Setting Students Up for the Workplace of Tomorrow

December 12, 2016

By Sara Melnick, Deputy Director 

There’s a new restaurant right across the street from the NCAN office called Eatsa. They serve quinoa bowls – very healthy. And it’s very “high tech” looking from the outside – lots of lights and white and clean lines. But what’s the one thing you don’t see when you walk by? Employees. Customers place their order on a tablet, and then pick it up, Automat-style, from a cubby. Chefs are preparing orders behind the wall of cubbies, but the need for front-line workers and cashiers has been eliminated.

Eatsa is one of several businesses highlighted in a recent report published by the National League of Cities (NLC) called The Future of Work in Cities. The report explores how advancements in technology and the changing workforce/employer relationship are impacting the future of the workplace. It also recommends ways city leaders can react to these shifts. Although the report focuses on the impact of these changes on cities, the whole nation will be affected. 

The report describes how automation is impacting business: dramatically increasing overall productivity, increasing wages in some jobs, and completely eliminating others. The impact of automation can be seen in industries such as manufacturing, construction, and agriculture and has recently been a topic of conversation among elected officials. Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, has written several articles on the shift from a workforce where employees could get a good job at a good wage with little more than a high school diploma, to one where a credential, certificate or associate degree will be required to fill the many “middle skills” jobs that will become more and more prevalent.

The Future of Work in Cities offers recommendations for how local leaders can ensure that communities and their residents are prepared to take advantage of these shifts rather than be overwhelmed by them, including rethinking education and workforce training programs to meet employer needs and creating policies that build pathways between postsecondary education institutions and business.

“Investment in improving and increasing access to early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary educational opportunities will position cities to not only benefit from automation and other technology changes, but also ensure that the local workforce has the skills to contribute to and share in the gains,” the report says.

The implication for NCAN members is in how we advise students about postsecondary and career options, given the upcoming workforce and labor needs resulting from these shifts. Some states have established postsecondary attainment goals to help ensure their students are prepared for the workplace of the future. Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council, for example, just adopted the goal that 55 percent of Floridians ages 25 to 64 to hold a degree or postsecondary certificate by the year 2025. 

It will be critical that NCAN members are in the loop on future workforce needs and help their students make decisions about pursuing postsecondary credentials that are aligned with these needs. NCAN has recently embarked on a project with USA Funds to help member programs use data to track workforce trends, partner with organizations already involved with this work, and integrate career readiness programming into their own operations so they can ensure their students are prepared for the workforce, city, and community of the future. We encourage you to be on the lookout for these resources, as well as for an announcement about NCAN’s Spring Trainings, which will focus on Connecting College and Career Success in 2017.

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