The future of work — a game of musical chairs - Generocity Philly

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Sep. 13, 2019 11:00 am

The future of work — a game of musical chairs

In her guest column, Andrea Custis of the Urban League assesses who is most at risk for job displacement, and the strategies that best position workers to navigate the changes.

Across Philadelphia, retraining and access to the internet and digital skills education can help create pathways to new jobs in growing industries like education, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing.

(Photo of Hopeworks Camden courtesy of Comcast)

This guest post was written by Andrea Custis, president and CEO of Urban League of Philadelphia.
Artificial intelligence and automation are ubiquitous in any conversation around the “Future of Work.”

We are beginning to see that, for consumers and for business, it offers a new era of convenience and efficiency. For others, it warns of a new marketplace where digital skills are no longer a premium but a necessity.

As the “Future of Work” nears, who is most at risk for job displacement, and what are the strategies best positioned to navigate these changes?

The challenge: Automation and displacement

Automation threatens to make many low-skill, low-tech jobs obsolete. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reports that, nationally, people of color will be disproportionately displaced in the workforce without new training.

More than 31% of Latino workers and 27% of African American workers are concentrated in just 30 occupations at high-risk to automation, such as cashiers, cooks, and food servers, production workers, and freight movers. Should half of these workers at risk be displaced — the resulting national African American unemployment rate would swell from 7.5% to over 20%.

Philadelphia’s demographics are very similar to the nation in terms of age, education, race, and ethnicity and face the same stakes. However, with pathways to new skills, Philadelphians can stay job ready. To Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center, “It’s like a game of musical chairs. When the music stops playing, will they be able to get a better seat because they have the right skills, or will they lose their seat all together?”

Preparing for the future

New skills and new ideas: National Urban League and the Urban Tech Jobs Program

Today, workforce development and digital skills training in Philadelphia are accomplished across universities, government, employers, and community-based organizations. When it comes to training for 21st century jobs, “we can’t be stuck in the 1990s world of workforce development,” states Ron Marlow, vice president of workforce development for the National Urban League.  “We can’t train just for training’s sake.”

From our Partners

The National Urban League is a critical community partner in addressing the economic mobility of African Americans acutely at risk of job dislocation. From Marlow’s vantage point, for nonprofits to bridge the gap in skills between workers and the labor market, the networks between employers and how they communicate their hiring needs, must be better, stronger, and faster.

Our contribution — the Urban Tech Jobs Program — an accelerated training program supported by Comcast Corporation, that recruits long term unemployed and underemployed adults and provides them with workshops to build solid job readiness and adaptability skills, while offering nationally-recognized certification coursework and paid work experience.

Available at the Urban League of Philadelphia, the program builds an ecosystem of feedback between employers and the skills and certifications delivered to their participants. “We are training people in response to the labor demand, and are ready to meet it,” says Marlow.

We are fortunate to have strong public-private partnerships, like the one we have with Comcast, to help bring our Urban Tech Jobs program in Philadelphia and other cities across the country to life.

Access to internet and digital learning

Access to the internet at home is an important first step to building digital skills, staying marketable, and applying for jobs online. In addition, the opportunity to work remotely provides the opportunity for low-income Americans to explore new, flexible sources of income.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which is the largest, most comprehensive, and most successful broadband adoption program for low-income Americans in the U.S., is one way for low-income Philadelphians to get connected — delivering high-speed internet access for under $10 per month, making heavily subsidized computers available for purchase, and providing access to free digital skills trainings in print, online, and in-person.  Comcast has connected more than eight million individuals — including 288,000 in Philadelphia — to the internet at home through the program.

Last month, Comcast announced that eligibility for Internet Essentials has been expanded to include every qualified low-income household in Philadelphia and everywhere else where Comcast provides service, more than doubling the number of households eligible for the program. We are proud to partner with Comcast to bring this important program to the local community.

Across Philadelphia, retraining and access to the internet and digital skills education can help create pathways to new jobs in growing industries like education, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing.

This is an opportunity to level the playing field.  “Throughout our history, low-wage and low-skilled jobs have also been segregated by race,” says Overton. “We can use the shift away from low-skilled work to create a highly-adaptable, perpetually learning workforce and move beyond profiting from cheap labor. This can be an inclusive future.”

We are hopeful that when the music stops, there are not only enough seats for everyone, they are better.

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