Giving Compass' Take:

• Robert I. Lerman discusses the benefits of investing in upskilling programs for unemployed Americans to improve math and reading skills for the future workforce.  

• How can donors help invest in upskilling programs or provide resources for the unemployed during this time?

• Learn more about the importance of upskilling and how policy can support this practice. 

Efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 have shut down much of American production, led to massive layoffs and reduced hiring, and endangered many American businesses. The scale of the lost output, revenues, and wages is unprecedented.

Replacing workers’ lost incomes through unemployment insurance (UI) and offering concessionary loans to businesses suffering extraordinary revenue losses are needed but have little impact on the declining production of goods and services.

They’re a stopgap, not the solution.

What can be done, especially for businesses and workers not lucky enough to generate production, sales, and incomes through remote operations?

It might sound counterintuitive, but now—during the COVID-19 crisis—is the best time for investing in skills.

America hasn’t been training enough workers for a long time. The result has been a serious mismatch between job requirements and worker capabilities. Too few workers qualify for the jobs available in information technology, advanced manufacturing, logistics, and certain health fields.

Part of the problem is that many workers lack the basic math and reading skills necessary to increase productivity and earn good wages.

We can make a dent in these long-term problems by investing in skills during today’s shutdown. Because they can’t go to work, many workers have the time to become active learners; training will not displace other production.

Using dollars from the new economic stimulus, the US government could support a program to upgrade the skills of American workers, especially those experiencing sudden unemployment. At a time when production of goods and services is dropping off dramatically, the program would increase the supply of human capital.

What kinds of skill development should be subsidized? How can we ensure government funds genuinely enhance skills and competencies?

  1. Financial support to increase generic skills in math, reading, and language
  2. Funding for virtual apprenticeships and other in-demand occupational skills

Read the full article about investing in upskilling Americans by Robert I. Lerman at Urban Institute.