Automation, globalization, and other market disruptors are dramatically changing the nature of work in America, threatening to sideline youth and adults with little education and few skills—but opportunities are developing. That was the topic of The Philanthropy Roundtable’s conference in Denver, Colorado from September 11-12—Philanthropy’ Job: Empowering Workers in an Age of Automation.
“Work is the best solution to poverty which is why we need to solve the upskilling challenge. That’s why we are here, to discuss how we get those skills to everybody,” said Jo Kwong, director of economic opportunity programs at The Philanthropy Roundtable.
Panelists and speakers examined emerging industries, markets, and career tracks that allow an underskilled workforce to succeed in an evolving global economy. The opportunities afforded these workers are requiring numerous fields in philanthropy to work together.
“Whether it’s K-12, poverty, economic mobility, or higher education, when we are talking about the future of work, all of those things are blending together. There are no easy distinctions anymore,” Kwong said.
Examining the Landscape
Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center, studies the social and demographic trends in the country. Pew completed a study last year called the State of American Jobs, which examined how the shifting economic landscape is reshaping work and society.
“In this study, we wanted to see how the labor force was changing and how Americans are reacting to those changes,” Parker said.
As the knowledge-based economy has grown, employment has increased by 70 percent in jobs that require more education and training preparation. These jobs also require a higher degree of social and analytical skills, which can be a barrier for some job-seekers. This trend is at the root of the income inequality gap.
“Soft skills still really matter and the public knows that,” Parker said.
In addition to the increased emphasis on education, Americans also see a greater need for ongoing skills training. However, more than 70 percent of the public sees the individual, not the government, bearing the most responsibility for securing that training.
“The public does not look to government to fill this role, and I found that very interesting,” Parker said.
How Education can Meet the Demands of Future Work
The ever-shifting employment landscape also requires a shift in approach to education, especially for K-12 students. Without essential “personal success skills” training, many young people face a lifetime of unemployment or low-wage jobs. One panel discussed how educators are preparing K-12 students with essential life and work skills for a modern economy.
“We have a relevancy problem for 54 million children across America. We are not making learning relevant. We have taught [students] that they have to learn math to take a test and they don’t like it,” said Vince Bertram, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way.
With science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs becoming a larger share of the global workforce, getting students engaged in these fields is critical. Students often decide as early as the second grade whether they like science and math. This provides an opportunity for philanthropy to improve the classroom through activity and problem-based instruction as well as teacher training.
“We all know the inextricable link between K-12, post-secondary education and careers. We feel our grantmaking should not only mirror that but really dive into the continuum and transitions that are most critical for kids to be successful,” said Beth Swanson of the Joyce Foundation.
Jason Gaulden, communications director at America Succeeds, shared some of the findings in a soon-to-be-released report from his organization called The Age of Agility: Education Pathways to the Future of Work, which examines how the age of automation and robotics is changing workforce demands.
“Frankly, there’s a misalignment between what the education system produces and what is needed in the workforce. We have to close that skills gap,” said Gaulden.
Gaulden also reiterated what Parker said about workforce training, primarily that employers need to take workforce training into their own hands. He highlighted the clear trend emerging today that students need to adopt a mindset of lifelong learning so they can be agile and adaptive to the changing workforce. Educators also need to catch up to a world that has passed by our current education system.
After a discussion surrounding K-12 education, the focus turned to post-secondary education investments to train workers for the digital economy. This discussion highlighted another theme that emerged from the conference—developing an educational curriculum for the employer.
“We are big right now in work-based learning. We are custom designing employees for specific companies,” said Rob Denson, resident of the Des Moines Area Community College.
Several institutions of higher learning, particularly community colleges, are fostering public/private partnerships to create pathways that allow a student to gain relevant skills to fill jobs that are growing in today’s workforce.
“I’m still amazed that there’s not a common glossary for the work that we want to do between educators and employers,” Denson said.
“We need to meet students where they’re at both geographically and where their professional aspirations are,” said Jeff Barrett, executive director at Emily Griffith Technical College.
Community colleges are not the only institutions of higher learning that are connecting education directly to career openings. The UNCF Lilly Endowment Career Pathways Initiative works with 24 four-year universities that which are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or predominantly black institutions (PBI), to provide students with the skills and education required for a 21st century landscape.
“Most of higher education is working from a 17th century ideal, a 19th century model, with 20th century content. None of that is producing 21st century workforce-ready graduates or 21st century workforce-ready thinkers,’” said Ed Smith-Lewis, the director of the UNCF/Lilly Endowment Career Pathways Initiative.
Perhaps the most widely-known, and successful, skills training program is the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) and its predecessor, the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT), which was created by Toyota in 2010. The program was created after Toyota identified an alarming skills gap in job-ready technicians. There are currently more than 600,000 open skilled manufacturing positions and that gap is projected to jump to two million openings within eight years. Additionally, the technicians that are available are not workforce ready, primarily lacking in what are commonly referred to as “soft skills” or “employability skills.” Those factors, combined with an aging technical workforce, spurred Toyota into action to solve the looming crisis.
“What we have been doing before, what most are still doing now, is not going to work. It doesn’t matter how much harder you work at it, it is not going to work. So, something had to be completely re-done from the ground up and that’s what we did,” said Dennis Parker, the assistant manager of Toyota’s North American Production Support Center, who also oversees the company’s Advanced Manufacturing Career Pathways Development.
Toyota designed the AMT program to close its skills gap by producing the kind of workers it needs to fuel its workforce. Today, the program consists of a career pathway that requires total student engagement and holistically develops both the technical and employability skills that employers seek, which enables the employees to achieve long-term career success.
“We didn’t just change our thinking—we had to go 180 degrees. That’s not going to do it for you if the student is your number one customer. Who does your number one customer have to be? The employer,” Parker said.
The AMT program eventually evolved into the nationwide FAME program, which has over 300 employer participants today, more than triple the number it had just a few years ago. It is in 22 community colleges and three universities in nine states with over 800 students participating. The on-time graduation rate is 14-18 times the American community college average. The program graduates 70-90 percent of its students with more than 90 percent of its graduates earning job placement with the original sponsoring company. Graduates earn $50,000-$75,000 in the first year of employment.
With the growing trend towards evidence-based impact, the final panel explored some of the major challenges around metrics and evaluation. How can donors assess the impact of prospective policies? One effort tackling this approach seeks to increase the number of programs that are backed by strong evidence of effectiveness.
“The bottom line is that most interventions turn out not to work over the long term. They have weak or no effect,” said Dave Anderson, director of evidence-based policy at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “So, we’re trying to maximize the likelihood that when we do these studies, we’re going to find these holy grail programs that really improve people’s lives in a meaningful way.”
The Arnold Foundation utilizes in-depth data strategies, such as rigorous random-control trials, to evaluate the impact of job programs. Its goal is to ensure that limited resources are spent wisely on programs that produce meaningful, lasting improvements in people’s lives and to incentivize the widespread adoption of approaches that have been shown to make a difference.
“What are the right metrics and how can you analyze success? These are the types of things we are focusing on at McKinsey’s Generation Initiative,” said Gabe Hakim, COO of Generation USA.
Helen Young Hayes, CEO of Activate Workforce Solutions, moderated the panel and spoke about the need for evaluating the grantmaker to ensure effective investment. Hayes works with both sides of the hiring equation: the job seekers who are trained by Denver area nonprofits and the employers who hire them, giving her a comparative look at both the supply and demand side of the skills gap.
“Cost to success is very important. We cannot just evaluate results. We have to look at how expensive it was to get to those results,” said Hayes.
The Denver conference is the first of a busy fall for the Roundtable’s Economic Opportunity Program as it has another conference in Detroit on October 3—4 discussing strategies donors can support to boost entrepreneurship in their communities. The EO program will also conduct a joint preconference on October 25 at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, entitled “Arizona’s Bold Efforts to Promote Education Work and Life Success.” The preconference will explore how Arizonans are benefitting from school choice and other programs that narrow the college opportunity gap.