The Workforce Development and Economic Mobility/Prosperity Working Group at AIR

Disruptive shifts, such as technology and automation, have affected the stability of the U.S. workforce in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has put even greater pressures on the economy, displacing many workers. At the same time, many employers are finding it more difficult to hire workers with the skills they need, and fewer students are enrolling in and completing postsecondary degree programs, which typically have been a steady pathway to many jobs.

With support from the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR staff conducted a series of landscape analyses focused on critical workforce development topics. Our objectives were to:

Key takeaways from this work are summarized in these products:
  • Research, document, and better understand key problems of concern, how they have been evolving, and important equity dimensions;
  • Review the knowledge base on promising interventions and synthesize evidence across settings, populations, and interventions to identify important knowledge- and field-building needs;
  • Identify key stakeholders, experts, thought leaders, and funders who may be partners and collaborators, as well as identify opportunities to influence policy; and
  • Synthesize findings across topics to identify a learning agenda and initiatives that could contribute to mission in the areas of workforce development and economic mobility and prosperity over the coming years.

The resulting AIR learning agenda will seek to answer a central critical question: What will work at scale and within resource constraints to help the millions of Americans currently being left behind develop the skills needed to access economic opportunity and thrive in the future of work? It will identify the key and most cost-effective components of workforce development programs and strategies to help American workers from racial, ethnic, and economically underrepresented populations develop the skills necessary to meet employer skill demands and promote the scaling of these programs and policies. As such, it will help generate important knowledge on what constitutes successful workforce development and can significantly “move the needle” to address the needs of this targeted population.

Landscape Analyses to Date

AIR staff have conducted landscape analyses on the following critical topics. Briefs and other products on key findings are listed under each topic.

Creating a future-ready and resilient workforce—In light of ongoing automation and globalization, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, employers’ skill demands are constantly evolving. What evidence-based models help workers adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing economy?

Increasing college readiness and success among underrepresented students—Attendance and completion rates for postsecondary programs are low, particularly among disadvantaged Americans. How can evidence-based approaches address these issues?

Reconnecting opportunity youth to pathways to opportunity—Youth and young adults who are out-of-school and out-of-work with few or no identifiable pathways back to educational institutions or the labor market are a population of great concern. Can evidence-based efforts better serve these so-called opportunity youth?

Helping adult learners access pathways out of poverty—U.S. workers face issues of structural inequality and declining economic mobility, while a growing number of non-traditional adult students are seeking new workplace skills due to displacement and/or ongoing changes in employer skill needs. What is the evidence base for skill-building programs?