By Bhushan Sethi
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best of society at a challenging time. The dedication of health care workers and others leading on the front lines is inspiring.
The creativity and flexibility shown by people in businesses around the world provide examples of businesses trying to do their best to support employees and communities. Looking ahead, our society is faced with a great collective responsibility.
We must recover, but make sure that the future we build is one that we would all wish to see – a world that recouples economic and social progress, and serves a common purpose.
This pandemic is changing society. There is little prospect of returning to the world exactly as we knew it. Supply chains have been upended, working and travel habits broken, and social norms disrupted. Above all, the pandemic has shown the power we can generate if we all – business, governments and society at large – pull together. It has reinforced the case for a new normal where economic activity and societal needs are aligned.
The creation of ‘good jobs’ should be a priority in this new world. COVID-19 has hurt industries and livelihoods, with millions of jobs lost and many more that could be lost in the aftermath; almost every G20 nation is expecting recession, which will accelerate the displacement of workers.
Before the pandemic, while unemployment rates were falling across G20 nations, the hollowing out of middle income work was starting to ring alarm bells. Many workers displaced by automation and new operating models – facing a lack of time and support to acquire the skills needed to pivot toward other ‘good jobs’ – were forced to accept precarious, lower-skilled, lower paid jobs.
Jobs that, during the pandemic, are often on the front lines and have greater potential exposure to the virus.
Jobs will likely return as economies recover, but the quality of those jobs is up to us. Since 1990, 63% of all jobs created in the US private sector have been low wage, low hours work.
Poor-quality jobs come with an economic and societal cost – accelerated income disparity, damaged trust in institutions and governments, lower tax and social security revenue, increased social safety net costs and ultimately, a hit on GDP.
Job quality matters. Workers in ‘good jobs’ – which at PwC we define as work that’s paid fairly, is reasonably secure and motivating, and which uses human skills – tend to be more fulfilled and therefore more productive.
It is no longer adequate to redeploy excess talent supply from one sector to another (as we are seeing during COVID-19, for example from aviation to food retail), without taking a vested interest in providing these workers with ‘good work’ opportunities and retooling them for future employability through continuous skills development.
According to Cedefop’s 2018 European Skills and Jobs Survey, 40% of EU workers feel that their skills are underutilized; the global recovery will be stronger and faster if organizations focus on placing workers in ‘good jobs’ that develop and capitalize on their human skills (such as creativity, problem-solving and adaptability), and automate the tasks that are better suited to technology.
For knowledge workers who are able to work remotely for the next 12-18 months, there will be a particular need to also focus on health and wellbeing, monitoring of working hours and burnout within an environment that requires greater design and adoption of digital tools and ways of working with colleagues, communities and suppliers.
The ultimate aim should be to encourage the creation of enough ‘good jobs’ to replace both jobs lost and the ‘bad jobs’ that remain. If achieved, business will benefit from higher productivity, society will benefit from better use of resources, and people can be more fulfilled.
Economies and businesses can meet the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means accepting that investment in upskilling workers so they can pivot to ‘good jobs’ is as important as investing in technology and automation.
These investments should be safeguarded and accelerated (if possible) even as businesses and governments see balance sheets weakening as a result of the pandemic. It may also take coordinated action by policymakers – we suggest five urgent priorities:
- Establish a G20 working group to identify the drivers of job quality and crucially, agree a common measure of job quality linked to business and societal outcomes.
- The foundation of a G20 research institution with the aim of building awareness of the economic and societal value of good jobs.
- Coordinated action to rebalance the demand for human skills – and the volume and value of those skills – alongside an increased use of automation may require the use of policy action to raise wage levels and reduce precarious work in order to drive faster change.
- Raise awareness of evidence around the benefit and impact of social support mechanisms and labour market standards in supporting workers as they pivot to ‘good jobs’.
- Consider the launch of ‘quality jobs’ disclosure requirements for G20 policy makers in an effort to influence business leaders to report on the impacts of technology investments or other labor demand or supply shocks on ‘good work’ dimensions.
COVID-19 is apolitical and impersonal, but the global response requires alignment between the interests of business, economies and societies. Our global society urgently needs change to drive the recoupling agenda forward. We all have an interest in each other’s success.
The author is Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, Principal at PwC, United States.
(The article was earlier published on pwc.com)