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In and around Washington these days, think tanks and policy institutions are awash in projects and discussions about the “future of work.” On one side, pessimists suggest that mass numbers of workers could be displaced by robots and artificial intelligence technologies. On the other, optimists point to the historical role of innovation in creating millions of jobs in brand new fields. Amid all that, the trends of sluggish wage growth, an expanding contingent workforce, and diminishing power among American workers prompt continued experimentation and debate around ideas like universal basic income.
Most of the time, however, these conversations don’t include the types of local leaders in business, education, and labor who find themselves on the front lines of responding to these emerging realities. Meanwhile, those leaders grapple with a toolbox of outdated policies and practices ill-suited to the challenges of the modern economy.
As part of a recent public forum hosted in partnership with The Atlantic, The Shared Prosperity Partnership—a national collaboration between the Kresge Foundation, Brookings, Living Cities, and the Urban Institute—convened a panel of workforce experts and employers to discuss ways that local leaders can improve the standing of American workers both now and in the future. That discussion alighted on three practical lessons for these critical stakeholders:
1) Disrupt traditional training models.
Although it still pays to complete a college degree, shorter, more flexible forms of training can also provide opportunity to a broader swath of workers. This will become even more true as employers emphasize specific competencies they are seeking in job candidates, rather than generic levels of educational attainment. “A four-year degree shouldn’t be the marker that separates people that don’t have one to entering those jobs they can perform very well in,” said Plinio Ayala, the president and CEO of the information-technology training organization Per Scholas. He described the importance …