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Commentary: Thinking About the Next Dominant Business Issue

Jan. 5, 2022
Workforce development already is getting a lot of attention. Look for it to become even more important as the economy’s other challenges recede.

Editor’s note: Geert De Lombaerde writes about markets and economic trends for Endeavor Business Media publications IndustryWeek, FleetOwner, Oil & Gas Journal, T&D World and Healthcare Innovation.

As we track stories from our sister publications and beyond, we regularly see trends bubbling up that help us keep our finger on what’s going around the economy. Lately, that’s had us paying a lot of attention to the tight (and still tightening) labor market.

It’s a solid bet that talent will become the dominant business issue—likely for years to come—once the supply chain is unsnarled and the pandemic is brought under control. A cadre of people is lining up resources to address the pain: In the healthcare sector, young staffing ventures connectRN and Prolucent Health have recently secured a combined $87 million in funding, with home health titan Amedisys chipping in on connectRN’s raise to improve its access to prospective employees.

In trucking, meanwhile, the White House unveiled a 90-day plan to create more paid truck driver apprenticeship programs and team up the U.S. Department of Transportation with the U.S. Department of Labor to help fill empty driver’s seats. Industry executives—many of whom have built national networks of driver schools—lauded the plan’s approach to cut red tape.

“These initiatives could not come at a better time,” Yellow Corp. CEO Darren Hawkins said in a statement that especially praised the plan to smooth the transitions for veterans who held commercial driver’s licenses while in the military. “With a nationwide and industry-wide driver shortage, companies need the federal government’s help to reduce barriers to entry for new drivers.”

Auto giant Stellantis also is investing more directly in its talent pipeline. Executives last month told investors they expect to be collecting $22 billion from software and related services by 2030, up from ‘only’ $400 million this year. To help in that effort, the parent of Chrysler, Fiat and a dozen other brands is setting up a software and data academy that aims to reskill more than 1,000 employees as part of a broader push to grow its global software engineering team to 4,500 by 2024.

Barely a day goes by that we don’t run across similar stories of companies and trade groups investing in talent development. And with the pandemic pushing people out of the workforce altogether, enticing workers back will require more of—everything. Something to consider in the mix: A good brand story that includes using renewable energy.

Speaking of brand stories: Two of the bigger names in healthcare are working hard to reshape how consumers view them. In recent weeks, the leaders of both CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance have laid out long-range plans to expand their health care services businesses. The blue-chippers are taking different paths to building out their ecosystems—most notably because CVS owns Aetna—and it’ll be fascinating to watch how (and how quickly) their collective muscle and massive retail/pharmacy footprints change healthcare consumers’ behavior.

There’s a talent angle here, too: If they’re successful, these brands are likely to become fierce competitors for doctors and other providers who already are in short supply in many specialties.

The pandemic has put massive pressure on healthcare firms just as it has on other types of companies; we may not know for a few more quarters just how executives are dealing with the various stresses. But we’re sure they’ll still have to face up to the challenges of a workforce very much changed from just a few years ago.

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