Understanding the Incumbent Worker’s Decision to Train: The Challenges Facing Less-Educated Workers | MIT J-WEL

You are here

Understanding the Incumbent Worker’s Decision to Train: The Challenges Facing Less-Educated Workers

Resource Visibility: Public

Related Content


  • J-WEL Workforce Learning Faculty Advisor, Principal Research Scientist (MIT Sloan) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Learn More
  • Axelle Clochard
    Graduate Research Assistant, J-WEL Workforce Learning Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Labor economists estimate that more than two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the next decade (Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 2018). This number will be driven not only by the retirement of a rapidly aging workforce, but also by the adoption of new technologies as the fourth industrial revolution continues to transform manufacturing. Crucially, the shift to more automation and digitization will demand a different set of skills from the manufacturing workforce (Autor, Mindell, and Reynolds 2019, 2020).

Although advanced manufacturing positions promise higher pay and better working conditions, the share of manufacturing jobs going to college graduates has increased drastically from 21% in 1991 to 40% in 2019 (Hufford, 2019). Thus, less-educated incumbent workers might not consider these jobs to be theirs for the taking and may not see the training investment as worthwhile. Adding to this, training opportunities tend to be biased away from less-educated workers. 

And yet, beyond simple explanations such as cost and convenience, we know little about what motivates or dissuades less-educated workers from participating in training when the opportunity arises. As such, this paper asks, what are the factors that influence the incumbent worker’s decision to participate, or not participate, in work-related training? Developing a coherent theory around the expectations related to training, and how these might vary when it comes to the less-educated worker, would allow employers, policymakers, and workers to optimize the value of the training investment.

Topics: Future of Work

Licensing Information: All Rights Reserved