A Conversation on Skills Gaps at the Economic Graph Forum

Shifts in the workforce, fueled by macro trends like advances in automation and the rise of independent workers, are creating unprecedented complexity for policymakers who rely on timely and accurate labor market data to understand and identify emerging pathways to economic opportunity. On April 19th, we hosted our first Economic Graph Forum in Washington, D.C., to explore the challenges and opportunity of using these new forms of labor market data to quantify and understand skills gaps—and inform action. Here’s a quick recap of our takeaways from the conversation.

First Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO, joined Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America, to discuss the implications of skills gaps for the global economy. Their conversation ranged from talent mobility strategies to the importance of soft skills:

  • Learning how to learn is key to remaining adaptable in this dynamic global economy. Annie-Marie and Jeff discussed how constant changes in the modern workforce have created the need for education to focus more on critical reasoning and creative problem-solving. In order to keep up with advancing technology and resulting job displacement, Jeff urged the importance of developing digital fluency: “When you have to learn multiple skills concurrently, it compounds the challenge and the difficulty. If you have that digital fluency in place you are much better positioned to learn that next new skill.”

  • Companies and professionals need to redefine soft skills. Soft skills can be difficult to certify or quantify and thus are challenging to communicate. Even with the rise of AI and other fast-paced technology, people cannot be fully replaced by these advancements. Soft skills, like communication and collaboration, continue to be undervalued by employers and employees alike, but continue to represent some of the greatest skill gaps seen in the workforce.
  • Companies cannot fully rely on talent mobility. Data on the geographic distribution of skills can inform businesses where they should be creating new opportunities for work away from headquarters. Jeff advised, “companies should be starting to revisit where people are working, where the work is happening, and investing in the capabilities and the technologies to facilitate work happening remotely.” Relying solely on talent inflow to a few major hubs is not sustainable for local or national economies, nor is it affordable for workers.

Next, David Leonhardt, New York Times journalist, led a discussion on the role of education in preparing the future workforce. He was joined by Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia; Sheila Blair, former FDIC Chair; and John King; President and CEO of The Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education. Our key takeaways:

  • Increasing equity in education is key to closing skills gaps. Removing obstacles to quality education, such as access to broadband internet, healthcare, and childcare, creates more equitable opportunities for economic mobility. Former Secretary King noted, “If we don’t educate low income students and students of color, we have no future as a country and our economy has no future.”
  • Performance-based funding could reduce the costs on students of universities and colleges. To reduce the burden of tuition and cost-of-living from postsecondary education, Blair suggested a model that incentivizes graduate success for institutions by linking loan repayment with future income. Such programs should be designed to specifically avoid worsening existing equity issues, King commented. This can be accomplished by rewarding programs that offer support to more vulnerable communities.
  • Improved alignment between academic institutions and companies is essential to improving educational effectiveness. Governor Northam promoted a “dashboard concept, where businesses actually list the jobs that they have available, so that our education systems can see what jobs they need to train individuals for and also individuals can look and see these are some jobs that are available.” Insight directly from companies about the needs of the constantly changing economy can better prepare schools and aid in reducing stigma around the relevancy and effectiveness of education in the 21st century.

For more insights on skills gaps, career pathways, talent development, and the future of education, enjoy the full conversation below.

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