Education and future-of-work policy: 2021 reading list

Education and future-of-work policy: 2021 reading list

A curated selection of recommendations from educators, experts, and advocates

Education and the future of work are topics that impact every American. While individual states have a great deal of control over education, federal policies can go a long way toward helping students, parents, educators, and workers fulfill their potential. We know the future of work will require new skills, new education models, and new career pathways. And what we’ve done in the past may not work in the 21st century.

In recent months, educators, researchers, advocates, and other experts have offered their ideas as an incoming administration formulates its education and future-of-work policies. We’ve compiled a selection of articles, reports, and recommendations on big-picture topics such as an equitable economic recovery and the green jobs of the future, as well as several perpetually relevant issues, including closing the digital divide, increasing access to work-based learning opportunities, supporting educators, and improving education financing.

What’s on your education and future-of-work policy reading list? Email to share your recommendations. 

General education and future-of-work policy

A new path to education reform: Playful learning promotes 21st-century skills in schools and beyond (Brookings). Brookings calls for “scalable, evidence-based education reform that puts student engagement, educator expertise, and equity at the center.”

Hopes and plans: Next100’s 2021 agenda for a new presidential administration and Congress (Next100). Next100’s 2021 Agenda includes issues such as protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ students and educators, investing in early childhood education, and attracting and retaining international students.

The future of jobs report 2020 (World Economic Forum). WEF maps the jobs and skills of the future, with a focus on the impact of COVID-19 and the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs, and skills in the next five years.

What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries (McKinsey Global Institute). MGI asserts that the potential for remote work is determined by tasks and activities, not job titles, and is highest among advanced economies. They recommend a hybrid model that combines some remote and in-office work for occupations with high remote work potential.

The work of the future: Building better jobs in an age of intelligent machines (MIT). This report affirms there’s little need to worry about robots taking all of our jobs — yet. However, it warns that rising tech-enabled productivity is accelerating inequality in an unprecedented way.

An equitable and inclusive economic recovery

Bold ideas for rethinking education and workforce (Jobs for the Future). JFF’s transition memo focuses on equitable economic recovery, recommending a series of actions centered around three policy pillars: “helping all people rebound and advance, revitalizing regional economies in an inclusive manner, and redesigning education and workforce development systems.”

Skills for an inclusive economic recovery: An agenda for President Biden and Congress (National Skills Coalition). NSC identifies principles for an inclusive economic recovery, aligned with eight specific policy proposals.

Navigate with the STARs: Reimagining equitable pathways to mobility (Opportunity@Work). This research explores the employment outcomes of people who are “skilled through alternative routes” and makes recommendations for expanding pathways into higher-paying jobs.

Building an equitable recovery for workers and families (The Center for Law and Social Policy). CLASP looks at how subsidized employment programs can support an equitable economic recovery by creating pathways into quality jobs. It outlines five principles to guide the creation of a subsidized jobs program.

Lessons Earned podcast: Michael Collins (Strada Education Network). JFF’s education and workforce policy expert talks about how to equip people for jobs today without closing off opportunities to advance in jobs of the future.

Upskilling, reskilling, and adult education

Access and inclusion: Adult education and literacy priorities for 2021 and beyond (National Coalition for Literacy). NCL’s memo contains three overarching recommendations: “integrate adult basic education into an intentionally coordinated lifelong formal education and training system; implement national infrastructure projects that will empower adults to participate in adult basic education, career development, and postsecondary programs; and reorient adult basic education accountability and outcomes reporting toward a competency-based approach.”

How community colleges can focus on job quality (New America). Colleges can take a more active role in connecting graduates to high-quality jobs. New America suggests using formal criteria to define a quality job when the college is considering creating a new training program; using innovative program design like work-based learning; and creating partnerships with governors, mayors, and community organizations to create external pressure on employers to increase job quality.

It’s time: Using modern apprenticeship to reskill America (Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation). “Modern apprenticeship can solve business’s workforce challenges and the nation’s widening skills gap while offering limitless career opportunities across a wide range of growth industries.”

Work-based learning and employer-sponsored education

Employer-provided education benefits are more important than ever. Here’s how Congress can help (Forbes). Employee demand and employer provision of reimbursed upskilling opportunities are increasing. The U.S. Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act, a federal bill with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, has proposed increasing the tax deduction from $5,250 to $12,000 per employee for the next two years, accounting for three decades of inflation in college costs.

Desegregating work and learning through “earn-and-learn” models (Brookings). Brookings’ paper focuses on education and labor market reforms “aimed at fixing two key problems hindering workers, employers, and regions: an educational system that poorly serves its largest student population (so-called ‘non-traditional’ adults) and a credentialing system full of noncredit courses and certificates with little assurance of quality or transparency. The goal is to change and update existing policies and programs so that they are more functional as a system, rather than creating more new standalone programs.”

How a Biden administration can guarantee apprenticeships for all (Third Way). Third Way’s memo outlines recommendations for expanding access to apprenticeships — including through increasing funding, providing support to apprentices, and simplifying the registration process for employers.

Issue Brief: Internship challenges and policy recommendations (American Student Assistance). ASA advocates for federal and state policies that improve availability of and access to high-quality high school student internships. Its policy recommendations include eliminating unpaid government internships, establishing state-level coordination systems, ensuring internship work experience results in academic credit, and encouraging greater private sector investment in internships.

Edtech, broadband, and the digital divide

Education outcomes report (Owl Ventures). This landscape analysis of K-12, postsecondary, and career mobility edtech is based on sector and portfolio insights from the world’s largest edtech-focused venture capital fund.

Education Blockchain Initiative (American Council on Education). The Education Blockchain Initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, will explore uses for blockchain in education and employment. This initiative also includes the Blockchain Innovation Challenge, which focuses on interoperability, social mobility, and learner control.

The Broadband Imperative III: Driving connectivity, access and student success (State Educational Technology Directors Association). SETDA “advocates for equitable, reliable, robust broadband access, both on and off campus, to prepare all students for life and work.” The report offers recommendations for policymakers and school leaders.

The digital divide and homework gap in your state (National Education Association). NEA’s digital equity report “details the digital divide in each state and provides policy recommendations to help close it.”

Closing the digital divide: The critical role of the federal government (Learning Policy Institute). LPI researchers advocate for a coordinated, centralized effort to “ensure that every student has access to high-quality distance and blended learning.”

What COVID-19 underscores about how broadband connectivity affects educational attainment (Pew Charitable Trusts). An interview with Michigan State University’s Johannes Bauer outlines considerations for long-term remote learning. He calls out the need for schools and communities to collaboratively “develop solutions to the two interrelated barriers to universal broadband connectivity: the high costs of connecting some areas and the limited affordability of broadband service to some income groups.”

Opportunities to improve broadband access (CovidX). Supporting remote learning, work, and healthcare — during the pandemic and beyond — will require expanded access to affordable broadband. CovidX looks at why broadband matters and how the U.S. can better understand the access gap, build technology infrastructure, and make broadband more affordable for everyone.

CTE, STEM, and technology skills

Advance CTE transition priorities (Advance CTE). Advance CTE’s policy recommendations for the Biden administration include promoting interconnectedness of education and workforce development systems and making CTE central to the country’s economic recovery.

An astronaut’s guide to improving STEM education (Ed Surge). This episode of the Ed Surge podcast features an interview with Dr. Bernard Harris, a former NASA astronaut who was the first African American to perform a spacewalk. He leads the National Math and Science Initiative, which runs programs designed to boost the number of STEM teachers, increase student access to Advanced Placement courses, and train existing teachers.

CompTIA and Microsoft partner on data center training program in the Netherlands and Sweden (CompTIA). Last summer, CompTIA announced a collaboration with Microsoft on a new skills-building initiative at Microsoft Datacenter Academy in Europe. The partnership intends to help Microsoft fill its talent pipeline with people who are qualified to work at data centers. In the U.S., Microsoft is working with community colleges near each of its data centers.

Cybersecurity education

New NICE strategic plan includes focus on discovery of cybersecurity careers, transforming learning, and modernizing talent management (National Institute of Standards and Technology). NIST’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education released a five-year strategic plan, with goals that include promoting the discovery of cybersecurity careers, transforming learning to build and sustain a diverse and skilled workforce, modernizing the talent management process, expanding use of the workforce framework for cybersecurity, and driving research on effective practices for cybersecurity workforce development.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cybersecurity industry is a national security issue (Aspen Institute). The Aspen Cybersecurity Group explains why cybersecurity education and workforce development is important to dismantling structural barriers and outdated hiring practices.

Green jobs of the future

Would a green new deal add or kill jobs? (Scientific American). Scientific American’s “independent analysis, along with a growing body of research, suggests that a low-carbon economy is likely to be a stronger and more secure economy that also provides climate solutions.”

A new green learning agenda: Approaches to quality education for climate action (Brookings). This paper gives climate and education decision-makers “a framework for conceptualizing the green skills needed to catalyze both technical and social transformation and a tool for considering three approaches to quality education for climate action.”

Green stimulus in a post-pandemic recovery: the role of skills for a resilient recovery (Environmental and Resource Economics). Researchers review green investments and “provide new evidence on the skills requirements of both green and brown occupations, as well as from occupations at risk of job losses due to COVID-19, to illustrate which workers are most likely to benefit from a pandemic-related green stimulus.”

Are skills the missing piece in green transitions? (Green Economy Coalition). GEC makes a case for “green skills” as “one of the enabling factors for just and inclusive transitions to greener economies, and advocates for investing in education and training.”

A green public works program for NYC (Center for an Urban Future). “To understand how New York might take advantage of federal investment to create jobs and help the city mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, CUF asked city leaders in coastal resilience, environmental justice, urban agriculture, renewable energy, and more for sustainability and resiliency project ideas.”

Educator support and professional development

How teachers’ unions are influencing decisions on school reopenings (Education Week). Labor unions are working with school districts and government officials to balance student needs and teacher safety.

The role of early career supports, continuous professional development, and learning communities in the teacher shortage (Economic Policy Institute). EPI highlights the importance of better career support in closing teacher workforce gaps. Opportunity areas include convening more learning communities; enhancing the quality and professionalism of support; and directing more funding to teachers in higher-poverty communities, who are less likely to access career supports today.

The Instructional Leadership Corps: Teachers leading sustainable professional learning in their communities (Learning Policy Institute). LPI offers recommendations for effective teacher professional development policies, based on case studies from a California program. The report highlights the importance of teacher-led programs that go beyond “one and done” and establish strategic relationships with stakeholders in the wider community.

It’s time to right historical wrongs by investing in Black teachers (New America). Outcomes for Black students improve when they have Black teachers. That’s why New America recommends creating a more diverse teacher pipeline to “address the continued student achievement gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines. Recruiting and preparing a diverse workforce will require policies and investments that plug holes across the teacher pipeline.”

Using teacher loan forgiveness to attract a stronger, more diverse workforce (Brookings). “Michael Hansen and Li Feng propose a federal loan forgiveness program for teachers and other educators to help address the challenges of student loan debt and declining interest in teaching among young people.”

Education financing

Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Improving the temporary expanded process could help reduce borrower confusion (Government Accountability Office). The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is an important federal tool for reducing student debt while encouraging public service. Despite a recent temporary expansion by Congress, only 1% of completed requests are approved. GAO analysis offers recommendations to “make more information available and combine application steps to make it less confusing for borrowers.”

Reimagining state higher education funding (Ithaka S+R). Following its fall 2019 convening, Ithaka S+R published four recommendations for making higher education funding “more equitable and cost-effective in a time of financial upheaval.” Experts say states should prioritize education funding; target investments to prioritize equity in access and outcomes; raise new revenues and build partnerships; and improve efficiency and equity of existing resources.

The debt is in the details (The Institute for College Access and Success). TICAS reviews the current state of income-driven repayment (IDR), which is “a critical safety net for struggling borrowers that reduces the risk of delinquency and default.” The report includes analysis and recommendations based on a range of legislative proposals to streamline the multiple IDR plans in place today.

529 policy: A look at how policymakers can improve 529 plans (Morningstar). Morningstar analyzes state 529 plans’ performance and offers ideas for improving results for education savers. Recommendations include smaller states pooling plan assets to create more efficiency and savings, as well as adjusting tax incentives that may adversely affect returns.

Data-driven approaches to subsidizing college enrollment costs (Brookings). “Matt Kasman presents four recommendations for evaluating and comparing the possible benefits of different college subsidy programs.”

Declining access, rising cost: The geography of higher education post-2008 (Jain Family Institute). JFI’s study includes interactive maps of school concentration and cost of attendance to “help policymakers understand the changing landscape of U.S. higher education since 2008, and to direct attention to geographical areas likely to be the most adversely impacted by continued austerity in higher education.”

College finance data can help regulators protect students (New America). Colleges once struggling to make ends meet are now at even greater risk of possible closure. New America’s model “uses publicly available data to identify private nonprofit institutions that have basic liquidity issues, [helping to detect] the riskiest private nonprofit institutions.” The resulting list “can provide a critical starting point for regulators in accrediting agencies, states, and at the U.S. Department of Education to dig a little deeper.”

Our weekly email newsletter features more updates and insights for the future-ready executive: Subscribe to the Lab Report.


Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO
Jessica Hibbard
Head of Content & Community


Senior Director
Senior Associate
Senior Associate
Engagement Manager
Engagement Manager