What's the role of the government in training people for the future of work?

One of the issues we came across in our research is that the U.S. government’s spendings on employment and training programs are ridiculously low when compared to the amount of money poured on such programs by the U.S. industry. See here -
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“According to the 2014 “Ready to Work” Federal report, the U.S. government’s employment and training programs have received only $17 billion in that year. The year before that, businesses in the U.S. spent nearly half a trillion USD - more than 25 times the amount the government spent - on training.”*

Do you think the government should increase its spendings on employment and training programs? Or should we leave this task to the industry?

@alysia_o - I know you worked in Boston’s municipality in the past. Would love to learn what you think of this issue.

It would be great to get a non-US perspective on this question as well.

@greengil, @TravellerBeyond, @bedomin, please let us know what you think!

I do believe that indeed is not at one single stakeholder job, this is a tripartite effort that should be conducted by government, industry and the citizen! I like the programs they hable in countries like France, Denmark or Singapur, where they have credits for people working that they can spend in upskilling programs. I believe the US could see the benefit in this programs, so people can have the resources to take their knowledge to a new level that will allow them an opportunity in the future!

I agree with you @dianadaniels that this is not a single stakeholder job. in addition, I think it is important to differentiate between different skills and to focus on those that will still be in high demand in the future. In this regard, I think that the following occupations will still see employment growth for quite a while in the age of automation/digitalization. Some of them are instrumental for educating the next generation. So I think that successful programs should focus on educating/training, among others,

  • childcare personnel and preschool teachers
  • elementary school teachers
  • care assistants for older adults
  • healthcare personnel
  • all types of personal assistants/trainers/coaches and personal service providers (I have difficulties to imagine robots as yoga instructors)
  • psychological counselors
  • IT specialists, programmers, coders and generally people with expertise in STEM and related fields

In short, interpersonal skills, teaching skills, and expertise in STEM should probably be the focus.

@Klaus agree with you a simple note, if you have difficulties on robots as yoga instructors, the increasing number of apps and devices such as muse or calm, are replacing yoga/meditation instructors though… so we need to think always outside of the box! but agree with you soft skills are super important in terms of empathy type of jobs!

@dianadaniels You are, of course, completely right. Although I have the feeling that despite of apps being very good substitutes for many personal services, the number of humans in these jobs is still rising (and not shrinking as in manufacturing when perfect replacement becomes feasible). So probably there is a bit of complementarity between apps and humans (e.g., that apps might help people getting interested in the first place).

For the most part I believe that bringing in the Government for this type of training should be only happen to first establish a fair set of rules on an even playing field for private industry to operate. After that a free market system seems to historically be the most efficient and innovative way to proceed. A larger Government presence could be justified though if a crisis occurs like massive retraining of workers from disrupted industries due to automation for example. But that should only be an option of last resort.

I agree with you @dughogan that the free market system is the most efficient and innovative way to proceed, in general. This can be even proven formally if a certain set of assumptions is fulfilled (no externalities, free disposal, full information, everybody can engage in trade). These assumptions tend to be fulfilled for a wide range of goods/services. In case of education/training, however, most of the assumptions are not fulfilled. E.g., education tends to come with positive externalities because co-workers of more educated partners in teams are more productive; education boosts technological progress and technology adoption, etc. In such a situation governmental interventions can be beneficial, even in terms of efficiency. I guess this is exactly the reason why no country leaves education to be a fully private/personal matter.

There’s also a risk for companies: you invest time and money in (re)training workers and then, once they have learned new skills, they might switch to a better-paying job at another company.

@NickOttens has a very good point. “Brain drain” as we call it in our studio and it is very real issue. On one side it spurs competition which is both natural and good, but it also causes time to be wasted when you have to relearn things that have already been learned previously. To combat that we put heavy focus into documentation and maintenance of that knowledge. That in itself is almost a full time task, so we try to decentralize that as much as possible and make apart of the department and company culture.

Lack of knowledge can then be seen as an opportunity instead of a handicap in that type of environment of continuous logging and documentation. The words “I don’t know” are highly encouraged in my department, and that goes back to the growth mindset talked about previously. We like to hear “I didn’t know that, let me write that down…” even more!

@NickOttens -
In response to the issue of brain drain, I’ve heard an interesting answer once -
“Would you rather have 50% of your trained workforce going away, or to have workers who are untrained and inefficient continue in the company?”

Presumably it’s not either-or. It’s not like companies don’t invest in their workers at all. Many do.

But if we want them to invest more, they need to have a stronger incentive to do so. I think that needs to come from government policy.

@dughogan, I’m skeptical your solution can work, or at least in all cases. As we’re discussing in another thread, it are increasingly “soft” skills that are in demand. I imagine those are hard to document and transfer.

Thank you all for your input here! I’d like to redirect this discussion now to Government Struggles to Fund Training and Upskilling.

We’re officially considering this a core problem that will affect the future of work and asking you:

  • What are governments already doing to cope with this?
  • Why are these solutions inadequate or not working? (Unless they are!)

Please click here to share your views.

@NickOttens Soft skills are very hard to document and have to come more from the overall culture of the organization. This is where I believe mentorship can fill in the gap. Would you agree?

Maybe that ties in with our discussion, Are apprenticeships the solution?

I also have questions about teaching soft skills, as I mentioned in the How do we teach soft skills? discussion. I’m having a hard time imagining how that could be formalized and, as you point out, documented, because it is intangible.