June 15, 2023 – Future of Work

In case you missed it: Ryan Stowers on making education — and work — work for more people 


The U.S. labor force participation rate has plummeted over the last generation. Why are millions of potential workers dropping out of the workforce?

Because when it comes to getting a job, skills matter — but when it comes to staying in a job, purpose matters. Americans want their work to connect to what gives them meaning. As Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) Executive Director Ryan Stowers explained in a letter to Education Week and an essay in the journal, Innovations, the United States’ top-down education system does not help learners discover what they love, or even what they would be good at.

Before talking about where to go to learn skills, workers need to discover their purpose. Educators and employers need to aid in that pursuit. 

In Education Week, Stowers explained the country’s education system leaves too much to chance and “limits a person’s ability to build learning pathways based on their unique aptitudes and interests.” Innovators like Reach University, PelotonU, and the Make It Movement are challenging this top-down system by helping learners uncover their natural talents and helping them acquire skills.  

By staying with the status quo, the country risks more than its labor participation rate. “Millions of people are missing the chance to use their talents to enrich their own lives and the lives of others,” Stowers wrote for Innovations. “This represents a lot of human potential left on the table, and missed opportunity can lead to human misery. Working Americans spend most of the day at their jobs, so if what people do is not connected to who they are, it strips them of their dignity. This can lead to a host of problems, including burn-out, anxiety, and depression, leaving the workforce altogether, addiction, and even suicide.”

It is time to scale innovations that help learners identify their purpose and then acquire the skills that will help them find work meaningful to them.

Read the Innovations essay here. Read the Education Week letter to the editor here