CAREER: Bridging the STEM Skills and Employment Gap for the Future of Work

Project: Research project

Project Details


New technologies, such as artificial intelligence, continue to transform the way we interact and work. While this transformation has created new, high-paying jobs, it has also revealed a noticeable “skills gap” because these jobs require STEM skills that many people lack, particularly adults without a college degree. As a result, recent data show that, as with past technological transformations, the introduction of new technologies can exacerbate existing skill and income inequalities because people without a college degree lack the qualifications needed for the jobs created by these technologies. These trends persist even though there are more training modalities than ever (e.g., Massively Open Online Courses) and increased institutional funding for reskilling adults, suggesting that effectively reskilling adult learners requires fresh thinking. Novel approaches to overcoming the skills gap are especially needed because how people obtain jobs has changed as organizations increasingly use AI to evaluate candidate resumes and interviews; workers not only need to attain the necessary STEM skills, but also understand how to navigate new hiring algorithms. Rather than focusing on creating additional training modalities or curriculum, more research is needed to understand the situated social, behavioral, and organizational factors that will help people leverage existing reskilling resources. This proposal’s research goal, thus, is to develop new, holistic understanding about these factors influencing the ability of adults who do not have a college degree to access, participate in, and complete STEM education and training opportunities necessary for jobs created by new technologies, and to obtain high-paying jobs created by these technologies. I refer to this progression as the “reskilling process.” Understanding this process from both an organizational and individual level of analysis will ultimately enable more people to obtain STEM jobs created by new technology. To accomplish this research goal, I will partner with three Chicago-based organizations that aid adult communities that historically have faced barriers in the labor market (African Americans, formerly incarcerated individuals, and refugees) to obtain STEM skills. I will use a full-cycle research method to leverage both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The advantage of this approach is that it first generates grounded hypotheses by collecting ethnographic data from people whose voices have largely been unheard in discussions about reskilling. To collect grounded data for building hypotheses, I will employ a novel digital diary approach that enables people to use their smartphones to share their experiences. These hypotheses will then be tested with field experiments, and finally, additional survey data will provide insight into the experimental results’ mechanisms. The proposal pursues three main objectives: 1) Develop in-depth, grounded hypotheses about the organizational, social, and behavioral factors that adults without a college degree, particularly underrepresented minorities who encounter labor market discrimination, face during each stage of the reskilling process; 2) Employ field experiments to test which hypotheses lead to better outcomes, including whether people are able to obtain higher-paying jobs created by new technologies; and 3) Create evidence-based curriculum and strategies that institutions, organizations, and policymakers can use to help people without a college degree obtain higher-paying jobs created by new technologies.
Effective start/end date5/1/234/30/28


  • National Science Foundation (SES 2239538 002)


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