The United States needs a skilled technical workforce to remain competitive in the global economy and to ensure that its workers participate in the nation’s economic growth. There are significant opportunities as well as major challenges in this regard. Notably, rigorous evidence indicates that the returns to investments in technical skills in the labor market are strong when students successfully complete their training and gain credentials sought by employers. At the same time, the committee found that in many instances, workers either are not taking advantage of these opportunities or are failing to complete their training programs.
To understand why, it is necessary to recognize that in the United States, the responsibility for developing and sustaining a skilled technical workforce is fragmented across many groups, including educators; students; workers; employers; the federal, state, and local governments; labor organizations; and civic associations. For the system to work well, these groups need to be able to coordinate and cooperate successfully with each other.
Unlike most other advanced economies, the United States lacks formal mechanisms that require governments, educators, labor representatives, and employers to coordinate on workforce development policies and practices at the national level. In fact, workforce development in the United States is polycentric in nature, driven by a variety of private and public investments in workforce education and training. Workers often pay for on-the-job training through lower wages. Although employers and governments share an interest in developing and maintaining a robust skilled technical workforce, their respective investments often are uncoordinated. At the same time, public investments are guided by a complex and similarly uncoordinated set of policies associated with achieving similarly divergent goals related to economic development, education, employment, health and human services, and veterans’ affairs. In this polycentric system, making better use of available resources and generating better outcomes requires improving coordination between students and educational or training institutions, between secondary and postsecondary institutions, and especially between training institutions and employers through a variety of public, private, and hybrid mechanisms.
The good news is that promising experiments currently under way across the United States can provide guidance for innovation and reform, although the scalability of some of these experiments has not yet been tested. As detailed in Chapter 6, evidence suggests that integration of academic education, technical training, and hands-on work experience improves outcomes and return on investment for students in secondary and postsecondary education and for skilled technical workers in different career stages.
The findings and recommendations presented below are designed to help overcome some of the barriers identified within the current framework of federal governance, state implementation, and market incentives. They address the key elements of the statement of task for this study. To the extent possible, the recommendations call for specific actions by Congress, federal agencies, state governments, employers, and civic organizations to improve the American system of workforce development.
1. The skilled technical workforce includes a range of occupations that require a high level of knowledge in a technical domain, but many of these occupations do not require a bachelor’s degree for entry.
2. Although widely used to describe this segment of the workforce, the term “middle skills” fails to capture the high value and dynamism of this segment of the U.S. workforce and is seen by some as having pejorative connotations. This label can deter students and workers from these occupations at every stage of their career.
3. To remain competitive in the global economy, foster greater innovation, and provide a foundation for shared prosperity, the United States needs a workforce with the right mix of skills to meet the diverse needs of the economy. Conversely, an insufficiently skilled workforce imposes significant burdens on the U.S. economy, including higher costs to workers and employers and lower economic productivity.
4. The evidence suggests that as a nation, the United States is not adequately developing and sustaining a workforce with the skills needed to compete in the 21st century.
5. It is difficult to find rigorous evidence on how well skilled technical labor markets are functioning at aggregate levels of analysis across the nation.
6. The nation is experiencing, and will continue to experience, imbalances in
the supply of and demand for skilled technical workers in certain occupations, industry sectors, and locations. The nature of the problem differs across sectors and locations. These imbalances arise from multiple sources.
7. In the United States, educators, students, workers, employers, the federal government, state and local governments, labor unions, industry and trade associations, and other civic associations all play a role in skilled technical workforce development.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Download: Building America’s Skilled Technical Workforce | The National Academies Press