How Chicago, Illinois can prepare so workers don’t become obsolete

How Chicago, Illinois can prepare so workers don’t become obsolete

Jobs are the best way to escape poverty, but the workplace will continue to change rapidly. To ensure Illinoisans don’t lose the jobs that lift them up, job skills will need to evolve along with education.

The best way for someone to rise out of poverty is work. The poverty rate for full-time workers is under 2% nationally compared to an overall poverty rate of 11.5% for the general population.

Work is changing rapidly because of innovation, technological developments, automation, artificial intelligence and remote work. These developments displace many low-skill workers and lead to an expanding skills gap. If we don’t pay careful attention to workforce trends, people could rise out of poverty today only to lose their jobs and fall back into it tomorrow.

In Illinois, the allocation of jobs across industries is changing rapidly. “From 2001 to 2016, the Chicago region and the state both lost about 30% of their manufacturing jobs, while service-based jobs in industries like health care, finance and business services expanded,” according to the Illinois Future of Work Task Force Report.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security predicts from 2018 to 2028, the private education and health services sector will add 32,000 jobs, professional and business sector will add 22,400, leisure and hospitality will add 20,900 and manufacturing will decline by 7,700.

While this is a net positive for the economy, many current jobs are at risk. One report by two Oxford professors estimated 47% of employment in the U.S. is at risk during the next decade.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimated across eight high-income countries including the United States, “more than 100 million workers, or 1 in 16, will need to find a different occupation by 2030.” A 2023 report from the World Economic Forum states, “Organizations today estimate that 34% of all business-related tasks are performed by machines.” This number will only rise in the coming years. Employers estimate “44% of worker skills will be disrupted in the next five years. By 2026, 6 in 10 workers will require training.”

These displaced workers will need to acquire new skills that are much different from the ones that allow them to do their current jobs. This is especially concerning for low-income workers because the new jobs will generally require skills such as complex problem solving, analytical and creative thinking, technological literacy and self-efficacy. This creates higher barriers for low-skill workers to get jobs as gaps exist in education, knowledge and skills.

Chicago and state leaders must study the evolution of work in the coming years to ensure students and current workers get the training they need to experience meaningful work throughout their lives. To prepare individuals for the future of work, Chicago and Illinois can adopt policy reforms such as:

  • Studying workforce trends to identify needs in five, 10, and perhaps 20 years.
  • Reorienting educational programs around preparing enough individuals for the jobs of tomorrow, while also meeting the needs of employers today.
  • Raising awareness among individuals, schools, employers and society of the rapidly changing nature of the economy.
  • Adopting a flexible mindset that observes and adapts to the changing realities of the economy.
  • Looking into expanding apprenticeship programs that can allow low-skill workers to gain necessary skills to transition at a reasonable cost. The average salary for those who have an apprenticeship is $77,000.

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