Corporate America is grappling with the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on today’s workforce, and many industries are facing obstacles when it comes to hiring and retaining workers who have the skills needed in our increasingly changing economy. According to McKinsey, almost 40 percent of US jobs are in categories that are expected to shrink between now and 2030. At edX, a Cambridge-based online learning platform, we recently commissioned a survey that found that only one-fifth of respondents consider their education from their college major to be translatable to their current field, and another recent edX survey found that more than one-third (37 percent) of respondents have experienced a lack of proficiency in at least one new skill area or subject area of a current or past job.
This skills gap is pervasive — and though Boston could potentially be seen as being ahead of the curve when it comes to high-tech talent, industry data say otherwise. Boston’s innovation credentials need no explanation. Global accounting firm KPMG named Boston the ninth likeliest city globally to become the “leading technology innovation hub outside of Silicon Valley over the next four years,” and Boston boasts a high population of skilled workers in technical fields such as data science and machine learning. However, according to a national survey commissioned by LinkedIn, Boston ranks fourth among cities with the largest skills gap, after New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
It’s clear that something needs to be done to address this issue, but who is responsible for leading us toward a solution? The edX survey found that 41 percent feel it is an individual’s responsibility to ensure we’re prepared for jobs of the future; 33 percent feel it’s an employer’s responsibility; 16 percent believe it’s higher education’s responsibility; and 9 percent believe it’s up to the government. Over time these results will probably shift, with individuals expecting more from their employers to set them up for professional success and create jobs and reskilling solutions within their communities.
While workers recognize the need to continue to develop their skills, 40 percent of those surveyed reported that they don’t feel comfortable asking their employer for help with paying for a learning solution. This means employees would rather face being ill-equipped to manage new technologies at work than ask for an opportunity to reskill and add more value to their organization. Corporate leaders have the power to change this.
One way to address the skills gap is to think about reskilling and corporate learning through the lens of corporate social responsibility, or CSR. Corporate leaders have the power to be the driving pressure toward a collective solution for the future of education in the workplace by empowering their employees with opportunities for continuing their education. This is becoming both a moral and economic imperative for companies to implement education programs to help safeguard the future labor force. Especially as corporate America grapples with the impact of automation and AI, companies have a responsibility to step in and arm their employees with the tools they need to re-skill and upskill in the face of inevitable displacement.
While traditionally CSR programs are geared toward impacting a corporation’s broader community, it could be argued that corporations are responsible for all constituents — both in the community and internally — and therefore CSR initiatives should include both of these groups. A company-wide learning initiative, in this case, could positively impact both employees and the larger community.
Amazon is one example of a company investing in education opportunities for its workforce. With the Amazon Career Choice program, Amazon pays up to 95 percent of tuition and fees toward a professional certificate or diploma in qualified areas of study. More than 10,000 employees have participated, gaining knowledge and credentials that put them in a better place career-wise, and for applying for additional roles within Amazon.
The future of the workforce in our city is in the hands of Boston’s corporate leaders. By viewing training and development as a CSR initiative, companies can invest in their workers and communities while helping the bottom line. We have a huge opportunity to be an example for the other tech hubs in the United States that are facing similar skills gaps. Can we rise to the challenge?
Adam Medros is president and COO of edX.