Next Avenue Logo

We're Working Longer, Harder and Craving Job Skills

Diving into Pew's State of American Jobs report

By Nancy Collamer

Still on the fence about whether it pays to invest in job training mid-career? Then consider this: According to The State of American Jobs, a mammoth Pew Research Center survey conducted with the Markle Foundation, the majority of U.S. workers see continuous training as essential to their future career success. And it’s not just younger workers expressing this sentiment. Nearly 40 percent of older workers — those over 50 — believe so as well, Pew said.

older workers
Credit: Getty Images

So why do so many Americans, even those in the “twilight” of their careers, believe training must now be a lifetime commitment?

The short answer is that the workplace has experienced profound change over the past few decades. If you’re not up-to-speed with the latest skills, you’re running behind.

Key Findings in 'The State of American Jobs'

The Pew report analyzed U.S. Labor Department data from 1980-2015 and found:


Older adults are staying in the workforce longer than they used to. The share of adults 65 and older who are employed has risen steadily in recent decades, climbing from 12 percent in 1980 to 19 percent in 2015. The employment rate for adults 55 to 64 has also risen during that time, up to 62 percent in 2015. The share of workers 65 and older who were with the same employer for five years or more soared from 67 percent in 1996 to 76 percent in 2014.

Only 33 percent of workers age 50 to 64 described their job as "just a job to get them by;" 63 percent said they think of it as a career.

And as more people extend their careers, the need to upgrade skills later in life takes on new importance.

The report included some good news for older workers as well. The median pay of workers 65 and older rose 37 percent from 1980 to 2015. And the share of workers ages 65 and older with employer-sponsored health insurance increased from 31 percent to 51 percent.

Employment rose significantly faster for jobs requiring more education, skills and experience. The greatest growth was in jobs that typically require at least a four-year college degree and considerable-to- extensive training and experience. Employment in these high-skill occupations increased by a whopping 80 percent, from 22 million in 1980 to 39 million in 2015.

Often, these types of jobs require strong social skills, analytic savvy and technical prowess. Interestingly, this trend may have worked to the benefit of women, since they are more likely than men to be employed in occupations needing higher levels of social and analytical skills; a higher percentage of men work in jobs calling for greater physical and manual skills.

Americans are working more hours. No great surprise, but how much more might surprise you. The data shows that the combination of a slightly longer workweek (38.7 hours in 2015 vs. 38.1 hours in 1980) and an increase in the average number of weeks worked per year (46.8 in 2015 vs. 43 in 1980) equals an additional month of work per year compared to 1980.

In short, we are working harder, longer and in jobs that require an increasing number of knowledge-based skills.

There’s one other big factor driving up the interest in lifetime training: Americans told Pew they feel uneasy about the workplace, even when they view their own jobs as secure. They see American jobs as less secure, more pressured and less rewarding than in the past.

(Paradoxically, 88 percent of survey respondents said they don’t believe it’s too likely they will lose their own jobs in the coming year.)

The general angst of workers is driven by perceived threats coming from several different directions: declines in union membership, increase in foreign-made products sold in the U.S and outsourcing of jobs, among others. The recessions of 2001 and 2007-09 set back savings and earnings potential for many. At the same time, many employers cut back on their health and pension benefits, adding to American workers’ financial insecurity.

Extra Burden on Contingent Workers


Another precarious trend: the loss of traditional employment arrangements. While full-time jobs are still the norm, a growing number of working Americans are no longer employed full-time. Contingent workers must always be on the lookout for their next gig, and that places an extra burden on them to keep their skills fresh and updated at all times.

Understandably, this sense of vulnerability is strongest among workers with no college education and lower-than-average household incomes. Less-educated workers are the most likely to say that their jobs are imperiled: Roughly 38 percent of workers with no college experience said they lack the education and training to get ahead in their jobs, compared with 27 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.


And 39 percent of those without a high school education said it is very or fairly likely they may be laid off within 12 months, compared to only 7 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or more.

Add this all up and and it’s no surprise that so many believe keeping skills fresh and current must be a priority throughout a career.

3 Tips Based on the Pew Report

So by now you must be wondering, “What type of training should I pursue?” While the Pew report does not specifically address that question, as a longtime career coach, let me offer three points to consider:

1. A mixture of technical and soft skills is critical for success. Over 80 percent of respondents said they believe it’s important to have strong computer skills; the ability to work with those from diverse backgrounds and strong training in writing and communications. I agree.

You can find these types of course offered through adult education programs, online classes and sometimes even through training programs at work. Look for them and enroll.

2. Certification programs are viewed favorably. Some 78 percent of Americans told Pew they think these programs prepare students well for a job in today’s economy. I agree with them, too.

Community colleges and industry associations are good resources for locating certificate training.

3. The responsibility for preparing and succeeding in today’s workplace starts with you. No matter what type of training you pursue, here’s one point that virtually everyone Pew talked to agreed on: It’s up to you to make sure you remain competitive in today’s workplace.

I couldn’t agree more.

The report reveals that 45 percent of employed adults said they got extra training to improve their job skills in the past 12 months. Isn’t it time you decided to join their ranks?

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo