One of the defining experiences of my life came in the mid-1980s. After working for two years as a geologist in Colorado, I lost my job and my career during that long recession. Struggling to find work, some friends and I decided to start a small business in an undeveloped part of Denver in 1988. Two years later, we built a successful brew pub and eventually opened up over a dozen more around the Midwest. This is the essence of the American Dream — in the land of opportunity, if you have a good idea, create a solid plan, and work hard, you should be able to reinvent yourself and get ahead.
But today, new jobs are disproportionately low-wage and low-skill. They are less secure and pay less than before. In our “hour glass” economy, we have large swaths stuck at the bottom, a hollowed out middle, and a top growing with sky-high incomes and wealth.
There are more disruptions coming. Advances in automation, artificial intelligence and robotics, while increasing productivity, will also cause major upheavals to the workforce. Some estimate that as much as a third of the workforce will need to change occupations by 2030 and there is no clear national strategy to respond to the disruption. Both federal and corporate investment in employment and training should be ramping up, yet they’ve dropped dramatically since the 1980s.
I understand the anxiety and fear that comes from disruption. We need to bring people together to develop and invest in a historic effort that addresses the challenges facing the American workforce, to minimize the gap between the skills our people have and the skills a 21st century economy needs. I am calling for a national strategy for the American workforce. America only works when the economy works for everyone, especially for the nearly 70 percent of Americans who will not graduate with a four year college degree.
The American people know there are models that work and can be scaled. While I was the governor in Colorado, we launched Skillful.com, a program for job-seekers seeking to develop their skills, and employers to hire based on those skills. It offers predictive tools so that workers can see tomorrow’s jobs and acquire the skills to get them. For our kids, we created Careerwise, a pilot collaboration with businesses and schools.