Training and Skill Development Research

Research on training and skill development points the way toward greater productivity and prosperity.

Good jobs and good companies require skilled workers. To gain insights into the state of workforce development and promising paths forward, the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative at MIT Sloan has played a role in four research projects that each focus on some facet of training and skills acquisition.


Training and Skill Development Survey

Researcher: Paul Osterman

MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman

The Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative in 2019 launched a new research project that involved surveying a nationally representative sample of about 3000 U.S. adults about their experiences with training and skills development—whether in the workplace, online, or through community colleges or other training providers. Under the leadership of MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman, the survey has been conducted and survey results are currently being analyzed. This study is expected to have significant policy implications. A few of the preliminary results have already been reported in the press, and Osterman has also published a research brief about some of the study's findings.




Training the ‘Workforce of the Future’: Insights from Work-Based Higher Education Programs in Germany and the United States

Researcher: Inez von Weitershausen

Inez von Weitershausen


In the face of rapid technological change, industrialized economies share concerns about how to prepare their workforces for the work of the future. One key aspect is fostering collaboration among companies, individuals, and public actors in the education and professional development space. In this project, von Weitershausen, a postdoctoral research associate at the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative, compared work-based higher education programs in Germany and the United States.

The project draws on two in-depth case studies von Weitershausen developed that illustrate how work-based learning programs in higher education operate in the two countries, as well as on contextual data about how these programs have evolved in the U.S. and in Germany. While at the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative, von Weitershausen revised a paper about the project in preparation for submitting it for publication. The paper has also been used as reading material for the online MITx course “Shaping Work of the Future."




Pathways to Coordination: State Government Strategies for Achieving Workforce Development at Scale in Four U.S. States

Researchers: Jenna Myers and Kate Kellogg 

Jenna Myers (left) and Professor Kate Kellogg (right)

In this 20-month field study, Jenna Myers and Kate Kellogg, both of MIT Sloan, describe how public and private organizations in four U.S. states attempted to coordinate workforce development across their local labor markets. Specifically, Myers and Kellogg describe the strategies used by state governments in these four states in the context of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a national initiative to build career pathways spanning from high schools to colleges to employers.

Myers, who is a doctoral candidate at MIT Sloan, and Kellogg, who is the David J. McGrath jr (1959) Professor of Management and Innovation and a Professor of Business Administration at MIT Sloan, first identify and discuss the practices that state governments can use to facilitate the coordination of regional workforce development organizations. Myers and Kellogg develop the concept of state actor orchestration—defined as “structuring provisional goal setting and revision, encouraging experimentation, and framing coordination to inspire collective action across sectors”—which is used in this case to address the broad societal challenges of inadequate skill attainment and employment. State actor orchestration involves three types of practices: structural practices (building statewide governance structures and modifying governance processes), political practices (providing initial direction and piloting and broadening the set of stakeholders), and cultural practices (identifying key problems and collective action solutions and building social accountability for new roles). The authors then describe how these practices differed based on the states’ institutional environments; where governance is more centralized, state agencies gain more latitude to guide regional workforce development. They also discuss the implications of their findings for workforce development literature and policy. 

The study has resulted in a paper that has been published in the journal ILR Review. Data from the study will also be used in a case study for an MIT Office of Open Learning report on workforce education.




Worker “Upskilling” in an Age of Insecurity: The Introduction of Two Flexible Work Reforms in a U.S. Automaker

Researcher: Claire McKenna​

Claire McKenna

This study by Claire McKenna, a doctoral student at MIT Sloan, aims to understand factors that account for the limited diffusion of high-performance work practices in the U.S. McKenna examines one possible explanation: the introduction and persistence of these practices depend on the cooperation of different groups within organizations.

High-performance work practices commonly entail changes to the division of labor that affect the daily activities of multiple groups within organizations. How individuals and groups respond to these changes may depend on their perceptions of the impacts on the organizational objectives they represent or seek to advance, their individual circumstances, and their collective standing within the organization. How groups in organizations interpret the introduction of high-performance work practices will depend on various factors, such as organizational position, division affiliation, and occupation. If new work practices fail to meet the interests of a particular group, then members of that group have incentives to stand in their way.

McKenna’s study focused on a U.S. automaker. She draws on semi-structured interviews conducted over seven months in 2018 and 2019 with union and non-union employees of the firm’s manufacturing workforce, with selected employees of the corporate headquarters, and with employees of the associated labor union. McKenna conducted multiple out-of-state field-site visits over the course of 2018 and 2019, interviewing dozens of study participants.


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