The Future of Work in America’s Cities

This is a guest post by Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas, president of the National League of Cities

As you may know, my focus this year as president of NLC is to help city leaders prepare for the future of work. What does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things. For me, the future of work can be thought about in three categories:

  • Technology & Innovation: First, we must grapple with the technology advancements, automation and artificial intelligence that you read about in the headlines — the “robots will take or change our jobs” narrative. That’s true of the gig economy, as well, with more and more Americans working in one or more contract or temporary employment situations.
  • Pathways: The second concern is education and career and technical training, providing opportunities and connected pathways to help individuals gain skills to succeed in the workforce and meet local needs. This starts as early as K-12 and even in early childhood education as we are exposing our young people to the wide world of careers and talking to them about their futures.
  • Equity & Inclusion in the Workforce: Finally, one of our biggest missed opportunities, which often contributes to the largest challenges in our communities, is prioritizing equity and special populations. There are millions of individuals who can be classified as “opportunity youth” — not in the workforce, not enrolled in school — along with countless adults who need to be reengaged in school, reconnected to the workforce, and given a chance to advance beyond low-wage jobs that can’t cover the rent or put enough food on the table.

All of these forces are colliding to create new challenges and also new opportunities for cities. We don’t know what all the future will bring, but we do know that our workforce and the jobs that are available to our residents are changing at a rapid pace. And that even without change, today, we have jobs that need to be filled and a workforce that needs investment in their skills to take advantage of those opportunities.

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We talk about it on Capitol Hill when we discuss critical investments in infrastructure, and that need transcends across so many more sectors as well. Now, it’s up to cities to look inward, as well as out to other cities across the nation, to be proactive. We must prepare for change, even if we’re not entirely sure how new economies will look.

Last month, I shared a new resource from NLC that offers suggestions and strategies for addressing some of the toughest workforce questions facing local leaders and our partners at the federal level. In an effort to keep that conversation going, starting this month, NLC’s CitiesSpeak will run a blog series leading up to City Summit 2018 detailing other city leaders, corporate and industry partners as well as NLC staff perspectives and efforts underway to address the future of work. We’ll highlight some of the great work that NLC, its member cities and its partners are doing to prepare cities for the future workforce.

We all know that cities have the power to be nimble and transformational in the ways that they deal with social and economic change. In the coming months, you’ll hear from cities and organizations across America about the interesting and effective things they are doing to prepare for changes in America’s workforce.

I hope you’ll find this series informative as well as a starting point for some of your local efforts. I also hope you’ll join the conversation in November at City Summit.

Mark_Stodola_200x250.jpgAbout the Author: Mark Stodola is the mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, and president of the National League of Cities (NLC), the largest organization representing America’s cities and their leaders. Stodola has served as mayor of Little Rock since January 2007.