New MIT Work of the Future Research Explores How Work-Based Learning and Online Education Are Key Elements of Adult Training

Workforce Training Essential to a Post-Covid Economy

The MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, a multi-disciplinary initiative examining how emerging technologies are changing the nature of work, has released three briefs that highlight the critical role skills, learning and workforce training can play in creating shared prosperity for workers. With millions unemployed due to Covid-19—very likely facing the restructuring of industries ranging from retail to travel to hospitality and entertainment —workers will need to not only obtain new skills but also find new work.

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New research briefs explore how work-based learning and online education are key elements of adult training. Workforce training essential to a post-Covid economy.

This research from members of the Task Force explores the highly fragmented U.S. workforce training system for low- to moderate-skilled workers, comparable programs in Europe in which the private sector is significantly engaged in both the classroom and the workplace, and lessons from learning science and new technologies that could make online education, including workforce training, more effective.

Skill Training in Adults
Author: Paul Osterman, Professor of Human Resources and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management

Professor Osterman shares findings from a new original survey describing how working adults obtain their job skills and he identifies significant inequalities and disparities in the job market that an effective training policy can address. The brief goes on to explain that skill training is important because many low-wage workers lack the skills needed to move into better jobs and middle-aged workers who are displaced will need assistance finding new work using new skills. Professor Osterman then describes creative skill-training initiatives and community college programs that are successful, and he takes up the difficult question of how to diffuse these successes at scale.

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Growing Apart: Efficiency and Equality in the German and Danish VET Systems
Authors: Christian Lyhne Ibsen, Michigan State University and Kathleen Thelen, Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT

The brief explores examples of Europe’s vocational education and training (VET) systems and compares recent developments in Germany and Denmark, two of the most successful systems of firm-sponsored VET. Often cited as being successful in providing firms with a steady supply of skilled workers, while at the same time performing critical social inclusion functions, they have faced recent challenges. Germany has pursued a firm-led strategy in which adjustments to VET reflect the needs of the country’s largest and most sophisticated firms, emphasizing the economic objectives of training, but at the partial expense of its social inclusion functions. By contrast, Denmark has pursued a more state-led strategy; legislative reforms in the 1990s played an important role in shoring up the VET system’s social inclusion functions, but these interventions may have also contributed to a deterioration in the public image of VET. The brief compares their approach and offers a reflection on the policy lessons for the United States.

Applying New Education Technologies to Meet Workforce Education Needs
Authors: Sanjay Sarma, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Vice President for Open Learning at MIT and William B. Bonvillian, Senior Director, Special Projects at Open Learning and Lecturer in Science, Technology and Society at MIT.

The brief focuses on the question: What are the lessons from learning science and new technologies that could make online education, including workforce training, more effective? Our current workforce education system faces many gaps, from underinvestment to a deep disconnect between the still-separate worlds of work and learning. There is now a major need to make workforce education a policy priority, to upgrade skills for those being left behind, and to help others shift job sectors to areas where there will be work. Online will be a critical technology in enabling a new scale of workforce education to meet growing needs. However, the brief argues that it will not scale unless it provides quality training; to do this effectively, online trainings must incorporate lessons from learning science.

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