In March 2020, many Americans packed up their desks, lockers, dorm rooms, or work supplies as the nation began what would turn into state by state, city by city, lockdowns in the battle to contain COVID-19. While the months that followed brought uncertainty, isolation from friends and family, and challenges working and learning remotely, they also brought innovation, compassion, and a resiliency grounded in determination to continue with daily life.
This mass shift to the “new normal” as it would be dubbed, had a particularly strong effect on our students, with millions being impacted by public school closures by mid-March.
Graduations and proms would be missed or restructured to take place on Zoom. Birthday parties became drive by events, as people waved and shouted from cars decorated for the occasion. And teachers began to transform classrooms as we knew them, moving curriculums online and kickstarting a coast-to-coast remote learning experiment. Some would argue that such upheaval dissolved learning during those months, and some of that may be true. However, we must also recognize the new skills developed and the long-term benefits gained by the generation that was forced to excel through such a challenging time.
As educational institutions were forced to reevaluate their systems, students learned how to adapt. They learned to be flexible in stressful and emotional situations, followed online learning courses and the technologies they ran on, and collaborated effectively with peers while working remotely. As 2020 graduates begin to move from virtual classrooms to (possibly) virtual work, they bring with them not only these new skills, but also a strength and resiliency built upon their unique experiences.
Their search for employment, however, may take longer than planned. The pandemic has had a vast impact on the economy, and with that a record 26 million Americans applied for unemployment in its wake. But the job market is already inching it’s way towards recovery, with rebounds in manufacturing, retail, construction, and health and education.
As employers look to bring in new talent as the economy recovers, they have an opportunity to hire from the talented pool of nearly 4 million recent graduates from the 2019-2020 academic year.
When welcoming these new employees into the workforce, it’s important to consider the experience they’ve gone through and create a work environment that supports, and thus retains, this new generation. With that, two areas of utmost importance stand out:
Building a foundation of trust has always been essential to creating an engaged and empowered workforce, but it’s more important now than ever given the challenges this new generation has faced with COVID. Employers can make strides in developing this as part of their culture through consistent communication that keeps employees feeling informed, connected, and safe when on the job. This communication can come in many forms, whether through a quick update on a timeclock, pre-shift meetings with managers, corporate emails, or mobile communications. Mobile technologies like Beekeeper and Rodio also enable communication for industries with large frontline or hourly workforces such as manufacturing and retail.
Managing work-life balance and flexibility is top of mind for new employees, especially considering the challenges they face today. Employers can take steps to create this balance by looking for opportunities to help them through personal challenges in their lives, whether they are working remotely or have returned to work on-site. For example, mobile-ready workforce management technology enables employees to easily access their schedule from anywhere and take actions including swapping shifts, or submitting time off requests. Enabling the workforce with this flexibility saves employees’ time, not a newfound currency but one of added importance since the start of the pandemic.
Mobile-first extensible solutions also enable employees to submit requests for earned wage access. Earned wage access allows employees to access the wages they have already earned before the next scheduled payroll. This is an important benefit for employees, as some are facing enhanced financial stressors brought on by the pandemic.
As employers task their human resources departments with hiring and onboarding this strong and resilient generation, they must keep in mind not just the traditional skillsets required for the job, but also the real-life skills that have been developed in the last year. Creating a work environment that supports them will build a more robust, productive, and engaged workforce poised to help lift industries through the recovery.