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A caring economy can yield a three trillion GDP boost


July 27, 2022

Over the last couple of years, workers have faced many obstacles both at work and at home. Many lost their jobs and struggled to find new ones, while supporting loved ones. Many also lost a family member or a friend. Parents and caretakers had to make tradeoffs every day. People made it through successfully when they had the most support. And this is what a caring economy offers to workers.

What is a caring economy? It is an economy where we recognize and support teachers, healthcare providers and childcare workers—people whose work is essential to our lives and work, and who enable our economies to function. The term “essential worker” reflects the reality that these people enable our social and economic engines to operate.

I know this firsthand. As a mother of four young children, reliable childcare is required for the day-to-day stability of our family. Over the past five years, I have been grateful—and fortunate—to benefit from the support of a primary caregiver and a range of other providers, who have all played a critical role in the development and well-being of my children. I honestly don’t know where our family would be without this village, whose support has also allowed me to pursue my desired career path. And this is what a “caring economy” can and should offer to all. In this economy, we can all value and care for the essential people that make our society thrive—our caregivers, teachers and healthcare providers.

Yet, we often overlook social sector jobs and the people who do them, while the reality is that we all rely on them. And another reality is that fewer and fewer people want to do these jobs globally, creating talent shortages in the social sector. In contrast, demand for these jobs is growing, which creates an immediate need to increase the social sector workforce.

Through public and private collaboration and investment, we can meet this need and close the talent gap. Doing so would help ensure that we meet the needs of our societies, while also unlocking a multiplier effect that benefits economies directly and indirectly. Such an investment would pay for itself many times over in GDP growth, while creating new jobs to accommodate newly skilled workers and job transitions.

When we invest in a caring economy

Created in collaboration with Accenture, WEF’s latest report—“Jobs of tomorrow: The triple returns of social jobs in the economic recovery”—uncovers what happens when we take the steps to create a caring economy.

In the US alone, a public-private $1.3 trillion investment (10% of GDP) in social sectors, spread between now and 2030, would result in a GDP boost and new jobs, specifically:

  • A $3.1 trillion GDP return. These productivity gains are also enabled by increased investment in future of work technologies that augment work tasks, allowing talent in the caring economy to focus more on the human side of their job.
  • The creation of 10 million additional jobs in the social sector by 2030: 4.8 million jobs in teaching, 1.8 million care-giving jobs and 900k jobs in healthcare, with a ripple effect of an additional 1 million jobs in other sectors.

A caring economy requires investment in job quality, job transitions and people

As the world moves at the speed of the 4th Industrial Revolution, jobs evolve. For example, the “Jobs of Tomorrow” WEF report discloses an interesting fact: in the US, 60% of jobs in 2018 did not exist in 1940 (p. 8). Jobs will continue to change and people will need to change as well, embracing job transitions and new skilling opportunities.

I have a deep commitment to leaving people net better off and see three steps that organizations can take right now to make that happen:

1. Improve existing jobs.

Some of the jobs of tomorrow already exist in some form today – including social jobs. Addressing the critical needs of this workforce now and in the future means focusing on individual worker needs today and considering motivation factors to attract and retain people in these kinds of jobs tomorrow. To do this, brainstorm ways in which you can leave your people net better off. This means taking care of your people to ensure that they are employable, financially stable, mentally and emotionally safe, physically safe, answering a purpose and having great relationships with others. Investigate and invest not only in learning content to support skilling, but also in the “skilling literacy” of your people – the belief, knowledge of skills, motivation and confidence of your people to do different types of work. When hiring, focus more on core skills and potential than pedigree. Prioritize future-of-work technologies that augment work in a way that creates a more human-centered economy and workforce.

How are you creating quality jobs that make people employable and financially stable?

2. Create pathways to new jobs.

Identify ways to engage and help vulnerable populations acquire new skills to prepare them for the jobs of the future. As the “Jobs of Tomorrow” report demonstrates, there is a clear opportunity to support workers to fill the talent gap in social jobs that are and will be in high demand. Zoom in on equitable hiring practices and set ambitious inclusion and diversity goals. Explore alternative hiring strategies, where candidates do not need to have a bachelor’s degree. Put jobs in context to support people and create pathways to sustainable employment. It’s an ecosystem.

How are you shaping learning in your workforce ecosystem?

3. Improve internal skilling and workforce development programs to ensure a better experience for people.

First, promote workforce programs to raise awareness among the people who need them. Second, simplify access to increase adoption. Third, meet people where they are; this is crucial. It means segmenting people according to their needs and finding the appropriate channel where they spend their time. To achieve this, keep both short- and long-term needs in mind. For example, what would someone need to learn to get started as a medical assistant? Then, what other skills would they need to acquire to become a registered nurse? What would that path look like? Finally, to bring all these factors together, use data to understand and adjust to get a 360˚ view of people and their needs.

How are you supporting internal skilling and public workforce-development programs?

A renewed focus on social sector jobs benefits people and business

Accelerated change has become a part of business and life. The one constant that holds true is to continuously invest in workers and build resilience through job quality, job transitions and job creation. We all need to do our part to leave the world a better place than we found it. Let’s collaborate to build an economy where social jobs—and the people who work them—are valued and receive attention and investments. This will start us on a path to recovery from the economic and personal shocks of the past few years.


Mary Kate Morley Ryan

Managing Director – Talent & Organization