A Disruption in the Workforce

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Written by Samantha Thorne

 Washington, DC—At the 8th Annual Summit on the Economy, speakers in “The Future of Work: Too Much Disruption, or Not Enough?” panel discussed challenges that technology poses to the American workforce and ways to overcome the threat of unemployment. Acknowledging the deficiency of qualified workers for the growing amount of tech jobs available, the experts prioritized retraining programs and U.S. education system improvements as a means to weather current and future workforce disruptions. 

Challenges Facing Workers

Inadequate tech training is the greatest challenge facing workers today. While jobs are growing, workers do not have the needed technological, machine learning or computer science expertise to fill them. Dean Garfield, President and CEO of Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), said there are more than 7 million people unemployed in the United States even though there is a record number (almost 5.7 million) of job positions open. Although there is significant employment potential, workers cannot tap into it because of insufficient competencies.

Liz Simon, the General Assembly’s Vice President of Legal & External Affairs, confirmed this issue and highlighted the General Assembly’s efforts to bridge the global skills gap between employers looking for workers with tech training and individuals looking for employment. By equipping workers with necessary skills, more individuals will be prepared for the changing job structure within the millennial economy and shifting work environment.

The Millennial Economy

When discussing Shift: The Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology findings and the future of jobs, Kristin Sharp, Executive Director of Initiative on Work, Workers and Technology, highlighted two key findings of the report. First, the workforce is, and will become increasingly more independent and self-motivated as workers are pressured to actively seek their own job opportunities and training. Second, although job employment will be less stable compared to previous generations, workers still prioritize job stability most and will continue to do so into the future.

“We really need to think about, as a country and an economy, how to balance [risk and stability] so that we’re empowering people to take risks and take on new challenges, while providing some sense that they’re not going to fall through the cracks,” Sharp stated.

Garfield categorized today’s millennial economy as one with a quick skill set turn over, stating that “30 percent of the skills you acquire will become irrelevant every three years.” But as the panelists recognized that the workforce is at a “pivot point,” there is more pressure placed on American academia, companies and government to collectively decide what skills and job pathways to encourage in the face of an accelerated economy and concentrated tech sector.

Adaption and Collaboration in American Education

To overcome workforce challenges within today’s millennial economy, the U.S. education system needs to become more adaptive and collaborative. As technology has accelerated and innovated the economy, training structures and academic curricula have stood still. Recognizing these occurrences, the need is in prioritizing vocational training and training efforts pursued by the private sector.

Garfield highlighted that training and education “is not a one-and-done model” and that the education system needs to be dynamic in the context of our dynamic world and economy. To supply this educational and training dynamism, companies such as IBM and Oracle are experimenting with six-year education paths: four years of high school and two years of training at vocational schools, in addition to internships and fellowships.

Simon prioritized vocational training and going beyond traditional higher education options. Focusing on the General Assembly’s provision of accelerated and affordable training, Simon asserted that such programs push individuals into the workplace and provide more viable options to mid-career individuals. She also highlighted efforts by private companies to make large scale investments in training and reskilling programs, prioritizing lifelong learning and adjusting skill sets for the jobs available.

The Future of Work

While technology has altered the composition of American jobs and instigated a skills-to-job mismatch, such dilemmas can be solved via updated training programs. Though there is fear in the air that technology will make humans irrelevant, in reality “technology is really just a platform for overcoming human limitations,” and issues currently facing the workforce are still human in nature. A willingness to improve training shortcomings can ease workforce disruptions and push the American economy into a bright future.