On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, following the release of our most recent report, Post-Covid Workforce Development: A Digital Transformation and What It Means for Workforce Professionals, Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) hosted a briefing on digital transformation in the workforce development field, including findings from our recent report and updates and perspectives from the field, both locally and nationally.
A Rapidly Digitizing Economy
WPTI Board Member Maya Washington, a Senior Manager at Deloitte Digital, introduced the session, and spoke about the increasing digitization of the world economy, and the need for the workforce development field to upgrade its digital infrastructure, as well as the digital fluency of workforce development professionals, in the midst of this rapidly changing environment and an increasingly tech-driven economy. In the aftermath of COVID-19, workforce development providers, like their counterparts in the private sector and the broader economy, are looking to bring their services as well as business operations online, and are looking to utilize this digitization to not only recover and survive, but ultimately thrive, increasing their reach and impact.
Brianna McCain, State Policy Analyst at the National Skills Coalition (NSC), discussed the importance of digital fluency for workers, and stressed the importance of digital equity in workforce development. According to NSC’s research, more than one third of Americans lack digital skills. Furthermore, while many assume that those lacking digital proficiency are often older adults, 24 percent of those lacking digital skills are actually between 16 and 24 years old. The challenge is particularly acute for workers of color, exacerbating inequities already present in the workforce. In responses to these critical challenges impacting the workforce, NSC has issued multiple recommendations, including but not limited to the following:
- To address the digital skills gap, closing feedback loops between workers and employers is essential. Namely, we must ensure that workers are being trained in the skills and areas most relevant to employer needs.
- We must address the “three-legged stool” of digital inclusion, namely ensuring that workers have access to high-speed internet, access to digital devices, and digital skills (a fourth “leg,” technical support, can also be considered part of the “stool”).
- Policy solutions must be implemented, namely providing guidance on how state and local governments can utilize federal workforce training funds for digital skill-building; investing in sector strategies and partnerships; ensuring that state incumbent worker funds can be used to support digital fluency; and utilizing COVID relief funds to support digital training.
To learn more about NSC’s digital equity work, CLICK HERE.
Post-Covid Workforce Development: A Digital Transformation
Following the presentation from Brianna McCain, economist Lina Moe of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School presented findings from the Spring 2021 study of NYC frontline workforce professionals conducted by WPTI and the Center for NYC Affairs, focused on the digital needs of these workers in the wake of COVID-19. The report focused on three primary categories of digital needs:
- Digital Tools
- New Work Norms
- Training and Support Needs
Key findings, revealed in our recent report, include the following:
- The overwhelming majority of respondents are currently working remotely or using a hybrid model of remote and in-person work, and expect to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
- Respondents are frequent users of digital communications tools, with email, phone and Zoom being the most common, followed by other tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Webex, and Slack. In fact, 95 percent reported using virtual meeting software.
- While as many as 50 percent of respondents are using a CRM system, 39 percent consider themselves “beginners,” thus necessitating additional training and skills building.
- 66 percent of respondents report using a learning management system (LMS) in the wake of COVID-19, nearly twice as many as had been using such software prior to the pandemic. Still, 43 percent of these users consider themselves “beginners” and in need of additional learning.
- Frontline workforce professionals frequently have had to pay for some of their own technology while working remotely, with more than two thirds paying for their own WiFi, 60 percent paying for their own cell phone, 56 percent providing their own printer, and 47 percent paying for their own tablet.
- With regard to expectations while working remotely, respondents report both an increased workload and increased tracking of their work time, on top of challenges communicating with participants and difficulties meeting outcome requirements, which has led to diminished morale.
- Ultimately, while increased digitization and new tools offer opportunities for increased flexibility and efficiency, digital transformation requires extensive planning and support for staff.
To learn more about our findings, please visit our website and read Post-Covid Workforce Development: A Digital Transformation and What It Means for Workforce Professionals.
A Panel of Leaders from NYC’s Workforce Community
Following the presentation on the findings from our recent report, we hosted a panel of workforce professionals and leaders from the field, who reflected on their experiences with digital transformation and remote work in the 18 months since COVID-19 arrived in New York City. They included:
- Alexandria Bellivan of the Actors Fund
- Suzanne Foran of Eckerd Connects
- Courtney Granger of Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow
- Joan St. John of Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow
Overall, the theme of the panel was adaptation. Multiple panelists spoke of incorporating new tools and learning as they went, repeatedly pivoting based on the needs of participants and staff. Alexandria Bellivan of the Actors’ Fund mentioned that the shift to online classes was a first for her organization, as was moving their support grant program to a digital platform. Furthermore, the rapid shift to providing classes and support grants online was compounded by an increase in demand for services due to the shutdown of theatres and entertainment venues. In order to increase efficiency and maximize staff’s ability to serve clients, the Actors’ Fund implemented digital tools like Calendly, which simplified the scheduling process and enabled them to spend less time on administration and more on client service.
Meanwhile, Eckerd Connects entered the era of remote work from a different standpoint, as a national organization that had required staff to work together across multiple offices in several states. Suzanne Foran of Eckerd indicated that for her organization, the primary challenge was streamlining communications and implementing consistent technology tools across all offices and employees, and ensuring that staff had the proper training to utilize these tools. By deciding which digital platforms and tools to utilize across the organization, Eckerd leadership could most effectively invest in staff training. In spite of this increased emphasis on digital programming, Eckerd found that program participants did not yet have the level of digital fluency needed to optimize asynchronous training, and as a result, they focused on providing live, facilitated training, albeit using a digital platform and interface.
As an organization that primarily serves young adults, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT) might be expected to serve a more digitally-savvy clientele. However, while many young adults are highly digitally fluent, OBT still faced challenges when pivoting to remote work and a digitally-driven service model. Most notably, the pandemic made recruitment of students more challenging, as it was hard to conduct outreach as well as assessment virtually. Particularly when working with young people, the ability to utilize multiple strategies and different points of contact can be particularly helpful to ensure that participants receive the services they need. Furthermore, many young adults served by OBT lacked sufficient digital resources, including WiFi and devices, and others were not fully digitally fluent, requiring additional support from OBT.
In spite of these challenges, all organizations spoke of the value that increased digital acuity and implementation of digital programming provided for both staff and participants. With patience, creativity, and a willing to “get their hands dirty,” these organizations have been able to effectively implement digital program models over time. Other organizations can learn lessons from their experience, and continue to adopt digital strategies to improve their programming in an increasingly digital work environment and tech-driven economy.
WPTI’s Digital Transformation Initiative
WPTI’s Managing Director of Digital Learning and Technology, Dan Salemson, shared updates on the implementation of WPTI’s Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI), which is designed to help workforce development providers implement digital infrastructure and enhance the digital skills of staff in an increasingly technology-driven marketplace. As part of this initiative, WPTI is:
- Digitizing our training library and implementing a Learning Management System (LMS) in order to offer asynchronous training on multiple topics anytime, anyplace, on any device
- Promoting learnings through a group of “early adopters” of digital strategies, and aligning an ecosystem for data sharing and outcomes tracking
- Creating Digital Learning Communities of providers to build capacity and share best practices for preparing workers for a changing economy
- Partnering with tech training providers to better equip them to prepare low-income jobseekers for tech sector careers
- Developing a digital roadmap that will allow the workforce development system and its providers to do more, better, faster
- And more…
Stay tuned for more updates regarding WPTI’s Digital Transformation Initiative in the coming months!
Conversations with Our Community
The session concluded with a series of breakout conversations among attendees, who represented a diverse array of workforce development stakeholders. Participants in these conversations discussed two fundamental questions regarding their experiences with digital transformation in the wake of COVID-19:
- What are the biggest challenges experienced with regard to digital transformation over the past 18 months?
- How could organizations, funders, and the broader workforce system, better support workforce providers and staff as they pivot to this increasingly digital work environment?
In response to these questions, participants spoke about limited digital resources, as well as limited digital fluency among jobseekers, and the need for support to better meet these needs. Furthermore, organizations frequently lack digital infrastructure, and staff need training on a range of digital tools, as well as with regard to helping participants upgrade their own digital skills. Lastly, attendees mentioned additional challenges that have arisen in a remote work environment, such as young adult jobseekers participating in training while in environments not entirely conducive to learning, such as crowded apartments with limited WiFi bandwidth or noisy areas, simply because that is where broadband access is available. Providers are looking to government and the philanthropic community to help with these infrastructure and resource challenges, in order to enable jobseekers to fully participate in the digital economy.
WPTI and the Center for NYC Affairs are poised to release a second report, based upon findings from our Spring 2021 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Development Professionals, in November. This report will explore the broader impact of COVID-19 on frontline workforce development professionals, including issues of hours and compensation, career plans, DEI, job quality, morale, and more. This will be followed by a series of policy recommendations in late Fall/early Winter. Each of these reports will be accompanied by a briefing, featuring voices from across the workforce community. To learn more about the Voices from the Frontline initiative and to read all of our reports, please visit our website.