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Pew Survey Shows Which Americans Need Help Closing the Skills Gap

Technology has fundamentally altered the way Americans work in just two decades.

Article by Laura Collins October 12, 2016 //   3 minute read

Technology has fundamentally altered the way Americans work in just two decades. As the Bush Institute’s Holly Kuzmich pointed out last week, the economy is ever-changing and workers need to adapt their skills to keep pace. But do workers recognize these gaps? A new Pew Research Center survey and analysis suggests that they do and provides some insight into what workers think they need to do to succeed in the 21st Century economy.  

The Pew analysis found, unsurprisingly, that the knowledge economy is ascendant—employment in jobs requiring more education, training, and experience has exploded since 1980. The number of jobs requiring average to above-average education, training, and experience increased by 68%, more than double the rate of increase of jobs created for workers with below-average education, training, and experience. The American workforce of tomorrow will have higher-level social and analytical skills, with manual skills rapidly fading in importance.

Pew’s survey results show that many Americans have already internalized these changes, with 87% of working adults acknowledging the value of additional training and education in their careers, with a full 54% saying this additional training will be essential. Many working adults are already striving to remedy this gap, with 45% reporting that they received additional training in the past year. But an individual worker’s belief that additional education and training are important is divided by prior educational attainment.

Highly educated workers are more likely to believe that additional education and training will help them get ahead in their careers than workers without any college experience. Sixty-three percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher say that they will need additional skills throughout their career. By contrast, only 45% of workers without college experience feel the pressure to attain new skills.

The workers with lower educational attainment are already in a more precarious position, and their lack of motivation to obtain more skills makes them particularly vulnerable to the sweeping changes that we know technology can bring to the workforce. As our economy continues to evolve to be increasingly knowledge-based, these workers will be at even more of a disadvantage.

It is incredibly important the American workers are equipped for what our economy will look like in the future. While many Americans are already working towards that, there is a subset that is not prepared for the additional changes that are imminent. Without a change in outlook regarding obtaining new skills, these workers face being shut out of the global economy.