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New research: unlocking advancement for workers in high-churn, low-wage jobs

By Team Multiverse

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The world of work is undergoing a profound shift. The rise of generative artificial intelligence has already begun to fundamentally change the way we work, and the acceleration and maturation of emerging technologies will undoubtedly put some jobs at risk – but create many more.

As we look toward the future, it’s also important to recognize that all this change is taking place against a backdrop of persistent and growing inequity. Today, millions of workers are stuck in jobs with low wages and little-to-no opportunity for advancement.

How can we build a labor market that works for everyone – including those who are being left behind by the existing system?

Our new report, Unlocking potential: Pathways for low-wage workers to quality jobs  through apprenticeships(opens new window), created in partnership with the Burning Glass Institute, covers just this – how organisations and workers impacted by these shifts can develop new talent and jumpstart new careers. The research, which is the first in an ongoing series, explores the effects of emerging technologies on the world of work, and the potential of new education and training models to mitigate the impact of technological change.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

Millions stuck in high-churn, low-wage jobs

  • Our research found that more than 36 million American workers are stranded in high-churn, low-wage jobs because the current U.S. education and training system is failing to deliver both mobility for workers and skilled talent for employers.
  • We defined “high-churn” jobs as those with a median tenure of no more than 18 months. “Low-wage” jobs pay a median hourly wage of $17 or less, which represents the bottom third of all U.S. wage earners and 20% to 30% of the workforce in each state. The most common high-churn low-wage occupations are delivery drivers and truck drivers (3.65 million workers nationwide), retail salespersons (2.98 million), cashiers (2.92 million), janitors and building cleaners (2.29 million) and cooks (2.13 million).
  • Nearly three-fourths of high-churn low-wage occupations are highly susceptible to automation, according to the Burning Glass Institute’s analysis. Examples of these occupations that are especially exposed to automation include telemarketers, medical transcriptionists, and receptionists and information clerks.

Reliable talent pipelines in the age of AI

  • But not every job is at risk of being automated. In fact, many occupations that our research identified as “apprenticeable” – that is, requiring some on-the-job training but not necessarily a college degree – are among the jobs that have the lowest probability of seeing workers displaced by automation.
  • Just as importantly, many of these jobs are in-demand, pay at least $20 per hour, and have lower churn. We call them “target jobs” — high-fidelity apprenticeable occupations at low risk of automation that provide pathways for workers out of high-churn low-wage jobs regardless of the skills they currently possess.
  • These target jobs include computer occupations (systems engineers, IT project managers and others), computer systems analysts, data scientists, financial and investment analysts, licensed practical and vocational nurses, marketing specialists, project management specialists, software developers and securities and financial services sales agents.
  • There’s strong demand for these apprenticeable target jobs.
    • For every worker in one of these target occupations nationwide, there’s an average of 0.44 open jobs postings for these positions. That compares favourably to the national average of open job postings for all occupations of 0.31.

Apprenticeships as an engine for economic mobility

  • Of course, identifying these two categories of occupation – “feeder jobs” at risk of automation, and target jobs with opportunity for advancement – is just the first step. The next question is how to bring more workers from the first type of job into the second.
  • Our research found that individuals in feeder jobs have many of the skills asked for by target jobs — skills like customer service, communication, detail orientation, and management ability. That suggests that if you can succeed in a feeder job, you’ll be able to succeed in a higher-wage role as long as you learn the more specific hard skills you need for that target job. That’s where apprenticeships have a critical role to play.
  • Perhaps most critically of all, our research highlighted the fact that transitioning workers from high-churn low-wage jobs into target jobs can improve both organisational diversity and community prosperity. The analysis shows that women, foreign-born individuals, and non-white workers tend to dominate high-churn low-wage jobs while comprising a smaller share of higher-quality target jobs. That finding reinforces the fact that helping people move from feeder jobs to target jobs is an equity imperative as well as an economic one — and that models like apprenticeships have a crucial role to play in driving economic mobility for workers from historically underserved communities.

To learn more about how employers can discover and develop talent for in-demand roles and deploy apprenticeships to reskill and upskill millions of workers into upwardly mobile careers, reach out to our team today.

Team Multiverse

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