AIF Blog

Rethinking Jobs in the Connected Age

Oct 30, 2015
During the largest transformation of the American economy in a century — one defined by rapid globalization and digitization — a recent study estimates that 47 percent of American jobs may be disrupted or lost by technology. But a panel of experts at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival see promise, not hopelessness, for workers in this globally connected world. And they’re figuring out how to adapt the American labor market to the new economy.
“We find in this moment tremendous potential to use globalization and technology to be the very forces that create opportunities for Americans,” said Zoe Baird, president and CEO of the Markle Foundation. Baird was referring to a collaboration of 56 leaders who through an initiative called Rework America recently published a book, America’s Moment, that outlines how opportunity can be created in the digital global age. Baird also talked about Reworked America Connected, a program which has partnered with the State of Colorado and the City of Phoenix, in conjunction with LinkedIn, Arizona State University, and edX, that aims to help connect employees to career and education opportunities and to create skills-based markets using technology.
One of the main principles of the new, networked economy is that “college may not be the only path for success in this economy,” said Baird, who leads Rework America. Community colleges, online education, a trade-based certificate system, and myriad nontraditional training programs all have a role to play in developing the means and methods that match people and jobs in a new way. And so do employers — Baird mentioned that there are biotech companies who hire people with associate’s degrees for advanced manufacturing jobs that have plenty of upward career potential.
LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue discussed how the online professional network has evolved to develop unique tools that benefit employees and employers in this market. For example, LinkedIn has built outcome-based education rankings, using the job histories of the 100 million Americans in its database. Another platform allows job seekers to find programs or educational opportunities that can lead to greater success in that field.
“The credential itself — an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree — doesn’t define by itself any particular skills,” pointed out Joe Garcia, Colorado's lieutenant governor who is also executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “What I find intriguing about this is there’s a way to identify against specific skills, connect them to specific jobs, and help individuals connect to an education services provider to get those skills.”
Leila Janah, founder and CEO of the Sama Group, talked about how her nonprofit has revolutionized the online labor market. Sama trains low-income Americans, those living below the poverty line, to take advantage of the Internet economy, from building a LinkedIn profile with keywords to marketing skills and finding jobs through sites like Taskrabbit,, and Upwork
“Prior us to coming in to show them these online marketplaces, they had no idea they had preexisting skills for these marketplaces,” said Janah, who added that the challenge is to make sure programs such as Sama offers reach the people who need them the most: those who might not otherwise be connected to the Internet. 
Other solutions offered by the panel include performance-based government funding for higher education, creating career paths in fields such as retail using certificates and other ways to build on work experience, transparency in job markets, more accountability in higher education, and project-based learning.
Janah suggested that this technology-based labor market of the future is redefining teaching. While free, online curricula that are widely circulated may seem to marginalize teachers, it will still need people to connect learners with the material.
“You can have the best curriculum out there, but we’ll still need a corps of people who make that material relevant,” she said. “I think in the future we will see a lot more people who don’t have full teaching credentials, but who will play a critical role.”
The stigma of not having a college degree might be the biggest hurdle this movement is facing, said some of the panelists.
“We’re still living in a world where we’ve got dirt roads that we use as our educational technology, and trails,” said Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who also equated American higher education to a caste system. “If you find your way to an elite undergraduate college, it’s a trail, because almost no one can go on it. If you find your way to a large public university, that’s a dirt road, because the scale is still small. We don’t have high-speed ways to enhance learning, to project your identity — they don’t exist to the extent they could exist. So that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Baird said that creating “equal dignity” for credentials other than degrees from four-year colleges is an evolving part of the project, and that America Connected leaders believe it’s possible to have a “no-collar world.” Here’s how she explained it:
Watch the full session here.
By Catherine Lutz, Guest Blogger