February 4, 2021 – Future of Work

Upskilling Trends: Poll Results Show Over Half of Americans Under 40 Believe they will Need to Upskill


According to a new survey released by the Charles Koch Foundation and the SkillUp Coalition, more than half of Americans under 40 believe that they will need to acquire new skills to advance their careers. Fifty-eight percent of Generation Z respondents and just over 50 percent of Millennials said they think they will need additional training for their career goals. Thirty-four percent of all respondents believe they will need to acquire new skills in the future. Of those who are looking to upskill, 84 percent are looking to do so within three years’ time.

According to the findings, Americans believe that one promising pathway is through career and technical education. February 1 marks the beginning of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month and, according to the survey, the majority of Americans view CTE as a promising path for upskilling.

These findings are not surprising given the economic upheaval surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly a year into the crisis, approximately 10 million Americans are still out of work.

The survey also comes at a time when more Americans are thinking beyond traditional two- and four-year college degree programs for upskilling. As CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers noted in a recent piece for Big Think, only a third of students at four-year institutions believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the workplace. Stowers advised that we need to “start thinking about the tools that empower outcomes like lifelong learning, demonstrable skills, fulfillment, and service to others.”

Americans clearly believe CTE is one of those tools.

When asked where they would acquire new skills, a considerable plurality (36 percent) named career and technical education. Additionally, 70 percent of Americans said they believe the country would benefit from an increase in enrollment in CTE programs.

Of those who anticipate the need to upskill, 72 percent expressed a preference for an option other than a four-year college or university.

“COVID had laid bare the financial travails many Americans are facing. As we continue to witness economic uncertainty, many are considering upskilling in the future,” said SkillUp Executive Director Steven Lee. “The upheaval that is happening now demands a wide range of options that workers can access for training and employment opportunities.”

The survey also found Americans would recommend CTE to new high-school graduates as a quality pathway to success. In fact, enrolling in CTE programs was second only to enrolling in a traditional, residential four-year college. The third most-recommended option for high-school graduates was enrolling in an apprenticeship program to learn a skilled trade.

“This poll underscores the demand for more, better, and faster pathways for workers who have been displaced due to COVID,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “These dynamic pathways aren’t just essential as we recover from a pandemic, but for all learners who want to discover, develop, and apply their aptitudes to reach their potential.”

Read the full survey results.

The Charles Koch Foundation also supports organizations like the mikeroweWorks Foundation, SkillsUSA, SkillUp, and the Cardinal Manufacturing program, which work to create additional dynamic pathways for upskilling.

The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.