Changes in our labor market are difficult to predict, but provide glimpse of valuable skills

As a workforce development board responsible for impactful investment in our region’s labor market, it is important for our organization to take a critical look at the rapid changes in the composition, structure and trends in the labor market projected in the next ten years. While it is a fool’s errand to definitively say that certain things will or will not change in our region’s workforce, some notable research from the United Way of Pennsylvania gives us a starting point to consider whether our students, job seekers and businesses are being effectively trained for the skills that will be valuable in future years.

The research provides an overview of the ALICE population: the acronym standing for Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed. As the labor market changes dynamically, Pennsylvania communities must must find ways to effectively and sustainably educate, up-skill and re-skills the population that is considered to be the “working poor.” One of the challenges set forth in this research is how to provide relevant and valuable skills to our job seekers and workers knowing that many occupations are changing dramatically.

At SCPa Works, we look at this “vulnerability index” less from a perspective of whether or not a specific occupation will still exist, but rather what elements of these occupations can provide a glimpse into the skills that will be in demand in the years to come. This data needs to be understood from a framework of the underlying skills and knowledge that will fundamentally change these occupations.

For instance, some research shows that software developer jobs won’t be in as much demand in future years because of the changes in machine-learning – however, the underlying skill set of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which is the foundation of software development applications, has general applicability in many other occupations and sectors. We believe that data such as this gives us a glimpse into the skills that we need to be investing in for our region’s businesses and job seekers.

A recent Harvard Business Review study, “Are You Developing Skills That Won’t Be Automated,” referenced a recent survey in which 93% of employers reported that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.” The intersection of technical skills and work-ready skills (such as critical thinking and problem-solving) is the nexus where valuable, competitive and difficult-to-automate skills exist.

At SCPa Works, we are investing in programs and initiatives that are evidence-based investments in the skills that will be relevant and valuable for job seekers and businesses today, as well as in the future.