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Training for the Pandemic Economy

The transition to the world being created by COVID-19 was always going to be difficult for workers in the worst-affected sectors. The main question now is whether policymakers will take the steps – including apprenticeship programs and expanded funding for community colleges and technical schools – that are most likely to make it easier.

BERKELEY – COVID-19 is not going away, and other dangerous viruses may be coming. This means it’s time to face the grim truth: many of the pandemic’s effects on our economies and societies will be persistent, even permanent.

Some of these changes are already evident. There is less demand for the services of dine-in restaurants, hotels, airlines, brick-and-mortar retail, and large entertainment venues, and fewer employment opportunities in those sectors and facilities. There is more demand for everything on-line, and for health-care, childcare, and home-care services. Substantial numbers of workers therefore will have to move, and new entrants to the labor force will need different sets of skills.

Economists tend to assume that when something is necessary, it will happen – that “the market will take care of it.” Workers will recognize the need for new skill sets, the argument goes. Employers who benefit from a workforce possessing those skills will impart them.

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