From Manufacturer to Coder: How Is The United States Preparing Its Workforce For The Professions Of The Future?
October 09, 2017
By Juan Diego López Rodríguez
With this prospect for the U.S., the audience has turned to the education sector to inquire how it is preparing its workforce for the jobs that students will hold in the future. This is a difficult task, when it is uncertain what professions, jobs, or even skills will be needed.  Although projections changed in terms of what skills will be necessary for the future, it seems that digital literacy will become more important, that teachers want to be trained in it, and that it will improve business.  This motivates the question of what are public and private initiatives doing to embed digital literacy in schools and training programs. Although the push for apprenticeships of the current administration might seem troublesome for preparing its labor force for the future—if these are mostly in the manufacturing sector—another public-sector initiative, the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, has yielded positive results in digitalizing more classrooms and teaching, having students become comfortable with the use of technology. Furthermore, there is a predicted rise in private sector education-technology investment, which will give more opportunities for students to develop digital literacy.
The model of the economy influences the type of jobs that become available for students. The past two administrations expanded funding for apprenticeships, which last usually for two years or longer and give on-the-job training. This might be worrisome since, as Thomas Friedman has pointed out, going to school for a few years and be prepared for the next 30 is outdated.  Currently, the most common professions for apprenticeships are electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and construction workers. Last year the investment was $250 million and this year, there was an increase of $200 million in new funding for apprenticeships in fields like healthcare, information technology and manufacturing.  Although apprenticeships are becoming more involved with technology to what extent are they preparing workers for rapid technological advancements, where the competencies that they have might not be useful in less than a decade?
Enter basic education initiatives. The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) has promoted the use of technology for education in the U.S. There has been an increase in the number of schools that have access to broadband in their classrooms, in a greater variety and lower costs of technology, on data security and digital citizenship, in the arrival of new research on the use of technology by early learners, and professional development for teachers in technology before they enter the classroom.  All in all, the NETP aims at preparing future high-school graduate to be more attuned with technology than they were years ago, which will make it easier to adapt if professions require the use of digital literacy. Another big player has been private initiatives, where there has been surge in investment in education technology.
The graph above demonstrates the increase in investment that educational technology has experienced in the past decade and a half.  There was a surge for PreK-12 and Post-Secondary Learning Technology in 2015, and forecasting seems to say it will increase in the near future.  It is supposed to grow $252 billion globally by 2020.  These investments have developed personalized and adaptive technologies, solving the renowned problem of providing individual feedback so that students can be taught differently. Some of these personalized improvement practice programs have increased productivity significantly.  In general, again, the idea is to get students to be more attuned with technology.
In higher education, an initiative from the private sector to incentivize the entry to technology apprenticeships has been the “skills-based” approach in hiring. Supported by Microsoft, the idea is that employers don’t hire over college degrees, work history, or personal references, but over skills. These websites train workers on specific skills, and also filter employees based on this.  In IBM, for instance, a third of the new hires don’t have four-year college degrees.
Both the public and private sector are reacting to the demand of digital literacy in education. Apprenticeships for technology have increased, more technology in the classroom is already a reality, and new training for teachers on technology is a way in which digital literacy will continue to improve to prepare workers for jobs for the future—If jobs exist in the future.
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The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.
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