Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about reskilling employees to stave off the threat of automation, improve wages, spark productivity growth, and to build a more resilient economy post-COVID.
I started looking for systematic time series data on workforce training in the US, and I was disappointed to find none. What's available is fragmented and inconsistent, which means that we're essentially flying blind on basic information like the dollar investment in employees. That's pretty nuts!
There used to be a Bureau of Labor Statistics surevey on these issues back in the 1990s, but it has long been discountinued. Training Magazine does publish yearly estimates, but they are extrapolated from a survey of about 240 companies--a drop in the bucket. The American Workforce Policy Board has recently advanced a set of sensible proposals for filling this big gap, and one would hope the Biden admnistration will embrace them with alacrity.
Thankfully there's better data on the other side of the pond. The UK has been conducting a comprehensive survey of workforce training and skills gaps--the Employer Skills Survey--every other year since 2011 (81k firms took part in the 2019 wave, making this one of the largest business surveys in the world). The most recent report distilling the 2019 survey results was published a few weeks ago, and it's worth a read.
The data shows a decline in training expenditures over the last several years in the UK, across different metrics (overall spend, per trainee, per employee). Training days have also declined.
Keep in mind these numbers precede the pandemic, so the 2020 data is likely to be much worse. Perhaps 2021 will show a training renaissance. It's also possible other countries may be faring better than Britain.
But the UK trend doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence. Are we really serious about the challenge of massively upgrading the skills and jobs of tens of millions of people around the world?