The Nation’s Invisible Essential Workers
In 2020 we all learned another meaning of the term “essential workers.” These are the people we once took for granted but now rely on more than ever to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities running. When we think of essential workers, we tend to think immediately of doctors and nurses who continue to risk their lives and their family safety by caring for patients with Covid19 symptoms, the child care workers who took care of our children while we went to work, the restaurant workers and retail clerks who made it possible for us to get our food and supplies.
While far less visible, another group of workers deserve our gratitude for keeping the wheels of our society turning, These are the frontline professionals in workforce development --they are the ones who identify jobs for those of us who either have been laid off or were looking for work when the pandemic hit. Often focused on the least advantaged workers, the number of hours these front-line workers have been forced to work as a result of the pandemic has exploded. They advocate for clients by responding to immediate needs not often provided for or adequately resourced in a workforce development context, including:
- Access to childcare
- Mental health services
- Addressing food insecurity
Other workers, known as “Trainer/Instructors” prepare job seekers for specific jobs by ensuring they can access the relevant credentials or training they might need. Other professionals known as “Developer/Account Managers” engage with businesses to ensure that they meet their workforce needs.
Adapting Workforce Development Services During COVID19
These offices were always under-resourced, hardly able to keep up with demand before the pandemic but are now barely coping.
Like other front line workers forced to respond to an unprecedented crisis--workforce development officers have been forced to improvise as face to face contact became at first off-limits and then gradually shifted to fit a more virtual world. As they did so, they had to overcome out-of-date mainframe computers and the challenge that many of their clients were often on the wrong side of the digital divide. For example, the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance developed its own Beacon One Stop Mobile App that was “launched to accommodate the unprecedented surge of new claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “will offer claimants and employers dozens of new online features.”
This spring, following a "33% increase in new unemployment claims", workforce Development offices across the nation were forced to upgrade their antiquated systems. These offices were always under resourced, hardly able to keep up with demand before the pandemic, but despite some rapid upgrades many continue to barely cope with the incredible demand for their services. For example, as a result of visitors to its website more than doubling the system crashed which in turn, forced the department to extend its hours and staggering filing times alphabetically by the last name.
Overtime expenditures for Employment services have declined to $30–$40 per participant—far too little to provide comprehensive reemployment services.
WIOA Adult expenditures per participant are $200–$300 per participant—approximately $500 per participant for WIOA Dislocated Workers—both far too small to provide adequate training services to many participants
Fixing the Current Workforce Development System
In an emergency such as the one we are currently experiencing, certain things become evident: first, workforce agencies cannot do it alone. They need partners. What people are looking for in times like this is not just the unemployment check as vital as that is but also ways to get back on their feet. They cannot do this without up to date information about the current labor market--and career advisory services to help people make critical decisions such as the choice as to whether to take a lower-wage job or invest the time required for retraining in an in-demand field which can often be fully covered under the WIOLA legislation. This specialized knowledge should not be located just in a job center office but should be more widely shared.
KP Connect Workforce Development
Through its STAR Navigator System, KP Connect can advise people through the process of deciding on what their post Covid19 career pathway will be and allow the newly unemployed to train for new jobs from the comfort of their own home. Through KP Connect’s access to key courses, the transition can be relatively painless and highly affordable. This can be achieved through career pathways such as:
As evidence of the unprecedented demand, one Pennsylvania office has brought back 70 retirees who previously worked in the Unemployment Compensation division. It has also redirected more than 500 employees from other offices and is looking to hire more than 100 new employees. KP can meet this increased demand for career counselors and training by assisting the newly unemployed become career counselors and trainers, through its proprietary Career Counseling package of online courses.