Tech education on the job and at school needs a makeover to keep up with the future of work

Survey finds most workers want on-the-job training as long as it's not a waste of time.

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Image: EtiAmmos/istock

Employers, individuals and universities need to work together to modernize all forms of tech training from degrees to certifications to just-in-time programs are relevant and worthwhile, according to a new report. "The Future of Work, Insights for 2021 and Beyond" from Infosys and the Milken Institute finds that most educational efforts are not relevant to current and future needs.

Although artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, and 5G are already disrupting many if not all industries, the good news is that researchers expect these jobs to increase job opportunities overall. In the survey, Infosys and the Milken Institute looked at what employees want from training programs as well as what employers need to stay competitive. The survey was conducted in fall 2020 and included 608 managers and 401 employees in the United States from companies with at least $1 billion in revenue.

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The report authors found that the tech industry needs more flexible training options as well as a better set of metrics to evaluate which programs are worthwhile and which ones are a waste of time. Here's a recap of what the report found.

The impact of COVID-19

The pandemic made inequality even worse than it was before, according to the report, with people in low-wage jobs getting hit harder while people working in the digital economy are in higher demand than ever, according to the report. 

During the pandemic and the shift to remote work, employers found they had a bigger hiring pool and workers had more job opportunities, according to the survey. 

Just over 30% of respondents relocated since the pandemic started with most people moving to be closer to family or to find a location with a lower cost of living. The survey found that similar numbers of managers and employees wanted to work from home, although people without children and women wanted to work from home more than other employee groups.

Matching skills and digital transformation demands

The survey found that learning and working are becoming more deeply connected due to the need to keep up with new technologies and that higher education institutions will need to find new partners to plug the skills gap. The survey found that each of these training methods was almost equally important:

  • On-the-job training: 27%
  • Licenses and certifications: 26%
  • Online courses: 24%
  • University degree: 23%

The survey also measured attitudes toward training and analyzed the results based on annual income. A majority of people in all four income brackets agreed with the idea that employees should look for their own opportunities for training and not rely on employers. At least 67% of respondents in all groups said they would attend mandatory training if it would improve job skills, but at the same time more than half of all respondents in each group said most training has been a waste of time.

Training for the jobs of the future

The study authors identified four factors to consider when thinking about jobs that will be in most demand in the future:

  • Course corrections in digitalization: Companies must update job forecasts and upskilling plans continuously to respond to market developments.
  • The productivity paradox: Tech adoption does not have the effect across the entire economy.
  • The multifaceted nature of future resilience: Industries that avoided layoffs during the pandemic have no future guarantees just as recent job cuts don't indicate a long-term decline. 
  • The modularization of jobs and companies into skills and tasks: The individual tasks in a single job may be divided among machines, algorithms, onsite, remote and freelance workers to take advantage of the strengths of each.

These factors should guide planning for upskilling programs as well as regular reviews to keep these programs relevant.

Training programs have to be agile, too

The authors note that employers need a more standardized approach to evaluating training problems, such as online courses and boot camps to account for wide variations in "quality, cost, exam rigor and admissions criteria." Stakeholders need to understand which courses are better and worth supporting without being slowed down by "middlemen, third parties and vested interests."

Employers and educational institutions should "recalibrate traditional workforce development models that recognize the long-term return on investment in talent, skills, and people." This will require collaboration among workers, employers and educators, according to the report. The authors recommend taking these steps to upskill workers, promote equity and make sure training programs are relevant:

  • Accelerate regional growth through public investments that broaden access to local sectors with high potential.
  • Finance access to education and skills training, including for underprivileged populations.
  • Strengthen business-education partnerships, including just-in-time learning, agile curricula and flexible time commitment.
  • Regular and outcomes-based evaluation of initiatives, to continually identify areas for improvement.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica Combs is a senior writer at TechRepublic. For more than 10 years, she has covered technology, healthcare, and business strategy. In addition to her writing and editing expertise, she has managed small and large teams at startups and establis...