As part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, Business Fights Poverty and Walmart are convening a webinar and online peer discussion to explore the Future of Work: Building Inclusive Opportunities to Rebuild Better from COVID-19. The webinar will take place on Wednesday, 23rd September 2020 at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST,  followed by 30 minutes Peer Discussion ending at 11:30AM EDT / 4:30PM BST.

Register here to attend. 


COVID-19 has exacerbated the impacts of digitisation on workers and the future of work. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that COVID-19 has wiped out 195 million jobs – some of which may not return post-pandemic. The International Monetary Fund predicts that global GDP will be down 6.5% on pre-COVID-19 predictions. Growth from the private sector is vital to rebuild from this global shock.


Building inclusive re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities to help people access the future of work, rebuild better and create socio-economic inclusion will help create the world we want.

In order to achieve this, new strategies and partnerships are needed. Collaboration between business, civil society, academia and governments are needed to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on all workers. Some organisations, such as Walmart have begun efforts to ensure upward mobility for these most vulnerable workers, capitalizing on rapid technological change and embracing automation where it adds value, while putting people at the heart of the business models of the future.


This article will explore what is already underway and what more can be done.


How has COVID-19 impacted the future of work?

A paradigmatic change to our working lives is happening at speed: McKinsey Institute Research indicates that almost one-third of work hours in the global economy could be automated by 2030, with a midpoint of 15 percent. This dramatic shift would have substantial implications for all workers, although it will vary according to occupation, sector, geographic location, and rate of adoption. 


History suggests that as old roles become redundant, new roles will emerge. However, a successful transition relies on workers acquiring in-demand skills.  In addition to digital and technological skill sets, there will be a need for problem solving capabilities and soft-skills like communication, agility, flexibility, listening, and management. Workers will need to embrace life-long learning to keep up with the rapid pace of change. 


Disruptive technologies offer many opportunities. Improved productivity may allow some workers to re-focus their work on high-value activities, leading to better job satisfaction.  Greater access to the internet, particularly in the developing world, is providing new opportunities for previously excluded populations to thrive in a digital-first economy


As many have found in recent months, collaboration tools and platforms are enabling a transition from traditional offices to virtual working environments. This trend provides the opportunity to increase job access and mobility of work, with gains for inclusivity and work-life balance, but (as we are discovering in the UK) also brings challenges for city centres whose local economies have grown up around office-based working.


The greatest impacts are likely to be on those in entry-level jobs, particularly in regions where labour costs are high.  The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how the rise of more flexible “non-standard” forms of work  – such as independent contracting, freelancing, self-employment, and the “gig” economy – has left many people vulnerable to the health and economic crisis, because they lack employment rights, access to health insurance, or adequate social security protection.  Likewise, there are more than 2 billion workers in the informal economy, the majority of them women, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to their precarious position.  In planning for the future of work, it is essential that we do not leave these non-standard and informal workers behind


How should businesses, governments and non-profit organizations collaborate to ensure that the future of work is inclusive?

“The world of work is undergoing great changes. They create many opportunities for more and better jobs. But governments, trade unions and employers need to work together, to make economies and labour markets more inclusive. Such a social dialogue can help make globalization work for everyone”.

Stefan Löfven, Co-Chair of the International Labour Organisation Global Commission on the Future of Work


With the right strategies and partnerships, business and governments can collaborate to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, and ensure upward mobility for these most vulnerable workers, capitalizing on rapid technological change and embracing automation where it adds value, while putting people at the heart of the business models of the future.


We already have many examples of initiatives from which to build.  Over the course of the last year, Business Fights Poverty have been working on a Challenge with Walmart on how business can accelerate career opportunities for entry-level workers to ensure the future of work is strong and inclusive. As the world’s largest employer, Walmart has been engaging with this issue for some years, and has developed a range of initiatives to enhance the future employability of those most impacted by the Future of Work trends. It adheres to four key principles that guide its efforts to reskill and develop the careers of its 2.2 million employees:


  • Be People-Centred, Tech-Enabled

Technology should improve peoples’ working experience, and people must be at the heart of any technological transition.  Over 200 Walmart Academies, first launched in 2016, have trained over 500,000 associates to learn new technologies and retail skills to equip them for career progression.


  • Recognise the Social Value of Work Opportunity at All Points Along the Skills Curve

All people and companies benefit from an engaged and skilled workforce. Walmart provides its 1.4 million U.S. associates the opportunity to earn an online degree for $1 a day, through its Guild Program Live Better U, in partnership with Guild Education. The program has enabled over 5000 associates, many of whom could not otherwise have afforded a degree, to pursue their ambitions. 


  • Design a More Central Role for On-the-Job Training

In retail, the number and types of front- line jobs are rapidly changing. Walmart’s Pathways Program has taught over 400,000 associates about the retail business model, and helps develop the soft skills, digital literacy and learning mentality that are useful in any field. Workers who completed the program received a raise and had increased job opportunities.


  • Build Opportunities for Suppliers and Communities

The Future of Work will affect local economies and the entire business ecosystem. In a report published with the USA’s National Association of Counties (NACo), Walmart examined the characteristics of more than 3,000 counties in the United States. The report identified 8 distinct Community Archetypes and 6 foundational strategies to guide local communities in their response to automation, helping them plan to thrive in a changing economy.


How can I find out more? 

Please join us for our  webinar on Wednesday, 23 September at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST,  followed by 30 minutes Peer Discussion ending at 11:30AM EDT / 4:30PM BST.


This Webinar will provide insights from Business Fights Poverty’s collaboration with Walmart, and from other experts and practitioners on this important topic. It will ask:


  • What examples are there of inclusive opportunities for people to access sustainable, quality jobs during this time of COVID-19? 
  • How can we rebuild better – creating more inclusive opportunities for people? 
  • How should businesses, governments and non-profit organizations collaborate on this topic to provide the right environment and opportunities to ensure that the future of work is inclusive?


We look forward to seeing you there

Editor’s Note:

This online event on Building Inclusive Opportunities at All Points Along the Skills Curve is part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, a one-week, online conference (21 to 25 September) that builds on our recent online conference Business Fights Poverty Online 2020 (13 to 17 July) to drive forward connection, conversations and collaboration around how we rebuild better – how together we create an equitable and resilient world. 

The week consists of inspiring and engaging content, live events, peer networking and community-led learning. The week also builds on our Business and COVID-19 Response with Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, and supported by DFID and a number of our corporate partners.

Each day, we will focus on a specific theme: Imagining the Future We Want (Monday); Creating an Equitable World (Tuesday); Helping People Survive and Thrive (Wednesday); Building Resilient Livelihoods (Thursday); Shaping System-Level Partnerships (Friday).

The conference Headline Supporter is Visa and AB InBev. Our Supporting Partners are Mars, Nestlé, Anglo American, Walmart and Standard Chartered. Content partners include Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, the UN Office for Partnerships, WBCSD, Business in the Community, The Partnering Initiative and the League of Intrapreneurs.

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