Why America’s Future Rests on Managing the Future of Work

Workers in the United States are remarkably resilient about the disruptive forces that are reshaping the way they work. A 2018 survey[1] of 11,000 middle-skills workers (those with less than a four-year college degree) from 11 countries reveals that compared to workers in many other advanced and emerging nations, U.S workers are happier with their current employment situation. More U.S. workers also believe their situation has improved over the last five years compared to workers in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom.

It would be a shame if we took the resilience and enthusiasm of U.S. workers for granted. For, despite their belief that the future of work will be better for them, the survey identified that workers in the U.S. face three very real challenges in preparing for the future. They are alarmed about the high cost of training or re-skilling. They worry about forgone wages and the lack of time to invest in training. And they don’t know the right options to prepare them for future jobs. All three issues are areas where business and policy leaders can help: They can close the information gap and the resources gap that then leads to the skills gap.

Ensuring that U.S. workers have the skills required to be productive in the jobs of the future is the single, most-significant task we can focus on to improve U.S. competitiveness. It helps U.S. companies access the steady stream of trained talent they require in order to be globally competitive, and it helps U.S. workers aspire to higher wages and better standards of living. Above all, it protects U.S. workers from forces like globalization and automation. It prepares them for jobs that are on-shore and tasks that require more sophisticated human engagement. Given that today, more than 66% of the U.S. population has less than a four-year college education, addressing the middle skills gap in America is a critical priority for not just the prosperity of the nation. It is essential for ensuring that prosperity is shared by all Americans.

-Manjari Raman, Program Director and Senior Researcher, Project on U.S. Competitiveness and Project on Managing the Future of Work, Harvard Business School

[1] “Future Positive,” Joseph B. Fuller, Judith K. Wallenstein, Manjari Raman, Alice de Chandler, Project on Managing the Future of Work at Harvard Business School and BCG’s Henderson Institute, May 2019. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/research/Documents/Future%20Positive%20Report.pdf