After more than a year of quarantines, closures, and general disruption to our pre-pandemic lifestyles, it’s fair to wonder if things have changed permanently, particularly with regard to working remotely.
One data point Kris Johnson, President and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, looks at is the trend in relocation.
“We've seen moving pattern change in the state of Washington, whether people are leaving urban areas for suburban areas or suburban areas for rural areas,” he said. “Where people call home has changed dramatically and we see that in the data showing up."
The population of some counties has increased as much as 20% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With families getting work and schoolwork done virtually, the time it takes to travel to and from work has become increasingly insignificant.
While whether that change is good or bad for people is an individual determination, the shifting geography of population centers has real impacts on established businesses that simply cannot perform their basic functions remotely.
“The biggest thing we're trying to figure out is ways to empower folks on how do you start a business, how do you grow a business, what kind of skill sets are employers looking at,” said City of Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. “We've seen a shift in how employers better define what can be done remotely, what can't be done remotely, and, more importantly, what should be done remotely.”
The Kent Valley has done well during the pandemic in terms of jobs. It’s an e-commerce and distribution hub in the regional economy.
“I think other places have realized that when they're shopping from home, so much of what they're receiving on their doorsteps is coming from the Kent Valley,” Mayor Ralph said. “So we haven't seen it downturn in those distribution jobs. But we are also seeing a need to be more innovative and resilient as employers are looking at ways to automate those processes."
One player giving people access in this way forward to a so-called new economy is Western Governor’s University Washington. Already ahead of the curve regarding distance learning, WGU is helping shape the new workforce by providing flexible online learning opportunities in a variety of fields.
What our workforce will look like is still up for debate, but employers who have started to ramp up after re-opening are having trouble finding enough skilled labor.
“We knew the number one challenge going into COVID for employers was finding a skilled, trained, and educated workforce,” Johnson said. “We have a recovery, it’s going to take a long period of time. It's going to take us months to years to get out of this and it's going to require people to come together and have a strong plan.”
Washington businesses can find resources on AWB's website at awb.org/covid-19-resources.