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Technology: A Powerful (and Positive) Solution to the Future of Work

Abigail Carlton - Former Managing Director, Economic Equity Opportunity
Laura Roberts - Former Program Associate
Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

These days, nearly every conversation about the future of work comes back to a central theme: How will automation shape the jobs of the future and the future of workers? For low-wage workers in particular, the predictions are troubling—a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates an elimination of nearly 73 million jobs by 2030 from across the skills spectrum. And yet, there is another side to this discussion that receives considerably less attention.

As Elisabeth Mason powerfully describes in her recent New York Times op-ed, when it comes to jobs and creating more economic opportunity in the United States, technology can work for us, not just against us.

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we support a number of tech-focused products and models that provide positive, proven solutions to this country’s job challenges. Here are three key categories of “game changing” solutions:

  1. Tech-enabled talent assessments: Traditional ways of filtering and assessing candidates for jobs—such as requiring a four year degree or hiring strictly from internal networks—are finally being recognized as ineffective measures for companies trying to find the right talent that will stick around. In response, a number of new, data-driven talent assessment companies have emerged in recent years.The Foundation has supported two—Knack and Pymetrics—that have dedicated significant resources to ensuring these tools can be applied to “untapped talent pools” or groups that have been overlooked by companies in the past, like disconnected youth. For example, an experiment we ran with Knack demonstrate that young people who were previously overlooked for certain roles performed at or better than a company’s existing employees nearly 60 percent of the time, when measured by Knack’s algorithm-based assessment.[1] Our work with these organizations and others has helped to show that these overlooked groups can be a true asset to companies’ bottom lines.
  1. Employer diagnostics and impact data: Many employers lack access to sufficient diagnostic and measurement tools, and/or models for assessing and combatting their recruitment and assessment challenges. This makes it difficult to collect, analyze, and problem-solve around different talent issues.While there is more progress to be made in this space, we’ve seen a handful of organizations—like the McKinsey Social Initiative spin-off, Generation—begin to develop models that capture and use employer data in sophisticated ways. This enables employers to identify which services and models work best for their unique workforces. Through their U.S.-based youth training and retention programs, Generation has seen an 89 percent job retention rate—yielding $4,000-5,300 per employee in value to employers.[2]
  1. Growing employment technology ecosystem: The sheer number of new products available for both employers and job seekers trying to navigate and succeed in the job market has increased exponentially in recent years. For example, in their report released last year, Global Silicon Valley (GSV) Acceleration, a venture capital fund that invests in education and employment technology entrepreneurs, reported a 166 percent increase in the amount of venture capital funding being funneled into emerging employment technologies aimed at addressing a range of issues, including training, assessment, matching, and mentoring tools[3]. This is a clear market signal that technological solutions can be designed and deployed in ways that produce value to both the “demand side” (employers) and “supply side” (job seekers/employees) of the job market. To build on this wave, The Rockefeller Foundation co-founded a first-of-its-kind funder collaborative—The Employment Technology Fund—along with the Walmart, Joyce, and Kellogg Foundations, which makes grant and debt investments in early growth stage employment technology companies that drive double bottom line outcomes.

With additional investment, we believe these kinds of solutions can change the job market for the better, ultimately harnessing big data to ensure inclusive progress for all of America’s workers. This shift would represent one small piece of a larger, burgeoning call for change in the U.S.—one centered on redefining the American Dream, creating more equitable economic conditions for all, and ensuring American workers have the tools and support they need to compete and thrive in a changing world.

[1] Canner, Niko; Nayak, Shanti; Carlton, Abigail; Irons, John: “How Data Can Transform Youth Employment,” 23 Dec 2015.


[3] “It’s a Breakout: Captial Flows In the Learning and Talent Technology Market,” GSV Acceleration, Spring 2017.

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