Thanks to an economy in transformation at the hands of technology and globalization, many lower- skilled workers have been displaced from the labor force. For instance, between January 2013 and December 2015, 3.2 million workers lost their jobs that they held for more than three years, as reported in August 2016 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while the reemployment rate for these workers is increasing, according to the BLS report, many are having trouble re-entering the labor force.
The labor force participation rate, which tracks the number of people who are either employed or actively looking for work, continues to fall. “As more and more AI and robotics takes ahold, I think we’re going to go through a period of some real disruption where there will be significant numbers of people who get dislocated because their skills are just not up to par,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director and global practice leader at research and advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.
For some experts, this pool of displaced workers represents an opportunity for some employers. What can firms do to employ the displaced workforce and those opting out of work?
- First, companies can examine which parts of a job can be automated, and then they can find ways to redeploy the talent. “AI doesn’t eliminate jobs,” Jesuthasan said. “What it does is it eliminates tasks. The reason that people’s skills become obsolete is because we place such a heavy emphasis on the technical parts of their jobs, the routine parts. That’s the stuff that AI and robotics can take on. What’s left are the nonroutine bits, which are actually becoming a lot more important.” The technical aspects of jobs are often what colleges focus on, Jesuthasan said, but people skills are becoming differentiators in today’s labor market. Therefore, business leaders should look beyond the typical college graduates and consider others. Rather than expecting someone to perform well based on their degree, he suggests using psychometric assessments to analyze the competencies and capabilities of the individual. Allowing people to test drive the job also assesses how they would do if employed.
- Don’t be too restrictive in job postings, said Karie Willyerd, head of global education at human capital management software company firm SAP SuccessFactors. When job seekers see a long list of skills required and don’t feel they meet every one on the list, they simply don’t apply.
- Willyerd also suggested partnering with veteran networks and local governments for low-cost or free training to provide skills for those outside of the company. Companies might even find people who will work well at the organization, thus making the training a sort of recruiting platform, she said.
- Willyerd also advocated for a tighter alignment between industry, government and academia. Skills development and vocational training should be done in high school as a path to having fewer displaced workers later on. “I believe that government should be thinking about policies that help people stay current and stay employed and upgrade their skills,” Willyerd said. “People are going to work longer because we’re living longer and because it makes business sense to be able to have access to the skills you need.” Government should encourage employers to do so through tax relief or grants.
- The gig economy also holds opportunities for displaced workers, said Michael Biltz, managing director of professional services firm Accenture’s Technology Vision unit. According to his “Accenture Technology Vision 2017,” there’s a movement of technology aligning to the needs of people more than people aligning to technology. Therefore, companies can increasingly use their technology and platforms for job seekers to find and employ people. “The gig economy is specifically coming out of the fact that how people manage jobs — as well as how people match people to the jobs that they could be doing — is becoming digital,” Biltz said.
The ease of matching people and jobs helps with placement, as does the flexibility of work nowadays, both in location and time commitment. Computer and internet availability allow for even more options on the employee side. And not all “gig work” requires impressive technology skills; remote workers can do something as simple as data entry.
“It’s just becoming easier for people to understand what they would have to do or what types of jobs are out there,” Biltz said. “I think that that knowledge is actually going to be incredibly powerful and incredibly helpful for workers who, frankly, have given up because they don’t think they have the answers or they don’t know where they want to go.”
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.