Steven Preston, who heads a non-profit helping vulnerable Americans find jobs, received a call last week from representatives of MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Scott, the world’s 18th-richest person, was donating $20 million to Preston’s organization – Goodwill Industries International – which helps people of color, people with disabilities and people without a high school diploma, among others, find work.
In the past four months, Scott has donated more than $4 billion to food banks and emergency relief funds fighting the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to Preston about the impact of COVID-19 on joblessness in the U.S. and the future of work in 2021.
The bigger picture
Scott’s donations come at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has left more than 10 million Americans unemployed, with job losses particularly affecting women and people of color, deepening poverty and social inequality across the country.
“Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires,” Scott wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.
Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the pandemic continues to hit communities and has left non-profits wondering if donors next year will continue to provide the support they need to fulfil their mission.
How has COVID-19 changed the U.S. job market?
The pandemic has forced businesses up and down the country to go digital – whether by using online platforms to interact with customers or through digitalised inventory management and remote track-and-trace systems in supply chain logistics.
As lower-wage jobs become automated, new job opportunities are emerging requiring digital and technology skills from basic computer literacy to coding and programming, said Preston.
But many job seekers, particularly those without a high school diploma and college education, aren’t equipped to access such jobs opportunities without skills training.
“People whose jobs have gone away need to be able to compete for the jobs that are emerging,” Preston told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Goodwill Industries has seen a spike in demand in 2020 for courses in sectors like logistics, electrical engineering, and healthcare, including pharmacy technicians and nursing assistants.
How will Goodwill Industries spend Scott’s donation?
Preston said the money would be invested in Goodwill Industries’ large network of local partner organizations across the United States which run job centres, teach digital and job skills and help unemployed adults without a high school diploma go back to school.
Particular attention will be given to helping low-wage workers, people of color, people with disabilities, and people without a high school diploma, to get jobs.
“It’s not just finding them a job. It’s helping people get the support and skills they need for meaningful, sustainable, good jobs,” Preston said.
What will the U.S. job market look like in 2021?
While it’s certain more businesses will pivot to being on online, it’s less clear to what extent industries like retail, food and hospitality will bounce back and how.
“Will people go to stores again to the same degree, will they go into restaurants, will they travel, will they use hotels?,” said Preston.
“As companies begin building back .. are they going to be hiring the same kinds of jobs or is there going to be a clear demand for a higher level of skills or different level of skills,?” he said.
As such, jobs training will need to adapt with a greater focus on digital skills to ensure people can find employment as the economy starts to rebound.