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Workers Put Premium on Obtaining Skills Yet Unsure of Upskilling Opportunities

Published Oct 22, 2020 by Susan Moore

UpSkill Works Forum: Are We Ready For The Future of Work?

A new survey of American workers indicates that workers mostly feel positive sentiment pertaining to the economy, but it revealed concerning truths about career exploration and access to skills development programs.

In October during an UpSkill Works forum, the Partnership’s Peter Beard, who leads the UpSkill Houston initiative, hosted Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, the workforce-focused media organization that commissioned the survey. Oates presented the key findings and others and shared what they mean for workers, students, employers and educators.

The WorkingNation American Workers Survey was conducted by Frank Luntz and his company, FIL, in August 2020, with a sample size of 800 people. The survey is a “snapshot in time” that shows a useful picture of how workers view their skills and how they could obtain more. The data collected can point employers, educators, career coaches and parents of students of any age to areas ripe with opportunity to increase career exploration and opportunities to obtain additional skills.

Key findings in the survey include:

  • 75 percent of workers surveyed believe they can still aspire to obtain the American Dream.
    • 47 percent equate the American Dream with going to bed each night feeling financially secure.
  • 31 percent of workers said they never talked with a parent or teacher about their future job.
  • Workers put a premium on certifications in technology skills as a means for obtaining well-paid employment in the future
  • 66 percent of workers say they have never had the opportunity to participate in skills training on-the-job.
  • 56 percent of workers were unaware of local skills training programs; More than 20 percent said they would not use these programs, anyway. 

Oates advocated for school curriculum to include job-focused lessons in creative ways and for colleges and universities to embed industry-recognized credentials into associate and baccalaureate degree programs as opportunities to improve career understanding and provide the education individuals believe they’ll need to have successful careers in the future.

A recording of the Forum may be viewed to the right. Main points from the discussion follow.

Workers are optimistic about achieving the American Dream. They value employment that is enjoyable and rewarding over employment that’s secure. Even now, amid the pandemic and changing labor market, people seem more willing to take an enjoyable, rewarding or interesting job with an employer that might appear less secure than one that seems more secure, Oates said.

Nearly one-third of workers (31 percent) said they never had a discussion about a future job with a parent or a teacher, a statistic Oates hopes can be changed by creatively embedding career exploration into school curricula. By doing so, “you're teaching them how to write a research paper, but you're also teaching them how to learn about what they could do and what they're interested in how they match their passion with how they make their money.”

“If we could get parents of every age to begin and continue to talk to their children about careers and their potential, it could make a difference,” Oates said.

Workers believe that to have a healthy economy it is important to have a skilled workforce and put a premium on obtaining technology skill credentials in order to get a job in the future that pays well. This should be a “warning bell” for higher education institutions signaling a need to embed industry-recognized credentials into traditional college programs.

The majority of workers have not been offered skills training by an employer; they’re also unaware of other local training programs. They also expressed confusion and even fear of the changing economy and learning new skills to remain successful.

Language makes a difference, and talking about “careers” and “career progressions” versus “jobs” will resonate with workers.

“We’ve been talking career pathways for decades and it’s resonated.” Oates said. “People understand that they might have to take an entry-level job, but they want to build that career.”

Workers also said they trusted themselves to solve the skills gap (34 percent) more than they trusted the business community (21 percent) or school or education systems (20 percent). Coaches and counselors can use this to remind clients that they are in charge of their own destinies.

“People need to say to people that come to them for advice or assistance or guidance, ‘You are in charge of your own destiny. You have to have skin in the game. You have to be committed to this.’ You can build the best program ever, and people who work in programs know this, and unless a person really committed to it really puts their best effort out they're not going to get the most out of it,” she said. 

“One of our biggest challenges I think today, and certainly moving forward, is motivating people to believe they can be anything they want to be with some hard work,” she said.

Learn more about the UpSkill Houston initiative. See recordings of all past UpSkill Works Forum events.

Executive Partners