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COVID-19 has caused the future of work to arrive years earlier than expected, a fact that could leave many of America’s workers jobless.

The reason: The nature of work is becoming more digitized—something we saw even before the pandemic—and many in the U.S. labor force aren’t yet equipped to succeed in a job market that demands a new set of skills.

Key numbers:

  • Thirteen million jobs have been added in the country since 2013, but nearly two-thirds require at least a medium proficiency in digital skills, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • And the employees who are most at risk, as evidenced by the pandemic, are workers with less than a college degree, a group that makes up about 70% of the country’s workforce, according Beth Cobert, CEO at Skillful and COO at the Markle Foundation.

The solution: Event participants nearly unanimously agreed that two major things could help the U.S. turn this trend around:

  • Expanding access to critical technologies, such as wifi access or 5G, to places that lack access.
  • Helping Americans develop the digital skills they need – with or without a degree – to land good-paying, fast-growing jobs. This includes teaching individuals basic digital skills, providing pathways to career mobility through digital tools like Google’s free career certificates, and increasing the number of public-private partnerships that help people prepare for the future of work.

What Google is saying:

“We've invested big in the Google IT Support Certificate. There are other Google career certificates coming out that help people move into these high growth, good-paying jobs with less than a college degree. It's not the only solution, but I think it's one thing we're really excited about. It could offer a pathway for similar employers.”

– Andrew Dunckelman, Head of Impact and Insights, Google.org.

The takeaway: When combined, greater access to technology and digital skills can help Americans economically recover from the pandemic and quickly adjust to the changing economy.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 28, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of financial inclusion

On Thursday, January 28, Axios' Dan Primack hosted a conversation on financial inclusion in the global economy, featuring Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Institute for Women's Policy Research CEO C. Nicole Mason.

Sen. Tina Smith discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, uneven access to technology, and the role of systemic racism in growing economic inequities.

  • On what she thinks will be the most effective way to move the needle on financial equity: "Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour...is one of the biggest things that we can do to address the wage inequality and savings potential for people of color in this country."
  • On Democrats' economic goals going into the new administration: "Addressing this kind of discrimination in financial services and creating more opportunities for people of color to get access to banking services, loans, access to capital is a big priority for us as [Democrats] move into the majority."

C. Nicole Mason discussed how job losses during the pandemic reflect existing gender and racial inequities, as well as the disproportionate burden of childcare on women.

  • On the scale of job losses for women: "Since the start of the pandemic, women have exited the workforce at four times the rate of men, so about 11 million women since the start of the pandemic have lost their jobs or exited the workforce."
  • On childcare as an equity issue: "With the pandemic, the burden [of childcare] doubled and tripled...We need a national childcare infrastructure where we keep up childcare as a public good and people can access it regardless of their income or ability."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of Europe, Visa Charlotte Hogg, who discussed digital and financial inclusion as a component of economic equity during the pandemic.

  • "We have to think about inclusion as being digitally, financially included. [From] small businesses who are increasingly important in driving towards a more inclusive recovery and who need to be digitally enabled to participate in that, [to] consumers who for various reasons may be vulnerable."

Thank you Visa for sponsoring this event.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
44 mins ago - Science

NASA's Mars helicopter is a test for the future of space exploration

Ingenuity (left) with Perseverance on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA is set to fly the first test flight of its tiny Ingenuity helicopter on Mars Sunday, marking the advent of drones for space exploration.

Why it matters: If successful, this flight will be the first time a human-built aircraft has flown on a world other than Earth, opening the door to new means of exploring planets far from our own.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The global future is looking dark and stormy

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

A new 20-year-forecast for the world: increasingly fragmented and turbulent.

The big picture: A major report put out this week by the National Intelligence Council reflects a present rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. How the next two decades will unfold depends largely on whether new technologies will ultimately unite us — or continue to divide us.