Congress Should Make the Future of Work a Priority

Published apr. 02, 2018

Today’s job market is tough enough for the average college-educated American, but for someone without highly valued credentials or the necessary skills, it can be especially difficult to find a family-supporting career. As we look ahead, increases in the use of automation, technological advances, and contract-based work are further altering the workforce landscape, presenting even more challenges for America's workers. The changing nature of work is an issue of national significance and one that leaders from city councils to the halls of Congress are taking seriously and seeking out policy solutions to address.

The challenges brought by the future of work will be faced by workers, education institutions, businesses, and communities, and JFF believes that ultimately the solutions will come from these groups. This is why it is critical that our nation’s policymakers hear directly from those facing the future of work head on. Last month, JFF’s policy team in Washington, DC, hosted a forum for congressional staff to educate policymakers about how education and workforce systems are working to keep pace with the changing demands of the U.S. economy.

Congressional staff heard about the findings of two recent reports from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and analytics software company Burning Glass Technologies (with the World Economic Forum). Both   reports predict that automation and artificial intelligence will create economic growth and a flood of new jobs in the future—but only if U.S. workers are prepared with the skills to perform them.

Both reports stressed that U.S. education, workforce development, and social support systems must change to help workers make rapid transitions and acquire the skills needed in the new economy if we are to reap the benefits of these changes. These demands will challenge current models with the need for additional education, mid-career training, and increased soft-skill development. It is critical that we begin to change the organization, delivery, and pace through which we provide skills training in this country so students and workers can make the necessary transitions to new career opportunities. This is especially important for students and workers who are already underrepresented in high-demand careers, so they don’t fall even further behind in the labor market, widening the income divide and increasing inequality in our nation.

The staff also heard from two community college presidents who discussed how higher education institutions are looking for ways to adapt their programs and practices to best prepare students for today’s changing economy. Community colleges serve students who have a high risk of falling behind in the future economy if not provided with the right skills and credentials. Forty-four percent of these students are low income, and a majority are from minority populations.

Community colleges want their students to succeed, and many schools are working to create innovative programs that accelerate learning and credential attainment in high-demand industries. However, higher education systems must also find ways to keep up with the rapidly changing labor market while addressing traditional challenges associated with access, affordability, and course completion. The lack of proper and flexible financing and available data makes these tasks even more difficult, limiting colleges’ ability to address equity issues, invest in knowledgeable career navigators, and explore labor market information.

JFF is committed to identifying the changes that U.S. education and workforce development systems must make to keep pace with the future of work. Getting this transformation right is critical in order for American workers and employers to succeed in our ever-changing economy.

JFF believes that public policy must evolve in response to the changing realities of the workplace and the increasing needs of American workers. This forum highlighted the anticipated disruptions that traditional education and workforce systems will face in the upcoming years. Solutions to these challenges will require continued conversations and collaborations among leaders at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as with employers. JFF looks forward to continuing this conversation with our federal partners to ensure mobility for all Americans, today and tomorrow.