COVID-19 and its effect on employment is top of mind for job seekers and employers. The labor crisis is affecting millions of people who were gainfully employed just two months ago and are now applying for unemployment benefits. When industry and business do open back up, the hiring market will restart. However, minorities and women of color, specifically, will face even higher hurdles.
I spoke with Bertina Ceccarelli, the CEO of the national tech training program, NPower, which provides free technology training, helping minorities, women of color, and military veterans obtain the skills for tech careers. Ms. Ceccarelli sees a disturbing societal pattern developing during this pandemic that starkly resembles the 2008 economic crisis and could be worse. She told me what she sees in the employment industry and where she fears it will head after the pandemic.
The Pandemic and Inequality
“History shows us that an economic recession almost always follows national or global crises,” Ms. Ceccarelli told me. She went on to say, “This particular public health emergency will have a more profound structural impact on the future of work and education, our healthcare systems, and our social contract. Low-income families and people of color are already disproportionately affected, and their prospects for economic mobility post-pandemic are grim if we don’t make wise choices today to prioritize an inclusive recovery.
Unfortunately, diversity often takes a backseat in the hiring process during an economic recovery. And in the technology sector, minorities and women of color are already underrepresented. Only 4% of all tech professionals are Latinas or black women. These groups could be further left behind as companies come out of this pandemic and hire new tech talent. Those who aren’t already in the tech pipeline for employment will have a slim chance of getting hired post-COVID-19.”
Ms. Ceccarelli believes now is the time to consider enacting policies and practices that support the most at-risk communities to prevent a further widening of the economic gap between America’s wealthy and the poor.
Employment in Tech
When asked about how the tech world may be affected by the pandemic, Ms. Ceccarelli said, “Before the coronavirus, there were exponential growth in information technology (IT) jobs. There was progress in expanding opportunities to minorities and women of color. The job market for IT workers is expected to rebound rapidly and will include more opportunities for remote IT troubleshooting roles, as well as positions in cloud and cybersecurity.”
Even during this crisis, Ms. Ceccarelli’s organization, NPower, is getting cold calls from companies looking to hire NPower students for remote jobs. NPower corporate partners are still showing support to hire NPower students for internships and helping them start new careers in technology.
Post-Pandemic Job Trends
For over a decade, NPower has been moving people from poverty to the middle class through tech skills training and job placement. It supplies corporations with a pipeline of newly trained diverse students for hard-to-fill tech jobs. One hundred percent of NPower students are unemployed or underemployed, and the majority are Black/African American and Latinx with about a third women of color. Those who are employed when they enroll with NPower typically earn low, hourly wages in the retail, hospitality, and restaurant fields. She indicated, “They are often the first to lose their jobs during times of upheaval and, historically, the last to receive support to stabilize when the job market rebounds. This crisis is an opportunity to revisit the unequal structure of our society and do something differently.”
Despite it all, Ms. Ceccarelli remains optimistic that the technology, healthcare, and financial industries will play a critical role in helping reverse this trend.
After speaking with this inspiring CEO, I thought about all of the diverse populations who were already facing employment challenges pre-COVID-19: Military Veterans, Military Spouses, persons with disabilities, and so many more. While some corporations are re-training their recruiters and hiring managers to reduce “unconscious biases,” it is alive and well. NPower is an example of an organization that is readying its diverse future candidates to shine and compete for jobs. The skills these students learn will stick with them for the long career journey ahead of them.
3. Excluded From “Veteran” Hiring Programs
Over the last 10 years, the combined corporate effort to hire veterans has accomplished its goal and continues to make a huge impact. Although under-employment is still high for veterans and transitioning service members, it is moving in the right direction. And veteran unemployment is at just 3% nationwide.
However, for many companies, military spouses are not included in their veteran hiring metric.
It’s tricky for companies, too, since it is hard to know if someone is really a military spouse. Military spouse job seekers are torn on whether they should be “loud and proud” about being a military spouse or if they shouldn’t mention it due to the negative biases they face.
What Can You Do?
Companies should strive to hire more military spouses because:
- They are diverse — most are female and represent wide ethnic and cultural diversity.
- They are highly educated, hardworking, and adaptable.
- They are customer-focused.
- They are fierce learners. Give them a challenge and they will exceed expectations.
- With flex work on the rise and a skilled worker gap, their cross-group collaboration and communications experiences make them an ideal fit.
If you are hiring and welcoming military spouses, share your open positions with your local or leading national U.S. military spouse support organizations. I donate my services to a few of these, including the United Service Organizations, Hiring Our Heroes, and Blue Star Families. There are plenty more out there as well. Also, make sure your remote positions are on FlexJobs.com.
When you encounter a military couple (veteran, active duty, National Guard/Reserve), please don’t just thank the veteran, but go out of your way to thank their spouse for their support to our country. There is so much awareness-building and action we need to take for these men and women.