How Will the Changing Nature of Work Transform Education?

August 30, 2016

The gig economy, also known as the sharing or on-demand economy, has captured the attention of the media and policymakers for good reason: The changing nature of work raises a number of tricky questions about how the rules of our economy, ranging from labor to education to the social safety net, should respond and evolve.

These are issues our Next American Economy (NAE) project and Roosevelt Senior Fellow Bo Cutter have dug into over the last few years as we’ve convened experts across diverse disciplines to study what policymakers should be doing today to ensure a thriving economy in the future.

Through these convenings, we have arrived at a central question: How should our current learning systems, from early childhood education to worker trainings, be transformed to prepare workers for the new economy? In February, we brought together 30 experts to explore key interventions and policy solutions to promote revolutions in early education, secondary education, and post-secondary training or lifelong learning. This discussion informed NAE’s new policy brief series on learning.

Ajay Chaudry makes the case for investing in universal, high-quality early childhood education starting at three years old, citing evidence that this is an essential step toward meeting the nation’s labor market needs and reversing growing educational and economic inequality.

For decades experts have debated how to prepare the workforce given the rapid rate of technology change. Mike Meaney and Jacqueline Smith argue the true imperative is to teach all students why lifelong learning matters, and present three principles to facilitate lifelong learning through both traditional colleges and universities and modern hybrid institutions.

Chelsea Barabas and Philipp Schmidt from MIT’s MediaLab call for a fundamental rethinking of how we train and credential the future workforce. They discuss the emerging challenges associated with credentialing given the increasingly diverse landscape of higher education and explore specific risks, including implications for upward mobility and equal opportunity. They also offer a few guiding principles for future development of an ideal infrastructure for managing credentials.

We’re not alone in thinking about how education policy should evolve with the changing nature of work. The Department of Education launched a new program targeting low-income students, which will give access to federal student aid for programs offered by non-traditional training providers, including coding boot camps, online courses, and employer organizations.

Although we can only speculate what the long-term outcome and impact of the gig economy will ultimately be, these are important trends to study, and policymakers should continue introducing creative educational innovations in order to prepare the workforce for this new economic reality.