The pandemic has exacerbated the need for improvements in how we train and protect our workforce. Some of these needs are immediate, such as better worker health protections during the pandemic. Other needs are more longstanding but still urgent, such as equipping workers with the skills that will be demanded in the labor market in coming years. We propose three avenues to make progress along these lines. First, doing more to support the higher education sector in skills training. Second, focusing federal worker training programs on particular occupations and skills. And third, doing much more to support private-sector unions.

On all three fronts, enormous challenges were evident even prior to the pandemic. For example, for decades the higher education sector has faced significant declines in enrollment in the face of demographic changes and cuts in funding that could help to support necessary innovations. In addition, employer-paid and government-funded worker training have been on the decline for years. Finally, private-sector union membership has been declining for decades, meaning decreased support for on-the-job training and worker protections.

The pandemic has made the need for better worker training and protection more urgent and apparent, and recent policies have been insufficient to address these problems. COVID-19 has created significant and widely documented problems for higher education: enrollment has dropped, institutions have struggled to move classes online, and significant inequities in access to broadband and hardware have hampered students. Although federal actions provided some financial support, it has neither been sufficient nor effectively distributed. Moreover, the pandemic will accelerate trends toward automation, putting some skills in high demand and others in low demand, making the recovery in the labor market more difficult. As those changes and the ongoing pandemic put workers at risk, policies have done little to support private-sector unions.

Read the full article about preparing U.S. workers for the post-Covid economy by Kristen E. Broady, Moriah Macklin, and Jimmy O'Donnell at Brookings.