New Skilling Talent for New Jobs

Automation is transforming the workplace. The biggest impact will be on people with no post-secondary education whose jobs are less complex. In the DC metro area alone, perhaps half a million people fall into this category. Close to 40 percent of DC’s jobs are considered low wage, many of which are threatened by automation. Yet we also know that technology is a job creator—jobs these same people can often be retrained to do. And these jobs that interact with new technologies are often better jobs, which pay more, are more challenging, creative and meaningful. Employers should be on board with new skilling as well. They need to fill these positions.

The Federal City Council and Accenture co-hosted an event yesterday to bring all the institutional players to the table to brainstorm how to better prepare and link up these workers with the jobs of the future. FC2 Trustee and Accenture Senior Managing Director Marty Rodgers kicked off the event. Many of the city’s leading workforce advocates, education providers and employers were in attendance. Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke about her administration’s new push to match DC residents with jobs being created here in DC.

The topic is near and dear to Accenture. It recently committed to a redefinition of its responsibilities as a corporation—to its employees and stakeholders, rather than only to shareholders. Accenture also has a practical interest. Over the last five years, it’s had to retrain over 300,000 of its own workforce with new technologies. It’s started its own apprenticeship program and internal training academies. We heard from one Accenture apprentice, Arzo Aryan, who immigrated with her family from Afghanistan and had been recruited from NOVA to join the company.

To jumpstart the new skilling discussion across the country, Accenture has launched a broader Inclusive Future of Work initiative, and the District is the fifth city to host a brainstorming session.

Accenture spent the last few months interviewing people who need new skilling. Damien was a mail room manager who got laid off when his company adopted software that handled mail inventory. Janet was a retail cashier who needed to find a new role when self-checkout lanes were introduced. They are struggling to match their today with their tomorrow, and need help accelerating the next step up in their careers.

A panel, moderated by WAMU reporter Ally Schweitzer, dove into the DC context. Ahnna Smith, who leads the DC Workforce Investment Council, talked about all the resources already available to the region for large-scale new skilling, if only it were coordinated better. Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, head of the DC Department of Employment Services, talked about the imperative of getting employers in the driver seat and of focusing on soft skills like emotional intelligence, grit and resilience. Briana Nielsen from Marriott provided the employer perspective. Marriott puts together short training videos that its thousands of employees can access online.

The event finished with a group exercise where participants came up with a plan of action. Accenture collected all of the ideas. In partnership with FC2, Accenture plans to make the best ideas real in the coming year.