Project on Workforce Team
Reimagining the World of Work
Our experts investigate what’s behind the daily grind—from helping workers gain new skills to getting companies to drop outdated practices.
The Project on Workforce was featured in a deep dive on the Harvard Kennedy School's innovations around future of work. Below are excerpts from the full article written by Nora Delaney. Read the full article on hks.harvard.edu
Giving people the skills to succeed
David Deming, who is a professor at both the Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes we should focus on better education and training to give people the skills for decent jobs and an opportunity to get ahead. He leads the Project on Workforce, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Wiener Center, Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“The systems that connect educational institutions and the labor market were built for a different era, when technology wasn’t available to customize supports for people and to link them directly using artificial intelligence,” Deming explains. In addition, a fragile economy struggling to recover from the pandemic means that more people are out of work. “At the beginning of the pandemic, most employment loss was temporary,” says Deming. “As it drags on, businesses shutter and more layoffs become permanent. We’re trying to help people get reskilled for a different job than the one they had before.”
The Project on Workforce responds to these problems in several ways. For example, it has created a website called Skillbase, which features curated resources that provide skills to help people transition to their next job. “Through Skillbase,” Deming says, “we are exploring how job seekers can learn conversational English, digital literacy, and other foundational skills. Our research examines whether working with job centers across a bunch of states to make free, high-quality training opportunities available to these folks can make a difference.”
Deming is also interested in examining how soft skills can be better developed. Although STEM skills get a lot more public attention, soft skills are often in short supply and high demand. Deming says, “When you talk to employers, they say, ‘We need people who are dependable, good problem solvers, adaptable, good at working in a team.’ We call these soft skills, and we don’t really know how to measure them or how to develop them.” Deming has also started an initiative called Skills Lab, which measures teamwork and other capabilities. “We’re very excited about the immediate application of this work,” he says, “especially for high-skilled jobs that do not require a college degree, in high-growth fields like health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.”
Read the full article on hks.harvard.edu