There’s no doubt working has changed. Forbes reports that employers expect 45 percent of recent college grads to change jobs within two years, and by the age of 35 the average worker has held five jobs. Those jobs require rapidly shifting skill sets, and many in the workforce are falling behind — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33 percent of the U.S. workforce hold only a high school degree or less, and just 37 percent have a bachelor’s degree. These factors are combining to forge a future of work where continuing adult education will be a vital part of any career strategy.

The future is now

“The future of work is now,” says Michelle R. Weise, chief innovation officer at Strada Institute for the Future of Work. “One thing we know for sure is the currency of the future of talent will be skills based. Workers will constantly need to harness education throughout all phases of their lives to upskill and reskill in order to keep pace with our economy.”

"New education models need to be built to meet the needs of working learners.”

Marie A. Cini, Ph.D., president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), has already seen this in action. “I took a ride share the other day with a driver who was educated as an engineer in the gas and oil industry. After the 2008 recession, he lost his job and rebooted his career in the clean energy field. He is again unemployed. Employment dislocations are becoming a common fact of life. New education models need to be built to meet the needs of working learners.”

Partnerships with employers

One huge challenge is the confusing and scattered state of the adult education market. “The marketplace for continuing education is imperfect and in flux. Universities are often impenetrable monoliths with their own vocabulary and cultures,” Cini points out. “At CAEL and Strada Education Network, we believe that adult learners are consumers of education and should have the data they need to make informed decisions about their educational choices.”

Weise agrees. “The learners of the future will need better information to navigate the range of options and understand whether it’s better to pursue a certification, a nanodegree, a boot camp or a degree program.”

Rob Sentz, chief innovation officer at EMSI, a labor market analytics firm, sees employers as key to the reskilling and upskilling of workers. “In many ways employers are the new engines of education,” he says. “A growing number of businesses pay for their employees’ education and are even working closely with colleges and universities to fund training and education programs to develop the relevant, in-demand skills they need.”

Cini and CAEL have seen the same trend. “GE is currently working with Northeastern University in Boston in this way to close skill gaps in advanced manufacturing. Others are working with entry-level employees to offer education as a benefit in hopes of retaining those important employees for a longer period of time.”

Future skills

All agree that the key to future work is acquiring the right skills. “Skills and knowledge in the STEM fields are increasingly important,” Cini notes, and agrees with Sentz when he adds, “For people to be successful in this new era, they must possess a broader combination of skill sets — technical skills and broad, transferable skills.”

Sentz advises job-seekers to think differently about education. “It’s not possible to learn everything you need to know about work in four years of your life. Most workers will need continuous learning to keep themselves up-to-date in a fast-paced economy.”