Lifelong learning and reskilling are necessities in a continually shifting labor market. The traditional education system and current skills training programs are not enough to prepare workers to roll with the changes, according to Jane Oates, WorkingNation’s president.

Oates appeared on a Voice of America news segment on January 2 and gave her take on the shift underway in workforce development. With automation and digitalization revolutionizing how we work, VOA Los Angeles reporter Elizabeth Lee asked Oates about the skills for tomorrow’s jobs and how people will gain them.

“In the 21st century, you are not ever going to be done learning and adapting and figuring out how you fit into the new paradigm,” Oates said about the role workers will play in adapting to technology.

Fitting into the future of work will mean acquiring hard skills that cannot be replaced by automation. The soft skills to understand and manage this transition — critical thinking and time management, for example — are equally prized by employers too. Oates told the VOA that high schools and colleges are not adequately preparing students with either skill set to increase their employability.

Oates called the current system “antiquated” regarding keeping pace with skill demands. Technology is creating entirely new careers in cloud computing, green energy, and robotics. Even traditional forms of work, such as skilled trades, are trying hard to get students to consider them for careers. In adapting to new careers or reviving proven pathways to blue-collar jobs, many educators are entrenched in their ways and are not using the knowledge or solutions offered by industries, Oates said.

Jane Oates spoke with Voice of America about the need for better skills training for workers of all ages.
WorkingNation President Jane Oates on Voice of America. Source – VOA

“They need to hire the faculty from business. There’s nobody who knows how to do this software,” said Oates. “We’re just barely catching up on coding.”

Helping students and workers avoid obsolescence is the way secondary and post-secondary institutions can survive in the 21st century. On a smaller scale, companies and educators are partnering to meet workforce needs with targeted educational programs. College alternatives also are getting more attention as federal taxpayer money increasingly is spent on apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities.

It will be up to both workers and schools to understand the changing world around them and adapt accordingly. Acquiring new skills is what led the VOA story’s subject, Jennail Chavez, 25, to learn carpentry through the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. But unlike older generations caught in an unemployment shock, she won’t be caught off guard by sudden advances in home construction. She noted that 3D printers are now making entire houses and putting her future career choice in question.

The question that remains for Chavez, and one that Oates poses in the video, will she have the educational resources to apply her carpentry skills in new ways? In 10 years, will Chavez be the one programming the 3D printer at a higher pay grade or still swinging a hammer herself?

Join the Conversation: Watch the VOA video and tell us your thoughts about Jane’s comments about the future of work and education on our Facebook page.