Reimagining the Workforce Development and Employment System for the 21st Century and Beyond

Although nearly two decades have elapsed since the turn of the 21st century, the U.S. approach to education, training, and workforce development still largely operates on a 20th-century model. Workforce preparation — a linear pipeline from K–12 education to possibly college and then a job — is similar to what it was several decades ago. Labor market policies designed for the industrial age still prevail. Labor market signals and other information flows between members of the current and future workforce, education and training institutions, and employers have not kept pace with the revolutionary changes in information processing. New technologies are often viewed as threats to the world of work rather than as opportunities to enable the labor force to be agile and adaptable to further innovation and change.

Recognizing the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and systems thinking, RAND Corporation researchers, supported by RAND Corporation investment funds, conducted this study to develop a systems-level, blue-sky approach to conceptualizing and visualizing a 21st-century U.S. workforce development and employment system. This report is the first step in moving the United States to a system that accounts for workers' needs for lifelong learning, employers' continuously changing workforce requirements, rapid and often disruptive changes in technology, and the ever-evolving nature of work. This publication should be of interest to educators, business leaders, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders who are engaged in issues relating to workforce education and training and the future of work.