This report was primarily written prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 national dialogue calling for meaningful racial justice reforms. Though these two important events are not mentioned directly, they have had widespread and disproportionate impacts on marginalized groups, and further highlight the relevance of this report. As organizations choose the path forward, it is imperative they rethink deeply held orthodoxies in order to shape a more inclusive Future of Work. Generating innovative pathways to employment for marginalized populations has never been more critically needed by so many.
— Seán Morris
Principal and chief operating officer
Deloitte US Government & Public Services
The nature of work is changing rapidly. Technological advancements—including robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI)—are shifting roles, responsibilities, and what has traditionally dictated the work of humans versus the work of machines.1 As automation becomes more prolific, machines will likely perform many predictable cognitive and physical activities, such as operating machinery, administrative tasks, or preparing food.
Collectively, the forces shaping the future of work are likely to have many positive impacts, including creating new employment opportunities,2 developing unique platforms to engage alternative workers such as freelancers or contract-based workers,3 and increasing productivity and economic growth.4 But they may also create new challenges related to the displacement of jobs and rapidly changing demand for technical and essentially human skills. Many employers are placing a higher premium on human skills such as problem-solving, empathy, and creativity in their workforce as AI and robotics transform previously manual tasks. Considering alternative hiring pathways could help organizations meet these skills and competency requirements in the future of work.
There are opportunities to access previously untapped talent to meet these evolving workforce needs. One option may be to actively engage marginalized populations who have previously been susceptible to unemployment and underemployment. Many employers and government agencies have used new business models to integrate and scale pathways to employment for individuals from marginalized backgrounds. Through these efforts, employers can realize the tangible benefits of engaging a diverse, resilient, and often untapped workforce, helping to improve outcomes for these individuals, as well as their organizations.
In 2019, Deloitte and American University’s School of International Service cohosted a symposium titled “Building an inclusive workforce of the future.” The event centered on the future of work, exploring the potential impacts on individuals who may be particularly susceptible to unemployment and underemployment—specifically, survivors of human trafficking, refugees, and formerly incarcerated persons.
Panelists, speakers, and attendees from across the public, private, and social sectors strategized potential pathways to sustainable and dignified work through the collective social enterprise. Convening service providers and other professionals working directly on this issue enabled valuable knowledge-sharing and relationship-building. The points of view shared during the event provided the impetus for this report.
Marginalized populations can encompass many individuals. For the purposes of this report, we will explore three groups who, while distinct, share common barriers to accessing social, economic, and environmental resources. These are survivors of human trafficking, refugees, and formerly incarcerated persons. These three groups represent a significant pool of untapped talent but continue to face significant obstacles to achieving sustainable employment today.
Research suggests that conscientiously creating opportunities for individuals from marginalized populations can benefit organizations in multiple ways. These may include:
While the potential benefits are clear, many individuals from marginalized groups continue to face challenges accessing sustainable employment.
While individuals from each of the three aforementioned groups face different challenges in gaining employment based on their unique backgrounds and characteristics, there are also certain barriers that marginalized populations may share to various extents:
Facing one or often many of the barriers identified above, individuals trying to navigate an ecosystem of employers, service providers, and training programs are often left in precarious or vulnerable situations. Employers, similarly, may be unsure how to access talent and train employees outside of traditional mechanisms.
Many social enterprises and initiatives have demonstrated the opportunities that exist by engaging the untapped talent within traditionally marginalized groups, such as the populations identified here. However, achieving and sustaining employment is often tied to other needs, including housing, mental health, and addressing the barriers outlined above.17 Employers, themselves, may not be positioned to address the full spectrum of needs identified. By building coalitions with organizations and service providers who address mental health, housing, and other needs, employers will be better able to actively engage an untapped talent pipeline while disrupting traditional barriers to employment.18
This solution involves an ecosystem of three stakeholder groups and offers an assisted pathway from service provision (e.g., skills development, training, care) to potential employment. The conditions below are all necessary for an effective coalition approach, but can be completed by one or more stakeholders within the ecosystem. They are:
Rather than three stakeholder groups working in isolation, a coalition model proposes that these three key conditions can be met through ongoing partnerships or other innovative business models, that can help to form a mutually beneficial pipeline.
While employers cannot singlehandedly address the challenges and barriers facing individuals who have been marginalized in the labor market, they are a key stakeholder in helping find solutions. To collaborate effectively with other organizations, employers should examine legacy employment processes and qualifications that could be maintaining barriers and identify ways to create an organizational culture where diversity of background, experience, and thought is not only sought and welcomed, but acknowledged as a driver of strategic advantage. As the future of work becomes more and more an everyday reality, organizations have an opportunity to reframe how they source, attract, hire, and retain diverse talent.
For marginalized populations, the future of work provides opportunities to further self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and economic empowerment, which are integral to building resilience and reducing the risk of future exploitation. For employers, the future of work can provide opportunities to tap into new, diverse labor markets teeming with potential. A comprehensive pathway to employment that considers the unique need of each stakeholder in this process could turn this coalition approach to the future of work into a reality, helping to create value for employers and contributing directly to the ability of individuals from marginalized groups to realize their full potential in the workforce.
For more insights, read the full report, Inclusive work: Marginalized populations in the workforce of the future.
Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Anti–Human Trafficking Team advises businesses and governments to incorporate social responsibility into their core strategies and operations, identify and remove human trafficking in their supply chains, and create employee and customer retention through improved societal impact.