Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago hosted a leadership forum about workforce development in the Chicagoland area. During the forum, leaders from Goodwill and Chicago community leaders discussed:
- Current economic trends
- Workforce development solutions that can help employers
- Removing barriers to employment access
It’s no secret that employers are struggling to find enough workers to fill open positions. Experts at the forum discussed ways to address a combination of reasons it is difficult for people to find jobs, including:
- Technology literacy
- A generational digital divide
- Job search challenges unique to underserved communities
Technology literacy and searching for a job
The pandemic accelerated our society’s move towards a more online way of living and working. In the pre-pandemic world, businesses who were posting open positions to websites for job seekers would still let you walk in and fill out an application, or they might have had a computer in the lobby for you to apply online. People without computer skills could visit a workforce development center like our Goodwill Workforce Connection Centers and get digital skills support to create a resume and apply for jobs online.
The pandemic forced an immediate and emergency change to the way jobs were filled, making every aspect of searching for a job virtual. In-person support for job seekers who lacked computer skills created a digital divide that not everyone in our society was able to bridge. Today, video interviewing is the norm, resumes are reviewed by computers and need to be keyword optimized and many employers hire candidates across the country to fill remote jobs.
A generational digital divide
It’s common knowledge that folks from different generations might have different comfort levels with technology and the speed of change. It is easy to feel like you are falling behind with new social media channels and artificial intelligence platforms. Older adults might be less comfortable with the online application process or participating in a video interview.
And what about the jobs themselves? Roles in healthcare look very different now: the patient remains the focus, but healthcare records are online, appointments are being scheduled on phone apps and screenings are often done via a virtual meeting.
How can we ensure people have the digital skills training needed to meet the requirements of that new kind of job? Working in customer service or in an office setting looks different now. Even accounting, teaching and many manufacturing jobs require computer literacy.
Job search challenges in underserved communities
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a computer or is able to navigate an employment search website on their own. If your socio-economic status does not allow you to own a computer, a smart phones or to have Wi-Fi at home, you are left behind. If you have never interviewed over MS Teams or Zoom, you are left behind.
For people without computers or access to the internet, the digital divide is even greater. In underserved communities, a lack of access to digital skills training and technology is magnified by unique new career options. Job seekers might not even be aware of roles their transferable skills can help them grow into.
Bridging the digital divide and employment gaps
Now that online recruiting and job searching is “normal,” how are we helping everyone catch up? This executive forum spoke to a new approach to traditional wrap around care services. Not only did the panelists lean into examples of helping candidates look for work, they focused on getting them assistance in education. We need to people trained for the kinds of jobs we have open right now and the kinds we’ll expect to see in the future. This means a whole new level of support is required to uplift folks with barriers.
Thanks to forums like the one Goodwill hosted, we can come together to share, collaborate, partner and discuss ways to solve this crisis. And it is a crisis – with the advancements around AI, Chat GPT, self-driving cars, electric cars, changes in public policy around environmental sustainability, we run the risk of more and more people being left behind.
We need to recognize this now and adjust the support we can offer, not only in a technology-focused manner, but also with a one-on-one approach. If we continue to come together – like at this powerful event – we can and will make deep impact for both candidates and employers, one person at a time.