How Workers Rise

A look forward at skills-based hiring and AI’s impacts on education and work.

Joseph Fuller from Harvard’s Managing the Future of Work initiative on skills-based hiring, career navigation, and AI’s impacts in coming years. Also, the Biden administration’s big proposed changes for registered apprenticeships.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels

Frontline Workers and Employer Behavior

Beginning this year, many people will expect to start seeing results from the growing list of employers that have dropped four-year degree requirements in hiring. In addition, 2024 is likely to usher in big developments with the practical applications of AI on education and work.

Joseph Fuller will be well positioned to measure that progress. Fuller is a professor at Harvard Business School and co-director of the school’s Managing the Future of Work initiative, which recently released an updated ranking of America’s largest companies on how they maximize internal talent.

The American Opportunity Index, which Fuller and his colleagues produced with the Burning Glass Institute and the Schultz Family Foundation, seeks to shed light on the question at the heart of the economic mobility equation: how workers rise. It found that a job offer from one company can hold more promise than from others. For example, Fuller noted that Coke did much better than Pepsi in the index.

Studies show clearly that most lower-wage workers would prefer to stay in their job if they see some chance for upward mobility and growth. Yet too often companies fail to show that path to employees, Fuller says, or even recognize the bottom-line value of investing more in frontline employees.

“A consistent theme in all my research is just to say to companies that there’s a lot of data that suggests the way you’re doing this isn’t all that productive and in many ways isn’t all that smart,” he says. “Why don’t you look into it?”

Fuller doesn’t expect to see much progress in efforts to open doors for nondegree workers over the next couple years. But due in part to the ripple effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action in university admissions, he predicts more innovation in how employers source and develop diverse talent.

Likely areas for growth include work-based learning programs, including compensated internships and those offered by noncollege providers like CareerWise, Year Up, and Merit America. Fuller also predicts that more four-year colleges will follow the lead of Northeastern University and the University of Cincinnati in creating co-op opportunities for students.

Impacts of AI: Fuller is optimistic about companies making serious progress on skills-based hiring over the next five to 10 years. AI will help drive that transformation, he says, by creating the data to better understand the skills associated with jobs.

The technology will allow for a more accurate matching of skills and experiences, says Fuller, and for companies to “not rely on proxies like degrees or grade point averages or even the proxy of what someone currently makes or how fast they’ve gotten promoted on their résumé.”

Career Navigation: Wage growth has stagnated for decades among the 44% of U.S. workers who are in low-income jobs, a population where women and people of color are overrepresented and most lack a college degree. 

Millions of these workers are stuck in a low-wage trap, cycling in and out of jobs that provide neither valuable credentials nor a path to advancement, wrote Fuller and colleagues from the Project on Workforce in a recent report produced with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. The solution, they wrote, is a system that enables people to navigate their careers, through access to accurate information about jobs, personally relevant career plans, and the integration of education, training, and work experiences.

“Learners often are misinformed or uninformed about everything from how much you make in a job to what programs match to certain outcomes,” Fuller says.

Likewise, he says, employers must be clearer about what they want in workers. And they need to step up to help community colleges offer high-demand programs that tend to be expensive to set up and run.

Change is coming soon, Fuller predicts, particularly as AI’s impacts accelerate. And the disruption will affect wealthier Americans who’ve been spared during previous shifts in the labor market.

The Kicker: “When people in bedroom suburbs are losing their six-figure jobs, that changes politics,” Fuller says. “That changes the way people are viewing things like equity and where that leads. It's certainly going to put a lot of pressure on the way the system has worked.”

Click over to Work Shift to read the full interview with Fuller.

‘Ambition for the Future’ With Apprenticeships

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed substantial changes to the registered apprenticeship system to provide better outcomes data, streamline aspects of the application process, and make apprenticeship more compatible with K-12 and college education.

The almost 800 pages of proposed rule revisions would touch just about every aspect of apprenticeship—making a host of changes experts have been calling for for years. It would be the first regulatory update to the system since 2008. 

A few of the significant changes include:

  • Setting a uniform minimum of 2K hours of on-the-job training for programs, while also requiring competency demonstrations.

  • Requiring an end-point assessment of apprentices, a standard practice in the UK, and more thorough reporting of program outcomes.

  • Developing a set of national occupational standards that would serve as an “off-the-shelf” template for employers and streamline the apprenticeship registration process.

  • Creating a new model, the Career Technical Education Apprenticeship, that is designed to be integrated with K-12 schooling and to expand apprenticeship access for youth.

“I give credit to the department for really being responsive to the field,” says John Colborn, interim executive director of Apprenticeships for America, an association that represents apprenticeship intermediaries.

However, he says, the proposal may go too far. “Have we created so many new requirements and innovations that they’ll fall under their own weight?”

The association is particularly concerned about alienating employers. The proposed rules would simplify aspects of the registration process for companies. But it also would add administrative burden in many other areas, Colborn told a group of experts and practitioners in a recent webinar.

“That’s particularly concerning to those of us that hope to see apprenticeship scale,” he says.

This tension between ensuring quality and improving efficiency is not new. It was a common point of debate during the Trump administration’s ill-fated effort to create a new system of industry-registered apprenticeships. At the time, a number of experts stressed that there’s no way to shortcut the process of creating a strong apprenticeship program.

“Designing and building a quality program that has the value that will really pay off for the worker and the employer over time — that’s a lift,” Deborah Kobes, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, previously told Work Shift.

To do that often requires help from apprenticeship intermediaries and financial incentives. And one thing the new rules wouldn’t do is guarantee more money from the federal government.

A few experts and practitioners on the Apprenticeships for America webinar, however, speculated that the Labor Department sees the proposed system overhaul as a necessary setup for a funding infusion and growth.

“What I see here is an ambition for the future,” one participant said. By Elyse Ashburn

Open Tabs

Community Colleges
Two-year colleges often contribute less than they could to workforce development because innovations aren’t widely replicated and resources for career-oriented education are lacking, Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, and Stephen Moret, CEO and president of Strada Education Foundation, write in a recent policy brief. They call on states to make it clear that community colleges are in the lead role when it comes to delivering workforce programs and to provide more targeted support for high-cost technical programs, short-term credentials, and career coaching.

AI and K-12
Roughly half (46%) of U.S. high school students said they have used popular AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, according to a nationwide survey conducted by ACT. Nearly half of those who reported using AI said they used the tools for school assignments, but 62% of the survey’s respondents said teachers did not allow the use of AI for schoolwork. Students with higher ACT composite scores were more likely to use AI tools than those with lower scores.

Degree Requirements
On her first day in office, Cherelle Parker, Philadelphia’s mayor, signed an executive order to eliminate college degree requirements for city jobs where a degree is not necessary. Philadelphia also will publicize the “wide range of good city jobs” that are available to local residents without degrees. Parker, a Democrat, gave a shout-out to former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, for leading the way on eliminating degree requirements.

Skills-First Hiring
State policymakers can help break down structural barriers to opportunity for workers, including through skills-first and fair-chance hiring, write Jobs for the Future’s David Altstadt and Caroline O’Connor. Their roundup includes ways states are better positioning workers to thrive in a labor market transformed by AI, including recent actions by Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro, and by the transition to a green economy.

Morale Gap
Senior employees have higher morale than their junior peers, perhaps not surprisingly, but that gap in sentiment widened during the last two years, according to Revelio Labs, a workforce data company. Career opportunity is the top driver of the difference in sentiment, followed by culture and values, findings that are consistent with previous research from the company. The disparity is highest at companies with a large share of noncorporate workers.

Career Platform
The District of Columbia recently rolled out a new AI-powered career platform that seeks to connect jobseekers and employers based on applicable experience and skills, reports Government Technology. The free Career Ready DC also can reduce bias in the hiring process, city officials say, while offering customized support to its users. The platform initially will be available to residents who are enrolled with the District’s job board site.

Job Moves
Brandon Busteed is the new CEO of BrandEd, an experiential and professional education provider. Busteed arrives from Kaplan, where he was chief partnership officer and global head of learn-work innovation. He previously was Gallup’s global head of public sector.

Happy 2024. I was fortunate to be able to unplug from work for the holidays. Hope you all got some quality time off as well. This will be a busy year. —PF