Preparing America’s labor force: Workforce development and employment readiness

With the rapid development of new technologies, automation and artificial intelligence workforce development was at the forefront already before the Covid pandemic. In addition, employers have had an increased pressure to get more people with...

With the rapid development of new technologies, automation and artificial intelligence workforce development was at the forefront already before the Covid pandemic. In addition, employers have had an increased pressure to get more people with adequate appropriate education faster. Especially has the need for technical competencies up to bachelor level been emphasized.  With Covid disproportionally effecting people with less education, preparing and developing the workforce for the future to support economic recovery, development and prosperity has never been more important.

Picture: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

The responsibility for education and competence issues is a state level issue with limited federal involvement. This means that each state has its own education department and agencies. Licensing of work categories such as doctors and physical therapists is also a state responsibility and these licenses can not automatically be transferred between states which often is consider a hinder for development/progress.

On a federal level, most of Department of Labor`s (DOL) almost 4 billion dollars is distributed to the governors and the states. A couple of projects supported by DOL on a national level are:

  • The implementation of “Industry Recognized Apprenticeships” to meet the industry`s competence needs. This is an expansion of apprenticeships to new categories like biotech and health care with some having the ambition to be national rather than the currently common regional or state specific.
  • ONet (Occupational Information Network), a powerful database with detailed descriptions of the world of work for use by job seekers, workforce development and HR professionals, students, researchers, and more. For example, O-Net has been used to assess which jobs are at higher risk for being impacted by AI and robots.

There is a pressure from employers, the public and students for universities to do more to prepare students for the workforce. For universities the question is what strategies they should use to develop the skills among students required by employers while supporting them in their quest as thinkers, leaders and innovators.

Work-and-learn strategies adds employer-engaged hands-on experiences to the academic part of a university education. The scope of work-and-learn models range from simple experiences like career fairs and expos to more advanced like registered apprenticeships with job shadowing, externship, clinical training, internship, co-operative education and more in between.

Certification is seen as an important tool for workforce development and universities are increasingly looking to support students in obtaining an employer-recognized certification in addition to their degrees. By facilitating for students to get certifications such as Project Management Professional or Certified Professional Accountant in addition to their degree a mindset of continuous education is also instilled. Certifications requires continuing education and recertification on a regular basis ensuring an update of knowledge and competencies.

As a complement to the limited federal responsibility for education, around 80 national educational associations actively contribute to policy development, research and exchange of knowledge.  Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) is North America`s oldest higher education association with member institutions in all 50 states.

Two programs run by APLU addresses the employment readiness by emphasizing and strengthening universities and industry collaboration:

  • “Innovation & Economic Prosperity designation program” helps higher ed institutions strengthen their comprehensive economic development strategy and recognizes institutions that have demonstrated a considerable and sustainable commitment to regional economic development.
  • “Integrating Industry Certifications with Degrees” where APLU and its partners through regional convenings explore how universities can improve student success and workforce outcomes by embedding industry certifications into four-year degree programs in the area of health, cybersecurity, the liberal arts, manufacturing and hospitality.

Do not hesitate to contact the OSI office in Washington D.C. if you would like to discuss and learn more about workforce development and employment readiness in the U.S.

Maria Lönnberg