“Workforce Education: A New Roadmap”

Important Read – By Gordon Freedman, President of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation (NLET) – Published April 2021 in Workforce Monitor – Subscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

The economic, social and demographic shifts summarized in the early chapters of “Workforce Education” are breathtaking, being so economically and thoughtfully laid out. This is the best exposition I have seen of the employment-unemployment-underemployment trends in one place.

“Workforce Education: A New Roadmap,” a new book from MIT Press, is a comprehensive and accurate work pulling all the relevant pieces of the current U.S. education-to-employment problem into an authoritative view cataloguing the mismatch between education, training, employment and the economy. This needed volume is a reference point to what all these distinctly American puzzle pieces are about and how they are far from connected. (It’s amazing that the U.S. is still the largest contributor to the OECD yet hardly consumes their well-reasoned human capital approaches.)

The economic, social and demographic shifts summarized in the early chapters of “Workforce Education” are breathtaking, being so economically and thoughtfully laid out. This is the best exposition I have seen of the employment-unemployment-underemployment trends in one place.

Bonvillian and Sarma have provided an important context of what is occurring as labor markets have decidedly shifted in the last 40 years. During the latter part of this period, a parallel decline in the direct value of an undergraduate degree, usually obtained at a high cost, is reflected in high non-completion rates in higher education. At the same time, there has been a steady drumbeat promoting workforce and career technical education, which until the publication of “Workforce Education” was not accurately and authoritatively chronicled in print, outside of policy documents, think-tank reports and political pronouncements. 

The trend is well-captured in this readable and well-reasoned work that clearly documents the tilt in this country toward skill-based and technical certification for immediate jobs as on par with college completion for career-building. 

Bonvillian is Lecturer at MIT in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and Senior Director of Special Projects at MIT’s Office of Digital Learning. Sarma is Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where he is also Vice President for Open Learning. For more on this extraordinary work, see an MIT Open Learning-hosted YouTube overview presentation that featured Bonvillian and Sarma discussing the significance of “Workforce Education,” especially in the post-pandemic world.