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The work ahead: Machines, skills, and U.S. leadership in the twenty-first century

The nature of work is undergoing a fundamental shift, one largely brought about by new technologies including but not limited to artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous vehicles. In the process, jobs will be both eliminated and created. For the United States, this is something of a mixed blessing. With the world’s most innovative economy, the country is well positioned to exploit (in the best sense) the promise of new technologies and their applications. At the same time, it is painfully clear that American society is ill prepared for this technological transformation because educational opportunity and attainment vary widely and work is the basis for much of a citizen’s income, benefits, and, in many cases, self-esteem. The report of this Independent Task Force rightly focuses on the need to rebuild the links among work, opportunity, and economic security for Americans. It puts forward a number of policy prescriptions for government, business, educators, and nongovernmental institutions. Americans will need to reimagine their careers; the average worker will know over a dozen separate jobs during his or her lifetime. Citizens will also need to rethink education, jettisoning the notion of education as something largely completed before they enter the workforce. Instead, lifelong learning and periodic retraining will become the new normal. And Americans, together with government at every level, will need to restructure the relationship between jobs and benefits. With much of actual and projected job growth in part-time, contingent, or gig employment, it no longer makes sense to tie employment benefits such as retirement and sick leave to particular jobs. Rather, portable systems of employment benefits should be introduced that follow the individual from job to job.