Can Technology Help Workers Unlock Pandemic-Proof Careers?

Worker-Focused Career Navigation: Overlooked Tool in Our Recovery Toolbox.

Published mar. 30, 2021

Now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the prolonged economic free fall that came with it, unemployment remains alarmingly high. While the latest estimates from the Congressional Budget Office bring the welcome news that the economy could rebound sooner than originally anticipated, the United States has still yet to recover the 10 million jobs it lost last year.

Economists predict it could take another two years for the country to return to full employment. Some are even forecasting that more than 40 percent of layoffs that occurred during the pandemic may become permanent job losses. Millions of displaced workers are potentially not only out of the job — they may also be out of an entire industry.

At the same time, there are more than 6 million unfilled jobs. In spite of the unprecedented labor market volatility, employers are still ready to hire. For millions of workers, finding work now and in the years after the economic downturn will mean retooling themselves for “pandemic-proof” careers in new and often unfamiliar industries and job functions.

Learn More

JFFLabs' "Career Navigation Technology 2020" Market Scan

But career reinvention doesn’t come easy. Not every worker can go back to college, and the explosion of online learning and certification programs makes navigating career transitions more confusing and less certain. They must traverse a maze of important questions and decisions with little insight into what pathways make the most sense. Recent and emerging innovations in career navigation tools can help.

Even in a relatively stable economy, searching for a career remains a chaotic and confusing process.It requires workers to navigate a byzantine system of job boards, career networks, and advice websites — not to mention a public workforce system that relies on an aging policy infrastructure.

It’s a challenge that is compounded for well over half of American workers, who toil in entry-level or mid-skill jobs, and most of whom do not have a college degree. And it’s one that will only grow in the months ahead as the pandemic continues to reshape our economy and workforce.

Fortunately, this moment of profound labor market uncertainty is coinciding with the explosion of new technology tools. This is particularly true for technology designed to simplify the process of landing a new job.

More than $6.7 billion in venture capital was invested in career navigation companies in 2019 alone. But there remains a massive investment disparity in the career navigation market. The relative lack of adequate tools, especially tools designed to help underserved and overlooked workers build both skills and social networks, has left the most vulnerable workers largely unsupported.

This means those workers who perhaps could most benefit from innovative, high-quality career navigation technology are least likely to have access to those tools. Workers must chart their courses through a complex, fast-changing landscape further transformed by a global pandemic, massive economic disruption, and the growing displacement of jobs by automation and artificial intelligence.

And, far too often, they must do it alone. Indeed, much of the market for worker-centered career navigation services today is limited to low-quality “free” job search tools or systems offering more transactional, easy-to-automate support, such as resume writing or portfolio-building assistance.

The system is badly broken — which means there is tremendous room for tools that make an impact not only for workers but for our entire economy. A growing coalition of businesses, education providers, and philanthropies have taken notice and are working to address this breakdown in the market—the gap between who is most in need of support and who can pay and provide for it.

Organizations like SkillUp and Rework America Alliance, for example, partner with leading employers to offer career guidance and low-cost training to displaced workers. Meanwhile, online talent marketplaces like Opportunity@Work can help employers identify qualified job candidates, specifically STARS workers, an industry term referring to the millions of talented workers “skilled through alternative routes” rather than a traditional four-year degree.

The emergence of career navigation technology is poised to change the way that Americans find their next career step—and not a moment too soon. At this precarious moment for the labor market, technology may enable us to shift from a confusing, transactional and broken process for workers—and to an experience that brings the job search to them.