Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow



"Seal of the Executive Office of the President of the United States"


JULY 2009


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In this report, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) presents a projection of potential developments in the U.S. labor market over the next five to ten years and discusses the preparations necessary to develop the 21st century workforce.  We discuss the skills that will likely be most relevant in growing occupations, the value and limitations of our current post-high school education and training systems, and the characteristics of a more effective education and training structure. 

At an aggregate level, the data indicate that the economy of 2016 will resemble the economy of 2008, with several important shifts that have implications for employment. 

  • Health care is forecasted to remain a large source of job growth in the labor market.  The long-term trend toward more employment in health care is expected to continue, with many health care occupations, including medical records and health information technicians, registered nurses, clinical laboratory technicians, and physical therapists, expected to grow.
  • The decades-long decline in the share of workers that are employed in manufacturing is expected to moderate.  Some industries within manufacturing – such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals – are projected to create many jobs.  
  • The construction industry is projected to eventually recover and add jobs in the coming decade.   This rebuilding would generate a demand for skilled workers such as electricians and plumbers.

Well-trained and highly-skilled workers will be best positioned to secure high-wage jobs, thereby fueling American prosperity.  Occupations requiring higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements, with the fastest growth among occupations that require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary vocational award.   Key attributes of a well-trained workforce as well as elements of an effective education and training system are detailed below.

  • Employers value workers who can think critically and solve problems.  Many highly-paid occupations require workers with good analytic and interactive skills. 
  • Occupations that employ large shares of workers with post-secondary education and training are growing faster than others.  While expected growth in construction and some manufacturing industries would create job opportunities at all skill levels, workers will be better positioned for good jobs if they acquire additional training and education.  Occupations that have grown recently require more formal post-secondary schooling than occupations that have declined.  
  • The U.S. post-high school education and training system provides valuable skills to those who complete programs in high-growth fields.  However, it could be more effective at encouraging completion and responding to the needs of the labor market. 
  • Elements of a more effective system include:  a solid early childhood, elementary, and secondary system that ensures students have strong basic skills; institutions and programs that have goals that are aligned and curricula that are cumulative; close collaboration between training providers and employers to ensure that curricula are aligned with workforce needs; flexible scheduling, appropriate curr