Why companies need to reskill the workforce for the new digital economy

April 14, 2020, 9:00 AM UTC

The U.S. entered 2020 with just over 7.3 million job openings. Economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus has seen 16.8 million Americans file initial unemployment claims over the last three weeks alone. In that time, as stay-at-home orders have sequestered a large portion of the workforce, many brick and mortar companies across industries have scrambled to transition to digital models. 

The acceleration to tailor companies for remote work has only reinforced the beliefs of Ginni Rometty, who recently transitioned from CEO to executive chairman of IBM. She has long advocated for training workers for roles in the digital economy, and on this episode of the Fortune podcast Leadership Next, she offers an apt analogy.:

“Before we had 7 million job openings. Well now we have so many people that are unemployed, that in many ways when you throw a deck of cards into the air, everyone’s not gonna land back in the same spot,” Rometty says near the 15-minute mark. “And when they go to return to work, yes, some will return to the jobs they had, but now, many others, the job may not exist or they’ll be looking.”

Business leaders need to be thinking about what they’re going to do to reskill people from all walks of life so that they can find a place in the new digital economy. Rometty tells Leadership Next host and Fortune CEO Alan Murray why corporations—not government—are best poised to create a more inclusive workforce going forward. It’s this passion that makes her such an apposite guest for the podcast, which examines how leaders are steering their companies in the face of disruption.

Murray and Rometty also discuss the Business Roundtable, the main lobbying arm for corporations in Washington. In August the group threw out its former mission statement that said a company’s primary responsibility was to make money for its shareholders, and nearly 200 CEOs signed a pledge that they now believe business has a duty to serve all stakeholders. This was a big deal, and Rometty was part of the group that pushed for the change. 

For more on how this sea change from the Business Roundtable came to fruition, Murray speaks with Rick Wartzman, who served as executive director of the Drucker Institute from its founding in 2007 until 2016.

“I think what has fundamentally changed is that businesses are starting to question shareholder primacy for real. You talk to most CEOs, they do think the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of putting shareholders above everybody else, including maybe especially their workers,” Wartzman says.

Lest you think Rometty is just spouting niceties, she rejoins the episode to share with Murray how she instituted a commitment to all stakeholders at IBM. For more on the discussion around businesses’ responsibility to build an inclusive workforce, listen to the new episode of Leadership Next now.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

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—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson will step down

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