The Work Ahead-Machines, Skills, and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century


(Updated April 2018)

The seven major findings of the Task Force are:
• Accelerating technological change will alter or eliminate many human
jobs. Although many new jobs will be created, the higher-paying ones
will require greater levels of education and training. In the absence of
mitigating policies, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are likely
to exacerbate inequality and leave more Americans behind.
• Embracing technological innovation and speeding adoption are critical
for U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. Openness to
trade and immigration are also vital for maintaining U.S. technological
• Strong economic growth that leads to full employment has been the most
consistently successful approach for raising the wages of Americans.
• The lack of accessible educational opportunities that are clearly and
transparently linked to the changing demands of the job market is a
significant obstacle to improving work outcomes for Americans.
• U.S. efforts to help displaced workers are inadequate. Unemployment
insurance is too rigid and covers too few workers, and retraining
programs are not based on the best global models.
• Too many jobs are going unfilled because of restrictions related to
credentialing, mobility, and hiring practices. More could also be done
to create new opportunities in higher-unemployment regions.
• Current workplace benefits—from sick leave to retirement plans—are
too often available only to full-time employees, and are not adapted to
the emerging world in which more workers are part-time, contract, or
gig workers.
The Work Ahead offers recommendations for government, business,
educators, and nongovernmental institutions. Moving forward will
require creativity and courage by leaders in many fields—not business
as usual. Many of the recommendations draw from smaller-scale initiatives
already underway around the country. Some would be immediately
beneficial, while others will require long-term commitments.

The seven major recommendations of the Task Force are:
• Governments should adopt an explicit goal of creating better jobs and
career paths for Americans. Initiatives should aim especially at attracting
investment and revitalizing entrepreneurship.
• The United States needs to remain a world leader in technology and
innovation. This should be supported by increased public and private
research and development (R&D), support for commercialization of
new research, and an open door to highly skilled immigrants.
• Governments should implement policies aimed at maintaining strong
growth and demand for labor. Employers should commit themselves
to a “high-road workplace” that offers employees decent pay, training,
scheduling, and benefits. Special measures are needed for communities
struggling to attract investment and jobs.
• The United States should set and meet a goal of bringing postsecondary
education within the reach of all Americans and linking education more
closely to employment outcomes.
• Unemployment insurance should be overhauled to reflect the realities
of the current economy, and mid-career retraining programs should
adopt the best features of the European “flexicurity” models.
• Governments and employers should work to reduce barriers to labor
mobility for Americans, including high housing costs, occupational
licensing restrictions, and inflexible hiring practices.
• The United States should create portable systems of employment
benefits tied to individual employees rather than to jobs themselves.
Employers should also help fill the gap by expanding benefits for their
part-time and contingent workers.

Finally, the Task Force recommends that the president and the
nation’s governors create a national commission on the U.S. workforce
to carry out research, share best practices, and conduct public outreach
on workforce challenges. This should be the start of an urgent effort to
put workforce issues at the center of the national agenda.
At the turn of the twentieth century, when the United States was
unsettled by similarly rapid technological change, the high school
movement produced a boost in educational attainment that was
critical to U.S. economic success and to the country’s rise to global leadership.
Success in the twenty-first century will require the same type
of bottom-up, cross-generational effort, with Americans demanding
that governors, local leaders, businesses, and educational institutions
rise to meet these challenges. There should be vigorous competition
among states to pioneer new models and lead by example. The federal
government needs to encourage, support, share, and build on such
efforts. With such a broad-based movement, the United States can
build a more productive, inclusive, and resilient economy for all Americans—becoming
once again a model for the world.
[Copied from pdf]

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