Diplomatic Courier and World in 2050 have been exploring the Future of Work and Education since the launch of our Global Talent Summit in 2013. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic these questions are now more urgent than ever: What will the Future of Work and Education look like as global labor markets and our learning institutions come to terms with the “new normal?” How will an accelerated shift toward AI and digital technologies impact our existing workforce? How will young people set to enter the work force be impacted? How do we ensure the most vulnerable segments of the population aren’t left behind?

As with the rest of our series “Life After the Pandemic,” we see problems which existed before COVID-19 are worsened. Similarly, many of the solutions, which have been identified previously, have the potential to not only mitigate these problems but to build a better future. We have the opportunity not only to rebuild, but to build back better. In this edition, Diplomatic Courier turns to our partners at Emsi to explore how we can build a better Future of Work and Education.

The response to this series has been overwhelmingly positive. Diplomatic Courier has been fortunate to be able to expand our group of talented young editors to meet the task. We’ve been even more fortunate to work with the great editorial staffs of our partner organizations like Emsi, and tap into their broad network of experts to bring their analysis of COVID-19’s challenges and opportunities to a wide audience. We are especially thankful to our Guest Editor Kelly R. Bailey for her dedicated work in this edition.

Emsi’s experts—and all our contributors—represent a diverse background, from academics to experts on the cutting edge of the digital revolution, to executives at leading private sector companies internationally. The themes they touch on are equally diverse, though they all share one commonality—workforce and education issues that existed before the pandemic have been amplified in the time of COVID-19.

One recurring theme our contributors touched on is the need for a shift in how companies identify the best workers to fill critical roles. For these experts, a turn to more “skills-based” hiring is essential to accelerate post-COVID-19 recovery and ensure future employees are appropriately valued.

In “Skills-based Hiring: Opportunity or Illusion?” Brian Fitzgerald and Jennifer Thornton explore how the post-recession recovery left behind certain categories of jobs and workers. They present ideas for how to more effectively mobilize skills-based hiring to reverse a growing bifurcation of our economies, thus enhancing the likelihood of a durable and more equitable recovery.

Sallyann Della Casa highlights the problems inherent in a system which privileges university education—which is often out of reach. In “Flattening the Diversity and Inclusion Curve through Skill-based Hiring,” Della Casa demonstrates how a turn toward skills-based hiring can help highlight both hard- and soft-skills, creating more opportunities for those without university education and expanding the hiring pool for companies.

Employers can also do more to support skill-building among employees directly. In “Rising to Meet the Moment: Employer-based Upskilling for the New Economy,” Gayatri Agnew and Ellie Bertani explore the benefits some major employers (and their employees!) have gained by making powerful upskilling programs available to their workforce.

Higher education faces daunting challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. University completion rates are set to decline, hampering the next generation of workers and businesses that rely on their incoming expertise. Universities and employers both need to adjust to these challenges to avoid lasting harm to the post-pandemic economic recovery and an entire generation of young people.

Matt Gee demonstrates the equity gap, which currently exists in the current paradigm of education and career navigation in his piece, “The Revolution Hasn’t Been Digitized. It Needs to Be.” He argues that a reimagining of how we use powerful algorithmic tools and AI can help bridge this equity gap and bring millions of unemployed workers back into the workforce.

In “Can Badge and Certification Programs Accelerate the Post-COVID-19 Recovery?” David Leaser argues that through wider use of badge and certification programs, employers can identify so-called “New Collar” workers who have critical skills but not formal educations. Bringing these highly skilled individuals more seamlessly into the workforce can be a powerful accelerator for economic recovery.

This doesn’t mean universities have lost their relevance. As employers begin to concentrate on skills rather than degrees, Marni Baker discusses how universities can align their systems to meet employer needs and get students on the best possible career path. In “Embracing a Skills-based Future Is Now More Important than Ever,” Baker discusses work being done in the higher education ecosystem to better demonstrate how degree programs align with employers’ skill and competency needs.

Other contributors discuss equity deficits with a focus on ethnicity and poverty. Mary Beth Ferrante discusses the structural hurdles to success that parents—and especially mothers—face navigating the workforce. In “Scaling the Maternal Wall After COVID-19,” Ferrante argues that national paid family leave will support gender equity as we emerge from the pandemic while also supporting family health.  

If we want to do better than rebuilding after the pandemic—if we want to build back better—a daunting amount of work remains to be done. We hope this edition demonstrates that we have the capacity to do so—and a lot of great work is being done to this end—but we must collectively demonstrate the will to carry through.

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