Tomorrow's Skills Agenda: 5 Predictions for the World of Work

Posted by Frank Britt on January 20, 2020

We’re past the point of debate about whether the world of work is changing. The labor market continues to tighten. The shelf-life of skills is shrinking as technological change and the rise of AI transform the global economy. The “future of work” has become a cliche.


As the pace of change picks up, what should employers and workers expect in 2020 -- and how can they keep up? Following the trend lines of workforce transformation can help us make smarter decisions and unlock economic mobility for workers. Here are five predictions for how the world of work will continue to evolve in the coming year.

  • Learning to work becomes working to learn

    2019 was a historic year for employer investment in skills training. Amazon, IBM, and PwC announced major initiatives to upskill workers -- or, in some cases, prepare them for their next job. Walmart expanded its $1-per-day “Live Better U” program with a new focus on fast-growing fields like allied health.

    It’s all part of a larger trend in which employers themselves are becoming some of the most important brokers of education and training -- instead of going to school so you can get a job, more people are getting a job so they can go to school. In a tightening labor market, attracting and retaining talent increasingly depends on offering skills as a benefit. And with the pace of technological change only continuing to accelerate, more and more employers are rethinking the “build vs buy” approach -- and doubling down on training that can help them and their employees prepare for tomorrow’s world of work.


  • The apprenticeship of the future

    Can a centuries-old approach to education really be considered “new”? In a changing world of work, apprenticeships -- which have been around since the Middle Ages -- are garnering renewed interest as an approach that can both meet talent development needs and provide workers with new pathways to stable careers.

    The federal government has taken note, recently announcing $100 million in grant funding for public-private partnerships focused on expanding or creating apprenticeship programs. And organizations like Techtonic are emerging as leaders in a new, tech-focused approach to earning while learning.


  • The rise of outskilling

    Of course, not all technological disruption is beneficial for workers -- a fact that is becoming increasingly clear as the future of work becomes the present. According to a recently released report from General Assembly, 7 in 10 employers either have -- or plan to – lay off employees whose skills have become outdated due to the implementation of new technology.

    In a historically tight and increasingly volatile labor market, the frequency of workforce transformations is likely to increase. As a result, a growing number of companies are embracing a -- perhaps counterintuitive -- approach: training for employees who will eventually leave their organization. So-called “outskilling,” as in the case of Amazon’s Career Choice program, helps organizations promote overall positive employee sentiment, establish positive long-term employee relationships, and differentiate themselves in the eyes of potential candidates.


  • The potential of “first-mile” services

    First coined in the telecommunications industry, the term “last mile” has now been appropriated by fields from supply chain management to workforce development. And in recent months, “last-mile training” has become a popular descriptor for the cadre of emerging short-form, career-aligned programs that provide on-ramps to the labor market’s most in-demand jobs.

    There’s no doubt that last-mile programs are offering faster, cheaper pathways to economic mobility. But what often gets overlooked are the “first-mile” realities faced by the millions of Americans who are being left behind by economic growth: lack of a high school diploma, food insecurity, or challenges with transportation and childcare. There’s a growing understanding among both employers and training providers that these first-mile barriers must be addressed to close growing skill and equity gaps in the workforce. Companies like Edquity are working with colleges and community organizations to help increase access to these services.


  • Getting unstuck in the middle

    The landscape of so-called “middle skill” opportunities -- between the high school diploma and the bachelor’s degree -- is broad, complex, and growing -- and serves as the foundation for much of America’s productivity and prosperity. In fact, middle skill positions now make up the majority of the U.S. labor market.

    But by suggesting a homogeneous “middle” level of skills, the term threatens to undervalue the level of skill acquisition required for success in these roles, which are often highly skilled and specialized. Today, emerging approaches to skills-based hiring and digital badges are challenging the “degree-or-not” dichotomy. They reflect increasing momentum toward a model that recognizes skill attainment not as binary, but as a spectrum -- one that can help to unlock opportunities on both the supply and demand sides of the labor market.


As the threat of job automation grows into an in-your-face reality, 2020 is the year to take action to ensure your company is prepared for the change. Whether you have exceptional workers that need training or outskilling, or you are in increasingly desperate need to grow your staff to fit new positions, there are learning-based solutions that can help your company thrive in the automation age.

Red arrow pointing up in stairwell.