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COVID-19 and the Future of Work

News Story

This month, our Pace professors weigh in on how COVID-19 has upended the homeostasis of the working world, and what effects current changes might have going forward.

The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically altered the daily routines of countless millions of families across the globe and will likely fundamentally alter our larger society's relationship with work and the relationship between work, family, and home. This month, our Pace professors weigh in on how both the personal and global working landscapes have been disrupted by the pandemic, and the possible long-term effects across a multitude of industries and aspects of life. 

On the Waves: The Hidden Crisis of COVID-19
Andrew Coggins, PhD
Professor of Management, Lubin School of Business

Psalm 107:23-24 KJV states, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord and his wonders of the deep.”

Ninety percent of all goods move by sea at some point in their journey from creation to consumption. These goods are carried by some 50,000 plus merchant ships manned by some 1.65 plus million seafarers, split about 40/60 officers and ratings.

Seafarers work under time limited contracts, anywhere from six weeks to nine months. The International Transport Federation (ITF) recommends a maximum length of 10 months. In normal times, pre-COVID, everyday there are thousands of seafarers in the air, seamlessly passing through immigration and customs on their way to and from their ships. However, to paraphrase Tolkien’s Gollum character, “we are not in normal times.”

A quick glance at a world map of COVID travel restrictions shows the majority of countries are closed and most of the others are restricted. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), international air travel is down 62–66% from 2019. The efficient well-oiled system has come to an abrupt halt. Crew with expired contracts can’t leave their ships and their reliefs can’t reach them. Ships are minimally manned to specific skills and jobs, so when there is a shortage someone has to take on additional duties. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), there were over 300,000 seafarers with expired contracts at sea.

Seafarers also make substantial contributions to many developing economies through remittances. With the system frozen, seafarers due to join ships are stuck at home without income. Those with expired contracts have been onboard six to seven additional months and in some cases over a year. They have families that they can’t see or reach in case of an emergency. While cargo ships are still sailing, the cruise industry has essentially been shut down since March/April. As their ships were laid-up their crews needed to be repatriated, returned home. in accordance with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. With so many borders closed, the cruise lines have resorted to loading their ships with excess crew and sailing them to their home countries. They’ve also used chartered airplanes for repatriation. The large size of cruise ship crews, in the hundreds, makes this cost effective when possible. With cargo ship crews, 25–40, this is not feasible. Some ports, such as Singapore, have taken steps to facilitate crew transfer. But for this to work, there has to be open air links between Singapore and the home country, and the ship has to be near Singapore. The IMO has also been pushing for the designation of all seafarers as Key Workers, therefore exempt from travel restrictions.

Ships and those who man them are an invisible part of many of our lives. So, as we work our way through this crisis, every so often, give a thought and prayer to “They that go down to the sea in ships.”

Technological Tradeoffs 
Brenna Hassinger-Das, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Dyson College

As a children and media researcher, I have spent a lot of time since the COVID-19 pandemic began thinking about screen time. By April 2020, school closures affected 1.2 billion children worldwide—and research suggests that half of all US children are continuing to learn online this fall. Online learning platforms—such as Zoom, YouTube, and a variety of educational apps—have become ubiquitous for children from preschool through high school age. The educational landscape has shifted radically, and these changes may not go away anytime soon—if ever.

However, pre-pandemic, children were already using screen devices on an increasingly regular basis—with mobile device use tripling from 2013–2017. There has also been a rise in the amount of child-directed content that is available across multiple devices and platforms. Yet, I am of the belief that current data doesn’t conclusively suggest that screen time causes significant, detrimental effects in children. Research does suggest that behavioral and health problems may relate to excessive screen time—but causal connections are not clear. Based on my understanding of the literature, in March 2020, I advised caregivers of one screen time rule that it is okay to break (previous daily screen time limits), one rule caregivers can bend (most restrictions on where/when to use devices), and one to keep (screen-free bedtime).

I have tried to take my own advice as the pandemic wears on. As a pre-tenure faculty member and the mother of a six-year-old, I am now teaching on Zoom while my child completes virtual first grade. I definitely started making trade-offs regarding technology use that I would not have previously considered so that I can write and teach—with my child consuming far more digital media than usual. We have found a routine that works for us, and I supplement the screen time with hands-on and outdoor activities. I often explain to my child that this is not forever—but how do we really know? The uncertainty is one the big factors that is causing a lot of stress for parents like myself, and I wish I had the answers.

Remote Tutoring in COVID-19 Times
Shobana Musti, PhD
Associate Professor, School of Education

We just passed the six-month mark since the Coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown in March when K–12 schools made the abrupt switch to remote instruction. Although administrators and teachers responded to the call with urgency, the summer months have given us time to plan and prepare for a fall reopening.

As I teach my fall course entitled, Literacy Instruction for Students with Special Needs, I can’t help but be struck by the magnitude of effect that COVID-19 has had on the most vulnerable of our school-aged population—students considered at risk for school failure who come from diverse ethnic, racial, and linguistic backgrounds including low-income households. Included in this group are students with disabilities receiving special education and related services such as occupational therapy and speech therapy. Although it is too early to measure the true impact of the remote learning on students’ academic learning, preliminary indications based on seasonal loss research indicate that students will re-enter school in fall 2020 behind a full grade level. The academic losses brought about by the prolonged disruption of learning is referred to as the COVID-19 Slide (NWEA, 2020).

Practitioners and researchers in education are charged with the important task of identifying effective recovery practices that include providing students and families with the appropriate resources and supports during this pandemic. With the K–12 population opting between remote instruction and in-person instruction, questions that remain to be answered include: How do we provide students at-risk with the explicit, systematic, and intensive instruction that they need to perform at grade level? Who will deliver the supplemental instruction at the small-group or individual level?

Some of the answers to these questions can be found in strong school-university partnerships. Fortunately, the Pace’s School of Education (SOE) has been able to leverage partnerships with neighboring school districts to provide remote tutoring services for families. In the Spring semester, 90 of Pace’s teachers in training conducting remote tutoring to K–12 students in a local school district. What would further enhance this initiative is training Pace students and community volunteers to implement evidence-based interventions via remote tutoring and in turn provide the systematic and intensive instruction that many at-risk students need to perform at grade level.

From a social justice standpoint, such a model seems like a win-win-win situation in which the university students gain meaningful and supervised field-based experience, school districts have additional personnel to deliver the instruction, and the K–12 students receive the much-needed supplemental instruction. This will require a lot of work and coordination on the part of the technology departments in school districts who are already overburdened and the university personnel trying to serve as liaison between the school district and the teachers in training. But it’s a doable endeavor, and we in the SOE have embarked on this important undertaking.

Although the current moment remains considerably volatile, perhaps such a model can provide some much-needed educational stability as we cautiously navigate this new normal.