Special Analysis

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The Future of Work:  How Organizations around Massachusetts are Preparing Students and Employees for the Jobs of the Future

The Commonwealth’s Most Valuable Resource

Massachusetts is rightfully known for its high-quality workforce and the strength of its talent pipeline.  The Commonwealth is home to a network of world-class higher educational institutions that stretches statewide and includes major public and private research universities, small liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. These schools produce a combined 121,000 graduates annually, 22,500 of which are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) graduates, placing Massachusetts as the top state per-capita in both measures (NCES, 2016).

While employers choose Massachusetts for many reasons, the Commonwealth’s well-educated workforce and robust talent pipeline is one of the biggest, a factor which has helped keep the state’s economy competitive even as individual industries rise and fall. That said, business leaders and education providers in Massachusetts must remain at the forefront of innovation when it comes to training and education, as disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics reshape jobs and entire industries. Massachusetts has been well served by its traditional education infrastructure in the past, but businesses and non-profit training programs will need to become larger actors in providing education and training pathways if the Commonwealth is to continue its strong track record of adapting to economic shifts. 

Historical Lessons and a Look at the Future

Textile mills, one of the earliest mass manufacturing industries in Massachusetts, represented a disruptive innovation in their day, powered by advances in machinery which allowed for greatly increased productivity and lower costs, resulting in booming demand for textiles.  Cities such as Lowell and Lawrence in the Merrimack Valley owe their existence to this disruption. Many new jobs were created as this disruptive technology took hold, creating demand for machine operators, maintenance technicians, engineers, and new managerial positions, jobs which required very different skillsets from the artisans who were previously employed in weaving.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that half of all current work activities could be automated using currently demonstrated technologies, but that only 5% of jobs are at risk of being entirely automated (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017).  Despite the automation of many tasks formerly performed by people, human involvement in the economy does not appear likely to diminish.  Just as the advent of textile mills and power looms decimated weaving employment while at the same time spurring new factory jobs, today’s disruptive technologies will create previously unheard of positions, and not just in software and hardware engineering.  McKinsey expects one-third of the U.S. workforce (54 million people) will change occupations by 2030 due to automation and up to 9% of the workforce will be employed in occupations that do not exist today (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017).


The great challenge for Massachusetts is to keep the Commonwealth’s workforce and talent pipeline adaptable to the jobs and industries of the future.  Disruptive technologies are already having an impact on how employers think about their hiring needs, with an increasing level of convergence between the talent needs of both tech and non-tech companies (Chamberlain, 2018).  While Massachusetts has adapted well to previous disruptions, the pace of change is now faster (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017) and the need for innovation more urgent.  Efforts to address this challenge are already underway at universities, businesses, and community organizations across the Commonwealth, so better understanding and dissemination of these efforts will help ease this transition.


To that end, the Index has invited 4 commentators from organizations around the state to share their thoughts on how education and training programs must be improved to keep the Commonwealth’s workforce globally competitive. Our commentaries fall into the following categories:

Training Programs

The Index profiles organizations from around the Commonwealth and details their training programs in:

Youth/K-12 Education

Adult/Career Change

Previous editions of the Special Analysis have looked toward the past to gain insights into our current economy, looking at data analysis trends or each region’s innovation strengths. However, this is the second year in a row where the Index is taking a forward-looking approach, following on last year’s look at the issue of technologic convergence. While the strength of the Index has been on gleaning insights from past data and historic trends, this section will continue to be a space where we will tackle emerging issues and engage the Massachusetts innovation community at-large on predictions, responses, and insights on the advances that the quickening pace of innovation and advancement is having on the Commonwealth’s economy and its workforce.


Chamberlain, A. (2018). Job Market Trends: Five Hiring Disruptions to Watch in 2019. Glassdoor.

McKinsey Global Institute. (2017). Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transistions in a Time of Automation. McKinsey Global Institute.

NCES. (2016). Integrated Post-Secondary Education Database. Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/