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‘Just-in-Time Hiring’ a Luxury of the Past in Post-Pandemic Economy

Published May 25, 2021 by Susan Moore

Tamla Oates-Forney of Waste Management and Louise Wiggins of Boston Consulting Group spoke during a May 2021 Restart Houston event

Tamla Oates-Forney and Louise Wiggins discussed how companies can strategically and proactively prepare for an unknown future by focusing on upskilling employees for expanded career pathways.

Gone is the luxury of "just-in-time hiring" and hoping to find talent for immediate needs, according to Tamla Oates-Forney, senior vice president and chief people officer for Fortune 500 company Waste Management. 

“We have to be more intentional about determining what we’re going to need and when we’re going to need it, when we need to hire, and the skills we need to develop,” she said during a Partnership Restart Houston event focused on upskilling and reskilling the region’s workforce for the post-pandemic economy.

Louise Wiggins, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partner and managing director, joined Oates-Forney in the conversation, moderated by Peter Beard, Partnership senior vice president of regional workforce development and leader of its UpSkill Houston initiative.

Wiggins presented three trends emerging from the ongoing digital transformation of work and reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic with big implications for businesses and organizations large and small:

  • Skills are becoming obsolete more quickly, requiring individuals to re-invent themselves by obtaining new skills.
  • The growing integration of automation and AI is changing what jobs are needed and how those jobs are done.
  • The pace of change has accelerated, making it harder to predict what jobs will be in demand in the future.

These trends mean companies must strategically and proactively prepare for an unknown future by focusing on upskilling employees for expanded career pathways and by reconsidering their value propositions. The Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative can help employers work together and strengthen talent pipelines for their industries and businesses.

Prepare for Diminishing “Half-Life” of Skills

The introduction of personal computers and other subsequent technologies during the digital age rapidly accelerated the rate at which some skills, linked to outdated technologies, became obsolete and needed to be replaced. The pandemic quickened the pace. 

As Wiggins explained, this “half-life” of skills decreased from 10 years in the 1960’s to two-and-a-half to five years today. Now, working individuals will have to develop new skills and capabilities or “re-invent” themselves three or four times over a career, she said. 

But workers are willing to learn. 

Findings from a new study from BCG and the corporate online recruiting alliance The Network, include that more than two of every three workers globally are willing to retrain for new jobs, and this willingness is not limited to particular industries or job types. The pandemic emerged amid concerns among workers across industries, job fields and geographies of being replaced by technology; the study shows that anxiety has grown for more than 40 percent of workers globally. More than 70 percent of workers in job roles that faced the greatest risk of replacement – and that felt the worst displacement due to COVID-19 – indicated a willingness to retrain. (UpSkill Houston’s “Navigating the Changing Nature of Work” report discusses this risk within the greater Houston region.)

Oates-Forney described how the pandemic-driven adoption of digital technologies are playing out across Waste Management. Distancing rules altered the way drivers clocked in and out; they no longer line up to use a time clock but instead track their time using mobile devices (and learned how to do so), she said. The company evaluated whether jobs could be conducted remotely, in the office or through a hybrid model and some, such as customer service roles, were shifted to remote-only, generating the need for new tools and systems to assess productivity, Oates-Forney said.

Waste Management proactively considers the skills it needs within its workforce and approaches career development in terms of movement through a lattice rather than up a ladder. It supports building transferrable skills for broad movement versus "deep domain" building to facilitate progression in one area, Oates-Forney said. It recently partnered with Guild Education to help manage education assistance benefits programs for employees, and partners with community-based organizations to provide supports and wraparound services employees may need to achieve success.

Though Guild Education, which focuses its work on frontline workers of Fortune 500 companies, can be a good solution for building skills development programs at scale, companies can also look to community colleges, online courses and community partners to build training and development programs.

Reconsider the Value Proposition

Focusing on workforce skills, education and support like childcare assistance can help companies offer a strong value proposition to prospective and incumbent workers in competitive labor markets, such as Wiggins described in sectors that experienced high worker layoffs and furloughs at the start of the pandemic but are now trying to reopen. Employers will need to highlight what makes them different and emphasize how a lower wage role is part of a pathway to something bigger, she said. Waste Management’s approach to mobility through career lattices is one example; extending education benefits to employees – and to their families – is another.

Additionally, these emphases will help companies drive an equitable recovery, as the pandemic disproportionately sidelined women, Hispanic and Black workers, and workers with less education than a bachelor’s degree.   

The pandemic has also pushed managers to lead with more humility, transparency, and compassion.

“The past year has accelerated and amplified so many needs in terms of reskilling and upskilling and provided resources and funding [to support them].” Wiggins said. “The other thing that it's taught us is to have compassion for one another and to bring compassion into the workplace.”

 

To view a recording of this presentation, members can log into the Membership Portal at the top right of this screen. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here or contact membership@houston.org

The Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative works to strengthen the talent pipeline employers need to grow their businesses and to help all Houstonians build relevant skills and connect to good careers that increase their economic opportunity and mobility. Learn how.
 

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