For the past 30 years, information and digital technologies have been reshaping the U.S. economy. In rural America, where middle-skilled jobs in mining, manufacturing, and agriculture served as the foundation of the middle class, these developments have had profound impacts.

With funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Research and National Technical Assistance (RNTA) program, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) put together a series of briefs offering insight into what the future of work means for rural America. This first brief addresses the question of how technology is changing the nature of work, and offers four key insights:

  1. Technology is forcing us to change the way we think about work, shifting from a job-based perspective to a task and skill-based perspective.
  2. Technology is increasingly automating routine tasks. This has led to a reduction of employment in middle-income routine jobs — those predominantly composed of routine tasks. 
  3. The automation of routine tasks has benefited workers with specialized skills, increasing employment and wages for skilled workers. 
  4. Technology is creating new types of digitals tasks, which primarily leverage technology. 

We analyze the implications of these trends for rural America, and provide four recommendations for rural leaders to consider when creating economic and workforce development strategies and programs:

  • Adopt a task/skill-based perspective to recognize the growth in digital tasks and digital skills when assessing the needs of your local economy. 
  • Build digital skills training ecosystems. 
  • Align these training programs with local employer demands, by assessing how outsourced digital jobs can be brought back to the local market, and providing opportunities to gain skills relevant to remote and freelance work.  
  • Support entrepreneurship programs that create digital jobs. 

Through this work, we aim to equip rural economic and workforce development leaders with the latest research and thinking on the future of work to help inform strategy, programs, and planning work. 

Read the report:

Future of Work 122221

This content was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED20HDQ3120070 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.