Incentives and pressures for U.S. workers in a ‘knowledge economy’

Curated by Paul Helmick

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  • As automation looms and more and more jobs are being shaped to accommodate the tech-saturated “knowledge economy,” 63% of full- and part-time workers say they have taken steps in the past 12 months to upgrade their skills and knowledge
  • Here are six the key themes that came out of those conversations about learning, work and a changing economy.

1) The Great Recession led to soul-searching and skills re-evaluation. A number of participants talked about how they took stock of their skill set and employability after the economic collapse that began in 2007-08. As a result, many pursued job-related training. More than half (55%) of those who did so sought to learn, maintain or improve job skills:

2) Those who aren’t trying to improve will get passed by. One compelling motivation for some is to stay nimble and keep learning in order to increase their worth for employers and in their own eyes:

3) Competition is coming from every direction, including globalization and new job entrants. Technology advances are only part of the story. People know jobs can be outsourced abroad or challenged by others in the local labor market:

4) People have intrinsic and extrinsic reasons to keep learning. In addition to trying to stay employable, participants cited any number of reasons they have pursued new knowledge. Some were related to self-fulfillment:

Focus group participants' reasons for learning

5) Sometimes people’s rationale for job-related learning is defiance. There are those whose motivation for learning and upgrading their skills comes from proving their detractors wrong and prevailing when arguments arise:

Most focus group participants felt positively about learning

6) Learning brings its own rewards. There is undeniable stress for many as they adjust to the new economy. Yet, when asked to provide a single word to describe their feeling about learning, most of the focus group participants chose a positive rather than negative word. And they much more often spoke of the pleasure of learning than the pain of it. Their responses are listed in the adjacent table.

Via Pew Research

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Incentives and pressures for U.S. workers in a ‘knowledge economy’