In the world of workforce organizations, 2020 presented an entirely new challenge that no one was prepared for. Like many businesses, institutions, and agencies, nonprofits that help people get into the workforce had to pivot to serve their communities. On top of that, the employment landscape was drastically changing as lockdowns were instituted. Companies began to rapidly re-evaluate their workforce needs.
The bottom line is that workforce organizations are not tech companies. Their main jobs are to provide job training, job placement and the skills workers need to secure permanent employment. It’s a world of meeting people where they are, building personal relationships and providing the much-needed support individuals need during times of significant transition. But, when the world “goes virtual,” how have workforce organizations been able to cope? And what do they need to meet the challenges of 2021—a year still riddled with uncertainties?
Last year saw record unemployment rates, but many workforce organizations struggled to deal with virtual work, increased demand for services or the dire need for modern technology. Many workforce organizations still struggle with dated technology. But the promise of modern technology that can empower organizations virtually can help them continue to provide services without delays or disruptions.
What Happened in 2020?
In 2020, workforce organizations were trying to get people job-ready, but they were also dealing with the challenge of working with clients virtually. One of the workforce organization’s primary goals is providing workforce readiness programs, training, support and initiatives. This might include testing a person’s proficiency in specific jobs and tasks. Then, of course, job placement is next. But the sheer number of individuals that were seeking help and assistance in 2020 was unprecedented. Organizations were struggling to make sure they had enough resources and staff to help everyone in need. These organizations were on the front lines of assisting people in mapping their next best steps to securing permanent employment. The need had never been greater.
According to the Congressional Research Service, which provides non-partisan data for members of the U.S. Congress, the unemployment rate “peaked at an unprecedented level, not seen since data collection started in 1948, in April 2020 (14.7%) before declining to a still-elevated level in November(6.7%). In April, every state and the District of Columbia reached unemployment rates greater than their highest unemployment rates during the Great Recession.”
The Pew Research Center also reported in September 2020 that job loss has deeply affected certain demographic groups more than others. Their report states, “Overall, 25% of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household was laid off or lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak, with 15% saying this happened to them personally. Young adults (ages 18 to 29) and lower-income adults are among the most likely to say this has occurred in their household. Of those who say they personally lost a job, half say they are still unemployed, a third have returned to their old job and 15% are in a different job than before.”
Workforce organizations were overwhelmed with the sheer volume of people who needed training and job placement services. Concurrently, employers did not have a clear understanding of what would happen from month to month. New efficiencies through technology immediately became an essential need for both workforce organizations and employers. Shifting in-person activities and services online was not a plan that organizations could roll out over several months. It had to happen now. And because of the urgency, the technological challenges that had always been a persistent struggle had now been amplified and exposed. If tech solutions weren’t implemented right away, people could easily fall through the cracks.
How Can New Technologies Help?
For a lot of nonprofits, technology is in the background. Because of 2020, workforce organizations were forced to make technology a priority. Doing this gives them the impetus to go digital with data collection in a big way. And in the long-term, this can lead to better data collection and a better response to their clients. A robust dashboard becomes a single solution that empowers administrators to track and report information better. That drives positive outcomes for program participants. If workforce organizations can continue to pivot and adopt new technologies, this will help drive innovation— not just in this sector— but across the board.
Some organizations underestimate the amount of time it takes to get up to speed with a new platform. But months down the line, they realize that making that investment in time and resources has a major positive impact on operations and outcomes. Organizations need and, more importantly, want to do this now. More organizations now understand and embrace the importance of making an immediate change toward technology adoption not as a stop-gap measure but as a long-term plan for success. The main obstacles to success have been the lack of staff available to meet the explosion of needs and the funding to implement technology changes.
But remember, workforce organizations are also dealing with employers who face similar challenges in going remote. Everyone seems to be experiencing the same learning curve, and that’s okay. The bottom line is that organizations are adapting and making those necessary changes.
Top Tips for Business Continuity in Workforce Organizations:
1) Understand the New Needs of Employers: Having stronger relationships with employers are more important than ever. Remember, employers are still in the process of addressing their own workforce needs. Because of the pandemic, some jobs have been phased out, but others have started to emerge. Workforce organizations are working overtime to help their clients prepare for a new economy with very different needs. Embark on relationships with new employers and revisit old or existing ones to understand the pandemic economy’s evolving needs.
2) Get Creative with Job Fairs: With workforce organizations, job fairs are a significant way to connect people with potential opportunities. In the COVID era, it’s unlikely in-person job fairs will return to their former levels. Getting creative with virtual job fairs and developing better ways to link prospects with employers that can get them work has become a big initiative that depends on efficient technologies to deliver.
3) Invest in New Tech Now: Apricot 360 provides a strong foundation for online, operational and service activities like case management, intake, job training, job readiness program, assessments and more. The platform can also support critical virtual outreach. So, Apricot 360 is not just for the participants that workforce organizations are working with, but it also helps staff conduct business with high efficiency. Instead of relying on paper files and in-person meetings and interactions, staff—who are primarily working from home– can share a database of information and knowledge throughout the organization. These changes will have a positive and profound long-term effect on how workforce organizations serve communities.
Learn more about how technology can assist your workforce organization by watching a demo today.