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What’s the role of government in addressing ‘The Great Resignation’?

November 10, 2021, 6:02 PM UTC

What is the role of the private sector in addressing the talent crisis of the Great Resignation? Can government help provide workers with the tech skills they need to flourish in the current economy? And can smart regulation ensure companies are providing equal opportunities to all potential employees?

These are some of the timely—but complex—questions tackled in a Tuesday discussion about artificial intelligence and the workforce at Fortune’s Brainstorm A.I. gathering in Boston.

Frida Polli, cofounder and CEO of Pymetrics, a talent assessment and matching platform, thinks solving the talent and skills crisis is not likely to happen without some level of government intervention. Current efforts are “piecemeal,” she said. As good as some of the individual programs offered by companies or nonprofits may be, they will never achieve the scale required to actually fix the problem, said Polli: “Just a purely private initiative can’t do it.”

President and CEO of Jobs for the Future Maria Flynn agreed with Polli’s assessment but wondered how likely we are to see such an effort anytime soon. She pointed to the difficulty President Biden has faced in getting his proposals for an investment in workforce development through Congress.

But panelist Sam Allen, EVP and COO of Salesforce.org, wasn’t sold on the idea that government has the ability to solve the talent problem, especially when it comes the fast-evolving tech industry. “I do worry about pace,” he said. “Jobs that didn’t exit even on paper a year ago—you can now find them on Indeed. I worry about [the government’s] ability to keep up with what’s happening in the private sector.”

So if the government did take on a major role in helping bolster the tech skills of the workforce, what form might that effort take? The panelists tossed out a number of ideas, including a national upskilling plan focused on in-demand technical skills, the creation of an incentive program that would reward workers for learning new skills or employers for offering them, and the rollout of clear guidance on which tech certifications are worth workers’ time and effort.

And as companies increasingly turn to A.I. to help with hiring and job matching, is it the role of the government to make sure they are doing so in a way that’s fair and nondiscriminatory? Polli, whose company works in the space, is open to such oversight. “Transparency is critical,” she said.

Flynn also had a creative, if controversial, idea for how government could help the common problem in which companies require workers to have certain educational degrees to qualify for a job—even when such qualifications aren’t necessary and end up excluding disadvantaged populations. “What if the EEOC thought about making hiring on the basis of a degree illegal? What if that was considered discrimination?”

Her fellow panelists agreed that degree requirements can be a serious problem, though Allen pointed out that in some cases, they exist for a reason. “I certainly wouldn’t want to see a physician who hadn’t gotten [the appropriate degrees],” he said.

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