- The function and makeup of the workforce will change as industries adapt to new technology and processes, raising questions about how educational models are responding to deliver relevant training, explains a new white paper from the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group.
- The report examines eight possible outcomes for the future of work based on three variables: educational models, workers' economic mobility and the rate of technological advancement. A combination of the outcomes is most likely, the authors note.
- One common theme throughout the outcomes is what the report positions as a consequence of educational models being slow to adapt to workforce needs: displaced workers competing for fewer jobs as industries become increasingly automated.
The ability for workers to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the workplace "is one of the most impactful and uncertain variables for the future of work," the authors write.
They see two paths forward for workforce education: learning outcomes staying mostly the same or undergoing a "rapid learning evolution."
Their recommendations to business and government leaders count on some degree of change across lower- and higher ed. Proposed reforms include adding tech-based and soft skills to the curriculum; combining offline and online learning; "professionalizing and enhancing" teachers’ roles; and developing "better and more inclusive" lifelong learning systems.
They don't count out challenges. For instance, how successfully workers can refresh their skill sets will depend on "the quality of and access to" those supports and "the costs and time associated with it as well as clarity around its potential returns."
The ability to do so is among "the most critical actions" in the report, the authors explain.
It is also an area of greater focus across higher ed. A policy paper released in September from the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities put workforce development under the purview of four-year research universities and urged institutions to find ways to connect their programs to their local and regional economies.
Several institutions are looking to lock down this pipeline of prospective students, which is shaping up to be an important revenue stream as traditional enrollments decline. Arizona State University and the nonprofit National University System have each in recent months launched ventures designed to work with employers seeking educational opportunities for their workers.
Although the for-profit nature of Arizona State's InStride has raised eyebrows, observers told Education Dive that the ability to attract and retain the adult learners brought in through these arrangements is often not something traditional universities do well.
Other institutions are growing their online offerings to reach this group. Among them, the University of Massachusetts system recently announced plans for an online college targeting adult learners. And the State University of New York is underway with an online expansion that hopes to reach this group and fend off competition from online powerhouses like its neighbor Southern New Hampshire University.
Colleges are also adding job-related knowledge to their curriculum. Embedding certifications in degrees, long an option at two-year institutions, is slowly gaining traction in four-year curriculum as well. Other recent work on short-term credentials includes the development of badges in soft skills employers have asked for, such as oral communication and problem solving.
Critical to the uptake of these credentials is finding ways for students to present to prospective employers their full range of skills they learned on their path to a full degree — something institutions are working toward with approaches such as new kinds of transcripts.