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Buttressing the Middle: A Case for Reskilling and Upskilling America’s Middle-Skill Workers in the 21st Century PIAAC ECD CTE O*NET

Kirsch, Irwin; Sands, Anita M.; Robbins, Steven B.; Goodman, Madeline; Tannenbaum, Richard J.
Publication Year:
Policy Report of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Human Capital, Workplace Skills, Cognitive Skills, Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Literacy Skills, Numeracy Skills, COVID-19, Labor Force, Critical Thinking, Occupational Information Network (O*NET), Educational Intervention, Adult Skills, Career and Technical Education (CTE), Technical Education, Evidence Centered Design (ECD), Workforce Readiness


This new report from the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education argues that the education and skills individuals possess have become increasingly important to their overall quality of life. As technology and automation continue to alter the workplace and the nature of work, the ability of individuals to acquire and augment their skills will remain a key challenge. Changes in the nature of work over this period have led to what economists refer to as "employment polarization." The share of employment in well-paid, middle-skill occupations such as manufacturing has declined while the share in the upper and lower ends of the occupational skill distribution has increased. In addition, the relative earnings around the middle of the wage distribution have declined precipitously, leaving these workers with relatively small wage gains. The important question raised here—and one that has become even more urgent due to the COVID-19 pandemic—is what to do about this phenomenon.

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