每日英語跟讀 Ep.K159: Reinventing Workers for the Post-COVID Economy
The nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will hinge to some extent on how quickly show managers can become electricians, whether taxi drivers can become plumbers, and how many cooks can manage software for a bank.
This is likely to prove especially problematic for millions of low-paid workers in service industries like retailing, hospitality, building maintenance and transportation, which may be permanently impaired or fundamentally transformed. What will janitors do if fewer people work in offices? What will waiters do if the urban restaurant ecosystem never recovers its density?
Their prognosis is bleak. Marcela Escobari, an economist at the Brookings Institution, warns that even if the economy adds jobs as the coronavirus risk fades, “the rebound won’t help the people that have been hurt the most.”
Looking back over 16 years of data, Escobari finds that workers in the occupations most heavily hit since the spring will have a difficult time reinventing themselves. Taxi drivers, dancers and front-desk clerks have poor track records moving to jobs as, say, registered nurses, pipe layers or instrumentation technicians.
COVID is abruptly taking out a swath of jobs that were thought to be comparatively resilient, in services that require personal contact with customers. And the jolt has landed squarely on workers with little or no education beyond high school, toiling in the low-wage service economy.
“The damage to the economy and particularly to workers will probably be longer lasting than we think it is going to be,” said Peter Beard, senior vice president at the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development group.
What’s more, he said, COVID will intensify underlying dynamics that were already transforming the workplace. Automation, for one, will most likely accelerate as employers seek to protect their businesses from future pandemics.
The challenge is not insurmountable. Yet despite scattered success stories, moving millions of workers into new occupations remains an enormous challenge.
“We need a New Deal for skills,” said Amit Sevak, president of Revature, a company that hires workers, trains them to use digital tools and helps place them in jobs. “President Roosevelt deployed the massive number of workers unemployed in the Great Depression on projects that created many of the dams and roads and bridges we have. We need something like that.”