The skills gap session at Techonomy Detroit. From left are moderator Martha Laboissiere of McKinsey & Co., Matt Anchin of Monster, author Wan-Lae Cheng, and Charlene Li of Altimeter.
The skills gap session at Techonomy Detroit. From left are moderator Martha Laboissiere of McKinsey & Co., Matt Anchin of Monster, author Wan-Lae Cheng, and Charlene Li of Altimeter.

Too many Americans face an uncertain economic future. The question for them is not just about the next job, but whether or not they will have the skills needed to maintain a career going forward. Technology and globalization are altering nearly every aspect of our working lives. Americans see the transformation happening, but don’t feel equipped to handle it. And that is not their fault: our economy is changing, but our labor markets and our institutions are not keeping pace.
The impacts of this change are felt by employers and jobseekers alike. It’s a discordant and disturbing reality that many employers can’t fill the jobs they have even though at the same time many Americans can’t find better work. More than half of all American employers say a lack of skilled workers is the reason so many jobs remain unfilled. And as these jobs keep changing, career growth will require continual skill growth. This mismatch is a key reason why so many of our nation’s middle-skill workers feel the strain. The challenge before our country is how we can make sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed in this rapidly changing 21st century economy. This is an issue leaders from all sectors must continue to focus on, which is why I was so glad to join with others to discuss potential solutions at Techonomy Detroit last month.
At Markle we have assembled 56 leaders from across the nation to develop a bold vision to help Americans overcome the challenge and thrive in today’s economy. We organized as Rework America, and we set forth an agenda for action in our collectively authored book, “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age.”
We partnered with employers and public leaders of the state of Colorado and the city of Phoenix to build Rework America Connected, an innovative effort to reinforce and expand existing workforce development strategies in both places to help jobseekers get ahead faster. This initiative will employ new technologies to create a marketplace to help employers find workers based on their skills, while in parallel arming jobseekers with those very skills–the ones required by the nation’s fastest growing industries. By deploying new online platforms and new technologies we can connect employers and jobseekers with needed skills more rapidly and affordably than ever before.
Rework America Connected will work alongside partners in Colorado and Phoenix to help employers redefine job descriptions not just by education levels, which is relied on too often and turns out to be an inexact means of identifying talent. These new systems focus more on skill sets and acquired tools, enabling more people to qualify, including those who have not obtained a four year college degree. In turn, workers will be able to learn the specific skills that are needed for a job by clicking an online button.
Jobseekers will be able to use the Rework America Connected platform, tools and content of its technology partners, like LinkedIn and edX, and education partners, like Arizona State University and Colorado’s Community College System, to search for jobs and training. Local businesses will be able to tap a broader pool of emerging talent on this platform and others that we hope will emerge as they look to expand. And educators will gain access to input from employers to help ensure schools evolve alongside changing industry needs.
As the digital economy continues to change our work lives, we have an opportunity to help thousands land middle-skill jobs that offer them a way toward meaningful career paths. There are so many people who have the capacity to move into better jobs, and so many businesses that need skilled workers; now we need to connect both and put opportunity within reach. Imagine the possibilities if businesses use concrete skill sets as their benchmarks for employment, and education and training providers offered a range of options and credentials that meet labor market needs. Jobseekers will be able to obtain the skills they most need to advance, on their own terms and based on their own preferences. We could open doors for so many who are ready to work and who want the opportunity to thrive in today’s economy.
Rework America Connected is intended to serve as a model that we can scale across the nation. We selected Colorado and Phoenix as our first geographic partners. By partnering with employers, educators, and governments, Rework America Connected will complement and accelerate local efforts in Colorado and Phoenix to create better career pathways and more qualified workforces.
In coming months, Rework America Connected will begin to engage its first set of employers, job seekers, and educators in Colorado and Phoenix to play an active part of shrinking the middle-skills gap. I’m confident we can create a national showcase for how to overcome the crippling skills gap. I believe our partnership and approach will benefit Americans nationwide and impact the future of work for years to come.
Wan-Lae Cheng is Senior Director at the Markle Foundation where she leads Rework America Connected. Employers, jobseekers, educational institutions, and community-based organizations interested in participating in the program are welcome to visit to join the coalition or sign up for more information. Rework America Connected is also on Facebook and Twitter.