Adult learning is an important function of higher education. It is a vital part of preparing the workforce for changes that happening due to technology advancements and the ongoing COVID pandemic. Workers and their employers both have a stake in successful adult learning programs and the resulting stronger economy.
Adult learning is a key for economic recovery for several reasons. Workers are staying in the workforce for longer careers, as life expectancy expands. These workers need life-long learning to update their skills for current jobs, or reskill for future jobs. As adults stay in the workforce longer, reskilling or updating their skills means that more people are actively contributing to the economy.
The next normal isn’t defined yet, but it’s clear that adult learning will be an important part of it. Automation could displace 20-25 percent of US workers by 2030, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates. And the pandemic continues to create changes in the marketplace with remote work, consumers’ purchasing online rather than in-person, and changing manufacturing processes. This does not mean that workers will be displaced and have nowhere to go. It means that workers will need to reskill and update current skills to meet shifting labor demands. It means that workers must seek learning opportunities.
New occupations may account for as much as 10 percent of jobs created by 2030. The technology that may replace jobs also has generated new jobs for developers, analysts and customer-service representatives. In 2019 the International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work (an agency of the UN) stated, “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.” All this points to the need for continual adult learning.
Sixty-five percent of jobs in America now require some college education, compared with just 28 percent in 1973, according to the Education Trust. This change in education demands will only increase in the future. The demand for technological skills, coding and interacting with technology, could rise by more than 50 percent. The need for complex cognitive skills could increase by a third, and demand for high-level social and emotional skills such as initiative taking and leadership could also rise about a third, McKinsey Global Institute estimates.
Adult learning opportunities will help workers adapt to changing work environments, created by the pandemic. At a recent meeting of the Workforce Development Institute, held by the American Association of Community Colleges, business leaders discussed how remote work will affect jobs and what kind of training is important for workers. Adult learning will need to include skills that give workers “the ability to rapidly learn, unlearn and relearn based upon new and dynamic and changing situations in the business,” stated Lisa Lang, head of Learning and Education Americas at the Siemens Foundation.
The best adult learning opportunities will consider both the employer and employee needs. With support from employer tuition assistance, employees can take courses and upgrade skills that are specific to the tasks they need to perform. Employers can also encourage education paths that help workers develop the communication, problem-solving and analytical skills that will fill needs within the company. McKinsey Global Institutes states that adult learning and employee training opportunities deliver on multiple levels. “In addition to making use of technical content, successful reskilling programs are designed to help learners alter their mindsets: they teach employees about new ways of working and emphasize the personal- and professional-growth opportunities available to them.” Lang from Siemens support this idea of the vast potential for adult learning. “More than just learning the skills, it’s developing that mentality to increase learning capacity.”
Adult learning that supports employees and strengthens their skills benefits both employees and the business as a whole. The idea of meeting workers’ need with continual learning is important to meet the changes brought about by technology and the pandemic.
By Kathleen Eischeid, Edcor Business Development Coordinator
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