A three-part webinar hosted by Brookings Institute looked into academic and industry perspectives on retraining the U.S. workforce. Arranged by Future of Middle Class Institute division of Brookings, sessions traversed the latest efforts in training in both knowledge economy and frontline roles.

The first panel discussed the roles of community college, shorter programs that are often seen as a pathway to another institution but could be repurposed to provide clearer pathways to economic advancement. Riley Acton presented her research on prospects for community colleges, “Community College Program Choices in the Wake of Local Job Losses.” summarized here.

Acton’s paper suggests that there should be greater co-ordination between industry and community colleges to build programmes that respond to in-demand skills. A shortcoming for mature students lies in the missing data about previous skills and ways to develop this foundation in a training setting. Meanwhile a need to contextualize economic shocks is needed so that students aren’t deterred from enrolling when they view a bad labor market.

Workplace training occupied the second panel with a focus on research from Annelies Goger and Marian Negoita who wrote a paper on the dynamics of ETF-funded training in California. "The authors explained that employers tend to under-invest in workforce training. Some employers cannot invest in training due to resource limitations, while others are concerned that if they invest in training other firms will poach their workforce and the company will not be able to recoup the investment in training. Then there is the question of which courses to choose to get most benefit from training hours. Goger asks, “who gives a quality lean management training?” It’s this curation that ETP could consider.

Two other panelists contributed to the work-based learning topic with Goger. Joel Branch weighed in on the role of artificial intelligence with a recommendation that a nationwide approach be taken to developing these skills - merely having pockets in Austin, San Francisco and New York is not sufficient. Meanwhile Melanie Zaber of RAND Corp echoed the perceived “poaching risk” that employers feel when they spend dollars on training their employees.

In a final panel, Robert Litan and David Deming of Harvard discussed the post-COVID landscape. Deming doesn’t have an optimistic outlook, identifying that there has always been a mismatch in the market - the “connective tissue” isn’t there. Meanwhile Litan’s wage reduction protection idea and retraining emphasis breathe more hope into the social mobility of work.

Watch the webinar recording here and follow Tweets using #RetrainingTheMiddleClass.