Putting Skill to Work
How to Create Good Jobs in Uncertain Times
An argument for reimagining skill in a way that can extend economic opportunity to workers at the bottom of the labor market.
The United States has a jobs problem—not enough well-paying jobs to go around and not enough clear pathways leading to them. Skill development is critical for addressing this employment crisis, but there are many unresolved questions about who has skill, how it is attained, and whose responsibility it is to build skills over time. In this book, Nichola Lowe tells the stories of pioneering workforce intermediaries—nonprofits, unions, community colleges—that harness this ambiguity around skill to extend economic opportunity to workers at the bottom of the labor market.
Skill development confers shared value to both workers and employers because it lies at the intersection of their respective interests. Connecting skill to economic inequality, Lowe calls for solutions that push employers to accept greater responsibility for skill development. She examines real-world examples of workplace intermediaries throughout the United States, exploring in detail the work of manufacturing-focused organizations in Chicago and Milwaukee, and a network of community colleges in North Carolina that coordinates training for biopharmaceutical manufacturers.
As workforce intermediaries help employers reinterpret skill, they also convince them to implement inclusive work-based systems that extend family-sustaining wages and better working conditions across the entire workforce. With renewed policy emphasis on skill development, these opportunity-rich solutions can be further expanded—ensuring workers across the entire educational spectrum contribute skills that drive innovation forward and share the gains they generate for the twenty-first century workplace.
“Putting Skill to Work offers a bold, perfectly timed, and attainable vision for building better jobs in the United States. Refreshingly, the answer comes through skills, not schools. To learn how it can be done, study this book.”
David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT, and Codirector of the MIT Task Force on Work of the Future
“This is that rarest of books, one that offers useful guidance for economic development practitioners and advances the frontiers of theory. Lowe's conceptualization of the ambiguity of skill—and the advocacy opportunities that ambiguity affords—is a revelation.”
Chris Tilly, Professor and Chair, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
“Although policy prescriptions to reduce earnings inequality often focus on increasing formal educational attainment among low-wage workers, in Putting Skill to Work Nichola Lowe makes a compelling case that employer-sponsored training is critical to helping these workers advance. Drawing on detailed case studies, Lowe provides a roadmap for how workforce intermediaries—which include community nonprofits, labor union affiliates, and community colleges—can partner with employers to improve low-wage workers' skills and career pathways, benefitting both workers and businesses.”
Susan Houseman, Vice President and Director of Research, W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research