic gap in access to career opportunities. Online learning has helped to close this gap by extending this access to those who might be excluded by traditional forms of learning.
Futuro Health’s focus on expanding career accessibility was boosted by their partnership with Coursera, through which they were able to work with Johns Hopkins University to develop customized learning paths for high-demand roles in Healthcare IT. Ton-Quinlivan emphasized that improving workforce equity will ultimately lead to better equity in healthcare, as it would increase the amount of skilled healthcare workers in underrepresented communities with poor access to healthcare.
These cases show that investing in online learning brings workforce protection as well as additional economic benefits to governments. Extending access to education that builds high-demand digital skills can pave the way towards a more equitable workforce, which contributes to greater overall economic security.
To learn more, you can register to watch the now on-demand session “Workforce Recovery at Scale” here.