The hardships that individuals and families have faced since COVID-19 are staggering. Challenges included experiencing social isolation from loved ones, juggling remote work and schooling, losing childcare and income, and suffering the tragic, premature deaths of family and friends. During the pandemic, an unforeseen number of people were laid off while others left their jobs due to safety concerns or lack of dependent care. Unemployment rates at the start of the pandemic hit the highest levels in generations. The 2021 annual National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) conference highlighted how vital Workforce Development programs are during this period of recovery.
A Year of Unemployment Crisis
The Congressional Research Service reported that the pandemic affected labor market metrics across geography, demographics, and every economic sector in the U.S. (Unemployment Rates During the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20,2021). Below are some important facts to help describe the unemployment crisis that unraveled during the past year from the report:
- The unemployment rate reached 14.8% in April, 2020 which is the highest rate observed since data collection began in 1948.
- The unemployment rate is still high at 6.1% in April of 2021 compared to 3.5% at pre-pandemic level in February, 2020
- The leisure and hospitality sector lost the most jobs since January 2020 and have consistently had some of the highest unemployment rates throughout the pandemic – 39.3% in April of 2020 and 10.8% in April 2021.
- Although all demographic groups were affected, Black and Hispanic workers experienced higher rates of unemployment and steep declines in labor market participation during the pandemic. At the peak of unemployment rates in 2020, Black workers hit 16.7% compared to White workers at 14.1% and Hipsanic workers hit 18.5% compared to White workers at 13.6%.
Legislation Designed to Help
The unemployment rate in the U.S. is improving as restrictions are easing up as well as federal legislation that has helped businesses, individuals, and nonprofits stay afloat and start to support training for an adapted workforce. During the 2021 annual NAWDP conference, Robert Knight, Director of Workforce Policy and Government Relations summarized legislation that supported our recovery in 2020 and upcoming legislation that will help as well. In 2020 the following legislation supported our workforce:
- Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Act in March 2020
- Families First Act in March 2020
- CARES Act in March 2020
- Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020
In 2021 the American Rescue Plan continued to support workers with direct payments to most Americans, UI extensions, support for safe school reopening, extended small business assistance and more. And, if enacted, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan (Infrastructure bill) will greatly affect the workforce development sector with a planned:
- $40 billion in a new Dislocated Worker program and sector-based training
- $12 billion for evidence based violence prevention programs and job training for underserved communities
- $48 billion for other workforce initiatives including apprenticeships.
One-Size-Fits-All Online Trainings Aren’t Enough
Although things are looking up, so many workers continue to struggle, managing a new, post-COVID labor market while doing everything they can to keep their families safe. Not only do jobseekers continue to deal with the day to day difficulties that come with COVID-19, but many are forced to transition to a new area of work requiring new skills and credentials. Companies may be hiring, but their open positions may not match the skills of jobseekers. Local governments and nonprofits have the federal dollars to help retrain workers for these jobs across the country.
Employment programs have adjusted to COVID norms to help job seekers gain the skills they need to gain sustainable employment. Job seekers are meeting with their career coaches over the phone and through video conferencing and gaining job skills through online training and even virtual reality. Through all the wonderful training opportunities, there are still life challenges that cause barriers to work that need to be addressed through wrap-around services. Employment program staff not only need to address technical skills training, but also soft skills and case management to help alleviate the challenges that many job seekers face, especially after such a difficult year.
Wrap-Around Services to Cope with Transition
One approach that is proven to be effective for individuals making career changes is applying the Transition Theory to the work that employment program staff do with their participants. During the 2021 NAWDP conference, Tressa Dorsey, President of TAD Grants provided a wonderful webinar on the 4 S’s of Nancy Schlossberg’s Transition Theory to help workforce development professionals support their participants during this unprecedented time of transition. The 4 S’s are:
- Situation – The situation that has caused the transition and how impactful it is to the participant.
- Self – How the participant views the situation and their ability to cope with the change.
- Support – How much support surrounds the participant during this transition time.
- Strategies – Formulating strategies to successfully gain a new career.
This theory can be a great tool for workforce development professionals as they help so many people to transition to a more satisfying career after a COVID-19 job loss. It focuses not only on the job loss itself, but also the strengths and strategies job seekers can use to remove barriers to work, enhancing case management services throughout the process.
How We Can Help
Our Workforce Development Accelerator is a pre-configured version of Exponent Case Management that supports every stage of your employment program. It encourages best practices such as removing individual employment barriers to ensure job readiness, placement and retention services, and effective employer engagement. From intake and assessment to employment planning, service tracking, and reporting, the Workforce Development Accelerator has you covered. Watch the on demand webinar to learn more and contact us to schedule a live demo for your organization.