Training Workers for the Future

Three reports identify existing training gaps and explore solutions for upskilling the global workforce.

THE MIT TASK Force on the Work of the Future, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, has released three briefs that highlight the critical skills and training that will help workers prosper in the years to come. Each brief takes a different angle on how to design new, more effective educational systems to train low- to moderate-skilled workers for newly created jobs.

The first brief, “Skill Training in Adults,” is written by Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In his discussion, Osterman describes effective skill-training initiatives at community colleges and explores how to scale such programs to reach more workers.

The second brief, “Growing Apart: Efficiency and Equality in the German and Danish VET Systems,” is authored by Christian Lyhne Ibsen, associate professor at the School of Human Resources & Labor Relations at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and Kathleen Thelen, Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT. Ibsen and Thelen describe the successes and challenges of vocational education and training (VET) programs in Europe, before exploring how well similar systems might work in the United States.

The final brief, “Applying New Education Technologies to Meet Workforce Education Needs,” is co-authored by Sanjay Sarma, professor of mechanical engineering and vice president for open learning at MIT, and William B. Bonvillian, senior director of special projects at the MIT Office of Digital Learning. They identify gaps in current education systems—including underinvestment and a disconnect between the worlds of work and education. They then explore what it will take for educational providers to design more effective online training programs.

Sarma and Bonvillian believe online education—including digital badging and MOOCs—will be a critical component to building a skilled workforce. At the same time, digital credentials “have been proliferating at a rate that makes them difficult for employers and workers to understand,” they write.

“Much work needs to be done to adjust online training for the kinds of learning challenges different workforce groups face, including incumbent, displaced, and new entrant workers,” Sarma and Bonvillian conclude. “One size clearly won’t fit all; online training will have to adjust to worker needs.”