Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The CEA gazes into the employment future

The Council of Economic Advisors has released a report on future job growth and training needs titled, "Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow."

The report begins with projections of job growth in different industries. Those projections indicate that health care, education, and construction occupations are likely to add millions of jobs between now and 2016. Other occupations, such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals, are also expected to grow, though with a smaller impact on employment.

The report then backs out the changes in worker skills that will be necessitated by these occupational shifts. Not surprisingly, many of the new occupations will require greater critical thinking and problem-solving skills. More post-secondary schooling, both in the form of college education and vocational training, will be needed.

Finally, the report makes recommendations regarding how to train workers more effectively.
Elements of a more effective system include: a solid early childhood, elementary, and secondary system that ensures students have strong basic skills; institutions and programs that have goals that are aligned and curricula that are cumulative; close collaboration between training providers and employers to ensure that curricula are aligned with workforce needs; flexible scheduling, appropriate curricula, and financial aid designed to meet the needs of students; incentives for institutions and programs to continually improve and innovate; and accountability for results.
Colleges and universities should note that increased accountability, which was recommended by the previous administration and which is now common-place in elementary and secondary schools, is likely to remain an emphasis in the current administration.

On the whole, there is little substantively to disagree with in the report. An increasingly skills-based economy needs skilled workers. Schools, training programs, community colleges, and universities will be crucial in producing those skills.

What's surprising though is the relatively long-term focus of the report. Yes, we absolutely need to prepare workers for the jobs that will eventually be available. And yes, the anticipated output recovery will eventually create jobs that will need to be filled.

However, the report is mostly silent about steps that can be taken to dampen the immediate unemployment recession. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was one step in this direction (and is touted in the report), but additional near-term steps are needed. Re-employment bonuses for unemployed workers, better job search tools, incentives for caseworkers, and tax breaks for firms that add jobs should all be on the table.