August 02, 2017

How Congress Can Help Americans Succeed in the Economy of the Future

Policy Recommendations to Create a Landscape for Life-long Learners

Today some Americans struggle to find jobs despite employers reporting millions of open positions. In certain sectors, the skills pipeline needs modernizing to give everyone opportunities to succeed in the changing economy. Federal policy needs to catch up with the changes in our workforce in the 21st century economy to ensure that Americans can succeed. It will take coordinated action as a country, both in the public and private sector, to meet that challenge.

To better understand the challenges of 21st century workforce development, the New Democrat Coalition Future of Work Task Force held its third public forum on July 19th, 2017, focused on skills trainings for our changing workforce, featuring Harry Holzer, Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown; Byron Auguste, President and Co-founder of Opportunity@Work; Portia Wu, Director for Workforce Policy for Microsoft; and Julie Peller, Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates. New Democrats, per the panelists’ recommendations recounted in this post, will explore policy solutions to address these changes in workforce development.

Julie Peller, Executive Director of Higher Learning Advocates, outlines the educational landscape: “There will be 55 million job openings by 2020, over one third of which will require a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require an associate’s degree or some college. We know that the fastest growing employment fields — those in STEM and healthcare — require at least some college education. As we’ve known for some time, post-secondary credentials are no longer an option. It’s a necessary ticket to participate in the modern day economy, yet even holding a post-secondary degree or credential today does not guarantee employment or employability.” Federal policy needs to catch up with the changes in post-secondary education and the workplace. Peller goes on to say, “we need to build on the bipartisan passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, [by conducting] a holistic review of our workplace and higher education systems, with the goal of harmonizing and bettering connections between them as needed.”

We must create complementary policies and systems that prepare people for long-term job success. “Sector-based training really works when it’s done well, when there’s a partnership between a community college and an industry for a region, developing a curriculum to send trained workers to the industry in question,” said Harry Holzer, Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown and former Chief Economist for DOL under President Clinton. “We should be looking at expanding high quality careers in tech education, work-based learning, and locked apprenticeships combined with a community college credential that’s broader [and] gives [workers] more portability across occupations, industries, and firms.” New Dems agree that “we need to have better incentives and more resources targeted to the high-demand areas.” Holzer suggests Congress incentivize “at the associate and certificate level, but that it be a different set of incentives so there is accountability based on the subsequent labor market outcomes.”

Byron Auguste, president and co-founder of Opportunity@Work,discussed the need to build infrastructure for life-long learning. “Collaboration is our friend. The private sector has to be engaged — and I would argue not just as individual companies, but they have to stack hands in a town-like alliance to allow people into college, the opportunity to continue learning.” Federal post-secondary education and workforce training programs need to be more compatible with one another as learners intersect with multiple programs and systems in a life-long learning path. “To the extent possible, common definitions should be agreed upon and shared in order to benefit individuals who float in and out of different programs,” said Auguste. The experts urged that federal government should encourage and acknowledge the regional identification of workforce needs and goals.

“Our economy is in the midst of an ongoing technological evolution. That evolution can generate significant opportunities for economic growth and people with the right skills will have the opportunity to be part of that growth,” said Portia Wu, Director for Workforce Policy for Microsoft. “For both companies and workers to thrive in this digital cloud-driven economy, employees’ skills need to keep pace with advances in technology.” New Dems are committed to figuring out how to address not only the skills deficits of today, but also of next year or next decade. Otherwise, we risk facing an uncertain future and a widening gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who do not. This will take coordinated action as a country to meet that challenge.

“Our economy is changing, and a lot of hardworking Americans are being left out. We must do more to prepare our current and future workforce for the jobs of the 21st Century,” said New Democrat Coalition Future of Work Task Force Co-Chair Congressman Seth Moulton. “Many old training models have failed, so we should rethink how industries, academic institutions, vocational and technical schools, and workforce development programs interact with each other. Our New Democrat Coalition Future of Work Task Force is tackling these challenges head on, and we look forward to working with outside partners to meet the economic challenges ahead of us.”

The rapid acceleration of technology, social changes, and flexibility in the work place — especially among millennials — has created new challenges in public policy. The conventional model as we know it is changing. The Future of Work Task Force will continue holding public forums to investigate changes in the economy and work. Tune in to watch the full livestream from the third forum here.

The discussions at these forums will help serve as a foundation for the Task Force to build out policy priorities in the future.

By:  New Democrat Coalition