The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 14.7% — the highest since 1948 — in April, a few months after the first coronavirus diagnosis in the country. Also that month, the International Labour Organization estimated that 1.6 billion workers worldwide (almost half the global workforce) were “in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”

The pandemic is hitting people hard. But it’s also exacerbating existing inequalities, widening income gaps between white workers and workers of color, for example, and highlighting the educational needs of workers.

“Even before the pandemic,” says Rachel Carlson, chief executive officer and co-founder of Guild Education, “the world’s largest employers were asking us to develop education solutions that could create pathways to economic mobility for their workforce.” They were also looking for “ethical offboarding practices, as they implemented technologies that transformed their workforce needs — and planned for the eventuality of a recession.”

Integrating Training Into Outplacement

To meet these demands, Guild Education began a partnership with Entangled, a “product studio” working on an “outskilling” platform, which integrated training into the outplacement process, Carlson says. This collaboration aimed at training displaced workers for new careers using Entangled’s platform, a marketplace “backed by employers that wanted to hire.”

Shortly before announcing this acquisition, Guild announced the launch of Next Chapter, a product that enables displaced workers to prepare for new jobs in industries seeing an increased demand. Guild built the product in partnership with Entangled, whose jobs marketplace enables employers joining Next Chapter to provide displaced workers with reskilling and coaching.

A Heightened Sense of Urgency

No one enjoys laying off or furloughing employees, particularly in the large numbers many employers have had to cut due to COVID-19. Not only are workers looking for new opportunities, but organizations are looking for ways to support employees they’ve had to let go.

“We continue to witness a tale of two labor markets,” Carlson says. “On one side, we see business leaders faced with unprecedented change and economic pressures that lead to laying off talent. But we’re still seeing employers that are grappling with huge talent needs [and] skills gaps and are actively working to attract and upskill their workforces.”

“That’s why we launched Next Chapter. It’s about helping laid off workers have access to not only the career services, but also the job training, that they need to have a chance at, not just surviving, but thriving, in this new economy.”

The New Normal

Even if we could return to the pre-pandemic “normal,” we shouldn’t want to, Carlson notes. “In a recent op-ed, [author and professor] Roxane Gay said that while ‘the rest of the world yearns to get back to normal, for Black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.’ We’re taking that sentiment to heart … Our work can’t be about simply returning things to normal — for workers, for employers, it has to be about making things better than they were before.”

For both workers and employers, education can “unlock profound growth,” Carlson says. It provides employers with a “competitive advantage” and is also “a profound lever to address wage and economic inequality that continue to grow at alarming rates.” She cites research from McKinsey that found that workers without a bachelor’s degree are twice as vulnerable to job loss than workers with a college education. “Our focus is on addressing the immediate crisis, but it’s also about helping workers to build skills that will make them much more resilient in the future.”

COVID-19 has made upskilling even more important, not only for business success but for worker survival. “As rising unemployment magnifies economic inequality,” Carlson says, “employers have a heightened responsibility to proactively help workers of all ages, races and demographics gain access to training that can help them become resilient in the face of … the sort of catastrophic health, economic and social crisis we’re grappling with.”