How businesses can help solve society’s workforce problems

25 Feb 2021
Bhushan SethiJoint Global Leader, People and Organisation,
PricewaterhouseCoopers US, weforum.org

  • COVID-19 has presented major challenges for organizations: adapting workplaces, supporting remote workers, furlough schemes and redundancies.
  • Society must work collaboratively to build sustainable work solutions for a future where some occupations will cease to exist and others will have to adapt to survive.
  • HR leaders are uniquely positioned to help steer this model – working with communities, schools and governments – to rebuild the economy.

In the past nine months, I’ve been proud to see so many businesses stepping up to help their employees and communities. From rolling out new benefits and programmes aimed at helping people navigate the pandemic to making layoffs a last resort, businesses of all types have led with purpose and empathy.

Now, with new vaccines offering hope for an end to the pandemic, business leaders have an opportunity to extend that sense of purpose by helping to find sustainable solutions to society’s workforce problems. That includes one of the biggest challenges our economy faces: how can we get the unemployed back to work?

Millions of people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and many companies are continuing to consider and possibly make layoffs. But getting back to work isn’t simply a matter of finding another job. The pandemic has disrupted whole industries – including restaurants, travel and retail – and many of those jobs are not likely to come back. That means many of those employees will need to reskill and move into a new occupation.

Meanwhile, as companies accelerate their automation plans and many jobs continue to be remote for the foreseeable future, employees across every sector should acquire new skills to think and work in different ways.

There are other pressing workforce challenges too: immigration, employee health and workplace safety, societal racial and gender-based job discrimination, job security and more.

These are big problems to address. That’s why businesses should play a leading role in working with communities, schools and policymakers at every level to find sustainable solutions. No one has more experience – or more at stake – in the nation’s economic health than its business leaders. Given that President Biden’s administration is expected to make workforce issues like fair pay, minimum wages and labour unions a significant part of its policy agenda, now may be a prime opportunity for business leaders to get more involved. It’s also the right thing to do.

Within your organization, you probably already have someone who is ready to help your business take the lead on this initiative – your chief human resources officer (CHRO).

HR leaders are primed and ready to help

Human resources (HR) leaders have been at the epicenter of their companies’ pandemic responses. In hundreds of conversations with CHROs over the past nine months, I’ve been impressed with the depth and scope of new responsibilities they’ve undertaken. They’ve led on complex issues like employee safety and mental health, productivity and morale. They were pivotal in the transition to remote work, and they’ve helped their organizations’ leaders navigate hard choices about furloughs and severance.

CHROs’ leadership during the pandemic has also earned many of them new clout within their organizations – influence they can use to encourage other business leaders to turn their attention outward.

Many CHROs are up for the challenge. In November’s PwC Pulse Survey, an overwhelming number of CHROs – 89% – said they want to engage with elected officials to raise awareness of President Biden’s campaign tax proposals on their business operations. That’s compared with 78% of respondents across all business leaders.

This isn’t about lobbying for better business policies or tax breaks. It’s about finding solutions that are good for all stakeholders – your own business, as well as shareholders, employees, customers and communities. Some corporate boards have already begun to make this a priority; now there’s an opportunity for other leaders within the organization to get involved as well. Collaborating with schools, community organizations and governments can help you get started.

  • Schools: community colleges, universities and even some high schools are ideally suited for working with corporations. Businesses can offer experience and support to provide training, job shadowing and internships – not just for entry-level jobs, but possibly for professional careers.
  • Community organizations: collaboration with community organizations can help address the problems that may be the most pressing in your area, such as a need to reskill employees, help people develop their cyber or digital acumen, or other challenges. This could involve working with nonprofits or chambers of commerce, many of which are developing new ideas for economic and workforce development, improved access to education for minority groups and other issues.
  • Governments: businesses have an opportunity to help shape the future of work for the good of society and help themselves in the process. Offer your experience and acumen to political leaders who are brainstorming policies to help create jobs and provide training to those who are unemployed.

The workforce challenges facing society today can be daunting. Finding creative, sustainable solutions requires diverse ways of thinking and collaborating. Businesses – with CHROs at the centre – should be part of that effort.

SOURCE: weforum.org
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