From the Desk: The Growing Importance of Workforce Readiness

by | Sep 28, 2018 | From the Desk

Coming across my desk this week was the World Economic Forum’s 2018 version of its The Future of Jobs Report. The report contains a number of items worth noting.

1. Technology continues to drive change in business. First, the report points to the increasing effect that technology is having on the evolution of business, workspaces, and employee skills. In particular, the report signals four specific technological drivers of change — “ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet; artificial intelligence; widespread adoption of big data analytics; and cloud technology.”

2. Global skills instability will increase. New technologies and business models, along with the “changing division of labor between workers and machines transforming current job profiles,” leads employers surveyed for the report to conclude that by 2022, the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly.

3. The need for re- and upskilling will increase significantly. According to the report, by 2022, “no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.” 35% of those will require additional training of up to six months. 10% will require additional skills training of more than a year.

4. “Those most in need of reskilling and upskilling are least likely to receive such training.”

The Challenge with Re- and Upskilling: The Need for Better Foundations

An overriding theme in the WEF report is the need for re- and upskilling the workforce to meet the demands of evolving industries and business models. Such re- and upskilling will necessarily require strong technical skills and a foundation of critical thinking from which workers can grow.

Interestingly, key tenets of this foundation were outlined nicely in the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) 1991 report: “What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000.”

Almost three decades ago, the commission identified strategic areas of skills and character development for meeting future workforce needs in the U.S. — Basic Skills, Thinking Skills, and Personal Qualities.

A decade after the SCANS report was published, corporate and educational leaders in the U.S. began to realize the potential magnitude of the workforce problem that would be created by a lack of properly skilled workers to meet evolving labor demand. As we wrote in our recent Career Foundations white paper:

By the early 2000s, leaders from education, business, and government sectors began recognizing a gap between the skills required for the jobs of the 21st century and the available skills of the U.S. adult population. Of particular concern has been the ability to source middle-skills jobs or those jobs which require “significant education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree.”1

Analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Skills Coalition determined that 53% of the U.S. labor market in 2015 was comprised of these middle-skills jobs, but that only 43% of the country’s workers possessed the needed skills to fill them. The skills gap is set to widen as 63% of U.S. jobs in 2018 will require education between a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree, and these middle-skills jobs will comprise 48% percent of all job openings through 2024.2

The quick takeaway from all of this is that, while we have known for decades that we have to find new ways to prepare workers for the 21st century, we have not addressed the challenge adequately. As a result, we have a growing number of adults in the U.S. and around the world who are undereducated and unprepared for employment success in the coming decades.

This challenge is precisely why we are creating our Career Foundations program, which is designed to provide the essential skills, literacies, and character qualities needed for adults to have well-paying and meaningful careers in the 21st century. This curriculum emphasizes workplace contexts for learning. It is designed to provide demonstrable evidence that, from their first day of employment, participants are prepared to be highly effective employees in middle-skills jobs.

Of course, the real success of any program focused on workforce and career readiness is whether or not its participants (1) acquire the knowledge and skills they need, (2) get better jobs and, (3) continue learning and earn promotions.

This is why I am so excited about this month’s launch of our initial pilots for Career Foundations with three Oklahoma rehabilitation and diversion centers — OCARTA wellness hub, Pellow House mentoring program, and Men’s 1st Step Diversion Center.

These pilots are collaborative efforts that involve our online curriculum, frequent coaching check-ins, weekly mentoring, and a set of long-term research activities. I believe that, over time, these pilots can develop into a model for how communities in the U.S. can work together to ensure that we’re meeting the education needs of underserved, undereducated, underemployed, and unemployed adults.

We are inspired by our pilot partners and highly motivated by the need we see among adults in the U.S. So, while Career Foundations is still a work in progress, we are excited about where it can go and the impact it can make on peoples’ lives.

I look forward to sharing updates about our curriculum development and organizational collaborations around Career Foundations as we move forward.

– Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
  Executive Director

1America’s Forgotten middle-skills Jobs
2Carnevale, Anthony P., et al. Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Georgetown University
Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010,


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