For the past several decades, employment has been rising faster in jobs requiring higher levels of preparation – that is, more education, training and experience.
The number of workers in occupations requiring average to above-average education, training and experience increased from 49 million in 1980 to 83 million in 2015, or by 68%. This was more than double the 31% increase over the same period in employment, from 50 million to 65 million, in jobs requiring below-average education, training and experience.
At the same time, the national survey – conducted May 25 to June 29, 2016, among 5,006 U.S. adults (including 3,096 employed adults) – shows how deeply Americans have internalized these trends:
Many see personal upgrading as a constant: More than half (54%) of adults in the labor force say it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. And 35% of workers, including about three-in-ten (27%) adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, say they don’t have the education and training they need to get ahead at work. Many are already taking action or being required to do so by their employer or by licensing requirements in their jobs: 45% of employed adults say they got extra training to improve their job skills in the past 12 months.
The public sees threats to jobs coming from several directions: Eight-in-ten adults say increased outsourcing of jobs to other countries hurts American workers, and roughly the same share (77%) say having more foreign-made products sold in the U.S. has been harmful. Significant shares also cite increased use of contract or temporary workers (57%) and declines in union membership (49%) as trends that are hurting, rather than helping, workers. At the same time, global markets for U.S.-made products are seen as helpful for workers by 68% of adults. And seven-in-ten say the rise of the internet and email has been a net positive.
Americans think the responsibility for preparing and succeeding in today’s workforce starts with individuals themselves: Roughly seven-in-ten (72%) say “a lot” of responsibility falls on individuals to make sure that they have the right skills and education to be successful in today’s economy. And 60% believe public K-12 schools should bear a lot of responsibility for this. After that, views differ on the roles that other entities, such as companies and different levels of government, should play in preparing people for the workforce.
The role of college is being debated: While many college graduates with two- or four-year degrees describe their own experience as having a positive impact on them, just 16% of all Americans think that a four-year degree prepares students very well for a well-paying job in today’s economy. And there is no consensus regarding the main purpose of college. Roughly a third of adults (35%) say it should be to help individuals grow personally and intellectually, while 50% say it should be to teach job-related skills.
Overall, the survey findings and employment data show how Americans are hustling to adapt to new labor force realities.