By the time IBM introduced its personal computer in 1981, the company’s “Job Training Program” was 13 years old. Secretaries and other administrative professionals across the country—workers whose jobs were affected by IBM’s new computer and software—could go to one of the company’s 74 job centers and gain skills in areas including computer programming, data entry, and word processing.
Jobs in industries such as food services, transportation, and retail trade are at high risk of being automated, forcing workers to gain new skills to compete for well-paying jobs. From Google’s self-driving cars to Apple’s communication technology to Amazon’s retail model, automation is becoming more and more pervasive. As communities across the U.S. witness growing gaps between the skills that workers have and the ones that employers need, workers will need training.
Debate about how to prepare workers for the future has largely focused on what educators and employers are doing and could do more of. For academics such as Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University, the two entities would ideally create joint-curricula that ensure students have the skills that employers will eventually want. Northeastern’s signature co-op program has a network of more than 3,000 employers globally. Such partnerships address educators’ concerns that schools should be more than a means to employment and employers’ concerns that it is not their sole responsibility to train and educate workers. For some politicians, the federal government ought to take the lead when it comes to workforce-development programs by, for example, funding and creating apprenticeships in which participants are paid modest wages while receiving on-the-job training and classroom instruction.