The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) wrote recently about how IT could help improve connections among employers, potential workers, and those who provide training, focusing on the “middle-skill” domain that is above the least-skilled and hardest-to-help segment but requires less than a college degree (although, as we discussed at i4j Mountain View, employers may still seek a college degree). PCAST discussed the potential for IT to help across the worker-trainer-employer (WTE) ecosystem, including assessment of skills (by all parties) and optimizing the delivery of training. PCAST was particularly concerned with how to make better connections, which can be summarized as the “matching” problem. There are many dimensions—how can employers find workers, how can workers find employers, how can workers find the training that can help them get work they would like to do (as opposed to training that sounds like it would be helpful but is not)—all of which reflect imperfect information flows. As the best examples of collaboration among community colleges and surrounding employers illustrate, it can be easier to improve the flow of information and associated matching locally and for specific kinds of skills and job opportunities. Accordingly, it is possible to point to specific instances of progress that are bounded in one or more ways. Scaling up to cover more skills, jobs, employers, and territory is hard, for many reasons; as PCAST observed, “the worker-trainer-employer ecosystem is huge, decentralized, and dynamic.” Nevertheless, PCAST recommended that the Administration acknowledge and embrace the challenge, leveraging the federal bully pulpit and taking specific steps (detailed more fully in the letter report linked above):
(1) Improve coordination across federal programs, engaging the Department of Commerce (by mission focused on private-sector employers) as well as the Departments of Education and Labor, which historically have owned employment and training programs.
(2) Continue to support the development of IT to support skills assessment, counseling, and training. Government support for research and development can prove concepts and lower costs and risks.
(3) Lead by example, through use for federal government hiring of large-scale, Web-based services and other technologies provided and used in the private sector as well as acceptance of new forms of credentialing.
PCAST forged its recommendations after consulting with government officials, and it will continue to consult with them to foster implementation of these recommendations. As Byron Auguste suggested during the i4j Mountain View discussions, information technology jobs provide a natural target for advancing the use of IT across the WTE ecosystem, and within the IT domain, the federal government has already begun to advance analysis and matching for cybersecurity jobs.