Workers’ “Human Skills” Will Still be Critical, Post-Pandemic

Nadia Ramlagan | Public News Service
In a new book, Lumina Foundation president and chief executive Jamie Merisotis says it's time to rethink higher education and workforce training to sustain the future U.S. workforce in an age of robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies. Photo Credit: Science in HD / Unsplash

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Uniquely human traits and capabilities will be more important in the post-coronavirus work landscape, according to Jamie Merisotis, author of a new book on the future of the workforce.

At least one study estimates 40% of jobs that saw COVID-related layoffs aren’t coming back, and Merisotis said the crisis offers the opportunity for large-scale rethinking of higher education and workforce-training programs.

Even before the pandemic, he said, Tennessee state government — the largest public employer in the state, with 42,000 workers — had been leading the way.

“For the state of Tennessee, I think what we’ve seen is that there really has been a cultural change; that training isn’t just something that you do once, but it’s a continuous process,” said Merisotis, an expert on education policy and president and chief executive of Lumina Foundation. “The state has recognized that learning as part of work is really important.”

Rather than a one-time job fair, he said, the state has 28 management and training programs employees can take advantage of.

But employers are only part of the picture. Merisotis believes the more than 40 million Americans still out of work need massive federal investment in community colleges that award associate degrees and short-term credentials to help them move into new sectors.

The government should be focusing on the value of human work skills and attributes, said Merisotis, pointing out that people who’ve honed the ability to communicate, motivate themselves and work in teams tend to have higher levels of education and are able to work from home — and they’ve largely been spared from pandemic job loss.

“Understanding how we serve other people as part of our work, how we use our compassion and our creativity, and all the things that make us human, to be more effective in our jobs,” he said. “So, the education and training system, I think, will need to change.”

Merisotis added that because Black, Latino and Indigenous workers disproportionately have been affected by COVID-19, workforce training programs must adapt to better serve these communities.

“And we need to make sure that building our human work ecosystem takes those individuals into account,” he said, “and does a better job, frankly, than what we’ve done in the past.”

In the latest national poll, 60% of Black respondents said their households face serious financial problems and income loss in the pandemic. Seventy-two percent of Latino and 55% of Native American respondents report struggling financially, compared with 36% of Whites.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.