Skills Gap, Automation and Globalization Require Worker Development

Discussions of the relationship between the skills gap, education, automation and globalization took place at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington last month. US governors looked to the future. Most governors believe the economy is doing well and the recession is behind them. But that doesn’t mean they are complacent.

Many governors at the conference expressed concerns about future skills gaps and the effects on the economy. Governor Bullock of Montana said, “A witches’ brew of technology and automation, globalization and middle class stagnation will continue to threaten the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Americans over the next decade.” The answer to this threat, he says, is to equip workers with skills they need today and promote lifelong learning.

At the conference Richard Haas, Council on Foreign Relations president, said that the pace of change in the economy is faster than the US has ever seen before. Artificial intelligence and potential jobs losses at every level create changes that are different from changes that have occurred in the past. The challenge is how to deal with these changes. Gov. Bullock said it is important to equip workers with skills, adding “We must incentivize businesses to invest in workers, as they do in equipment.”

Echoing this idea, Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the US Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce said that businesses must take the lead when addressing workforce issues and the skills gap.

Businesses that take the lead in addressing workforce issues recognize the value of tuition assistance for their workers. Job tasks change. McKinsey Global Institute predicts that as many as a third of American workers may need to learn new skills and change jobs by 2030. And that doesn’t necessarily mean changing employers. It means that work tasks themselves will evolve. A perfect example of this is the use of computers in the last 30 years.

There are many changes in licensing and certification requirements. In 1950 one in twenty workers needed a license for their job. Today one in four does. https://cfrd8-files.cfr.org/sites/default/files/The_Work_Ahead_CFR_Task_Force_Report.pdf

In response to these changes, workers will need to rethink their idea of education as something you do one time, states The Council on Foreign Relations report The Work Ahead: Machines, Skills, and US Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. “Citizens will also need to rethink education, jettisoning the notion of education as something largely completed before they enter the workforce. Instead, lifelong learning and periodic retraining will become the new normal.” Tuition assistance that encourages lifelong learning is the path to closing skills gaps, and beneficial for both employers and workers.

Encouraging employees to pursue education and retraining is a sound investment for businesses. It can help them retain a strong position in the global economy. In product innovation and production, as well as workforce development, the US is competing globally. The US is a leader in developing technologies that have made lives better for people all over the world. Investing in workers through tuition assistance for employees will help businesses maintain this leadership position.

Presently, business leaders across the globe are investing in their workers to close skills gaps. The Brookings Institute reports, “As a portion of our economy, we spend less than nearly every other industrialized country on so-called active labor market policies (ALMPs) that help train workers and match them to jobs. Furthermore, we invest less than we used to in these policies—as a percentage of GDP, we spend less than half of what we spent in 1985.”

Tuition assistance that helps close the skills gap is at the core of effective business leadership. Strong leadership recognizes the need for a workforce meets the challenge of changing marketplaces, global competition and increasing technology.