Research yields 6 recommendations to stimulate ‘smart’ job growth post-COVID

Rapidly connecting workers to in-demand occupations and designing job training with future careers in mind are among the ways the central Ohio community can address technology-related workplace changes and workforce gaps while emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study suggests.

Researchers in The Ohio State University Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) partnered with Smart Columbus, the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio and United Way of Central Ohio on a study examining the effects of “disruptive” technologies on the regional workforce.

The study, “Fast Forward: The Future of Smart Work in Central Ohio,” found that technology disruptions inspired by the smart city movement – such as automation – will likely accelerate even more quickly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to close skill gaps and deliver education and credentials for central Ohio workers will take on a new urgency.

Based on the research, the study sponsors are advising the central Ohio community to pursue the following recommendations:

  1. Respond in real time: Use education, workforce and employment data to analyze in close-to-real-time what is happening in the economy so that the workforce system can quickly and proactively help job seekers understand what skills are needed, and help businesses know what skill sets are available in the region.
  2. Train for the future: Establish a continuous learning system that educates and trains for future career opportunities.
  3. Intervene early: Incorporate work and career exploration in curriculum as early as middle school and continuing through high school in all school districts in Franklin County. Provide exposure to high-demand occupations and key business sectors in central Ohio through required work experience and internships. Partner with employers to provide guidance and assistance in making the work experiences and internships meaningful.
  4. Accelerate access to in-demand occupations: Improve access to employer-identified short-term certifications and credentials that more quickly get job seekers into in-demand occupations. In addition, re-engineer credentials and postsecondary degrees to be competency-based, meaning that learning is not based on a prescribed number of hours for a course, but rather a demonstrated knowledge of skills.
  5. Establish “earn as you learn” opportunities and connect workers to them: Prioritize learning and skill acquisition with work for the entry- to mid-level workforce through the establishment of apprenticeships and other earn-as-you-learn opportunities by partnering with career technical education and the community college.
  6. Support workers through to successful, quality jobs: Further solidify the workforce system to better coordinate job seekers through preparation for work and wrap-around services necessary to support job seekers through training and education.

“The Future of Smart Work is underway in central Ohio, where the network of education, workforce and business professionals are working hard to broaden participation in the economy of tomorrow. Our systematic review of the workforce trends highlights new opportunities and challenges for this growing and dynamic region,” said Josh Hawley, professor and director of the Ohio Education Research Center, which is housed in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

The center was founded in 2012 by a group of researchers from Ohio universities and independent research organizations. Its initial charge from the Ohio Department of Education’s Race to the Top program called for OERC to develop and implement a coherent P-20 education research agenda in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Higher Education.

The “Future of Smart Work” study was commissioned in 2019, when officials were aware that emerging technology had the potential to cause disruption to the regional workforce but were not anticipating a global pandemic that would create an even greater workforce challenge, said Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired opportunities for innovation and advancement through automated goods delivery, remote learning, and more, but it has also laid bare inequities in access to connectivity and education,” Ginther said. “We must act now and engage residents in every stage of their careers in order to emerge from this crisis stronger and more prepared for continued change.”

Lisa Patt-McDaniel, president and CEO of the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio, noted that nearly three-quarters of the workforce was deemed “critical” during the early days of the pandemic, but over 1.3 million Ohio workers still lost their jobs between March and May 2020.

“This study and the resulting recommendations show how we can do more protect and prepare the central Ohio workforce by grappling with difficult issues central to K-12 education and complexities that arise when adults lack basic skills or have significant barriers to education,” she said.

Added Lisa Courtice, president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, “If we don’t make student success a priority, then we will feel the ripple effects of the pandemic for years to come.”

The study was funded through the Smart Cities Challenge grant awarded to the City of Columbus by the Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, the United Way of Central Ohio and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio.

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