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The Future of Workforce Development

A national initiative aims to change the public conversation about workforce development

Workforce development in the U.S. is undergoing a transformation to prepare for the future of work. A new book from the Federal Reserve and the Heldrich Center examines the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Workforce development in the U.S. is undergoing a transformation to prepare for the future of work. A new book from the Federal Reserve and the Heldrich Center examines the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Workforce development is a topic that impacts every corner of the United States, so it is appropriate that a national initiative and its new book reflects this massive undertaking.

The Federal Reserve System’s Investing in America’s Workforce is just that. This week marks the release of the initiative’s three-volume book, Investing in America’s Workforce: Improving Outcomes for Workers and Employers, which is available as a free download. More than 100 authors representing the different stakeholders in workforce development contributed their ideas to the goal of changing the public conversation about workforce development.

“We pulled together some of the best thinkers and authors and practitioners in the United States to contribute their thoughts on a range of issues,” contributor and editor Carl Van Horn said.

Van Horn serves as the director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, which collaborated on the book with the Federal Reserve, the Ray Marshall Center of the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas and the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

The sprawling 1,130-page report leaves nothing related to workforce development untouched. Well-publicized issues centering around the impact of technology on the workforce and the skills gap are joined by lesser-known topics like improving the employment of disabled people and bridging the digital divide. Altogether, it presents the entirety of work in America and how to get more workers engaged in the red-hot economy.

Heldrich Center for Workforce Development Director Carl Van Horn
Carl Van Horn. Photo – WorkingNation

“Even though the top-line number of unemployment is low, the reality is underneath that, there are still millions of people who are working part-time but want a full-time job, who are long-term unemployed, who are contract workers or gig workers who really need a better job,” said Van Horn of the imperative to improve the lives of all workers.

Contributing authors to the book who will be familiar to WorkingNation readers include Chauncy Lennon, who was recently named Lumina Foundation’s vice president of the future of learning and work, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Jason Tyszko.

Lennon, whose previous work with JP Morgan Chase & Co. was featured in a December 2017 article, examined the role of technology in connecting workers to jobs in an article with co-author and JP Morgan Chase & Co. vice president of global philanthropy Sarah Steinberg. From social media networks to mobile applications, technology has more potential to increase efficiency in the labor market.

They acknowledge that job matching technology has drawbacks that transfer problems from the offline world to the online world, including hiring biases and restricting access for lower-income job seekers. They suggest that to unlock the potential of technology for American workers, it must be equitable and affordable.

Tyszko, who serves on WorkingNation’s Advisory Board and was interviewed by Ramona Schindelheim about the USCCF’s Opportunity Project in February, wrote about the changing skills market and the inability for current systems to keep pace with employers’ needs.

He argues that new organizational models, such as the USCCF’s Talent Pipeline Management initiative, are improving how employers signal their skill needs to educators and workforce developers. The role of intermediaries like USCCF in linking the employment and educational world will be vital for the workforce to adapt to changes brought on by technology.

Van Horn’s chapter eloquently summarizes the future all Americans must prepare for, in whatever shape it will take due to automation and artificial intelligence. Beyond the dire predictions of wholesale replacement of human workers, Van Horn writes that the future of work is uncertain, but American workers still face dangers of structural unemployment and another economic downturn.

Regardless of the scenario, Van Horn argues that policymakers are slow to respond to widespread unemployment, resulting in the United State’s meager investment in job training programs compared to other developed nations. Without sufficient action to remedy this problem, the millions of under- and unemployed workers will suffer the same fate as what befell workers during the Great Recession.

“We do not know whether the current bundle of technological changes, including artificial intelligence, semiautonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things, will eliminate more net jobs than previous innovations. However, those who have limited formal education or skills and who are not retrained for new opportunities will likely be at risk of losing jobs and remaining unemployed,” Van Horn writes.

The initiative wants to highlight the mutual partnerships between workforce development stakeholders. Image – Investing in Workforce website/ Federal Reserve

Instead of viewing job training as a social service, Van Horn told WorkingNation that he wants the public to look at investing in workers as the solution for continued economic growth. With low unemployment and the skills gap contributing to a shortage of qualified workers to fill a record six million job openings, there is room for more Americans to enjoy the benefits of the expanding economy now.

“It’s not charity. It’s a good economic decision because it not only benefits that person [but] that family, that community and the entire economy,” said Van Horn, “It’s not acceptable to have a large number of people who are underemployed or unemployed.”

Download the three-volume report: click here.

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