The Role of Skills in the Future of Work

Posted on by Lauren Menger-Ogle, PhD; Molly Leshner, MPH; and Brian Bisson


To survive and thrive in a fast-changing world, workers need to keep updating their skills to improve their employment chances, advance their careers, and meet the shifting needs of employers.1 Employers typically look for workers with proficiency in the technical and cognitive skills needed to do the job, but they also look for more portable and transferable skills (i.e., cross-sector competencies) that can be taken from job-to-job and transferred to different situations and social contexts, such as interpersonal and problem-solving abilities, as well as knowledge, skills, and abilities for safe and healthy work.

Lower skilled workers, such as young (under age 25) and contingent (temporary) workers, may have limited chances to learn new skills. These workers are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed. They also have less job stability and work in more dangerous jobs compared with higher skilled workers.1 Young workers and contingent workers experience a higher rate of work-related injuries.2-4 One reason for this may be a lack of training in basic occupational safety and health (OSH).

Many current programs to prepare the emerging workforce don’t consider the essential knowledge and skills needed for safe and healthy work.1 As a result, young and temporary workers often start jobs without the most basic OSH knowledge and skills.5 Adding basic OSH skills to existing programs may lower injury rates among these workers and better prepare them for today’s modern jobs.

The NIOSH 8 Core Competencies

NIOSH has created a framework of basic OSH competencies—The NIOSH 8 Core Competencies (NIOSH 8CCs).5 The NIOSH 8CCs include the following:

  1. Recognize that, while work has benefits, all workers can be injured, become sick, or even be killed on the job. Workers need to know how workplace risks can affect their lives and their families.
  2. Recognize that most work-related injuries and illnesses are predictable and can be prevented.
  3. Identify hazards at work, evaluate the risks, and predict how workers can be injured or made sick.
  4. Recognize how to prevent injury and illness. Describe the best ways to address workplace hazards and apply these concepts to specific workplace problems.
  5. Identify emergencies at work and decide on the best ways to address them.
  6. Recognize employer and worker rights and responsibilities that play a role in safe and healthy work.
  7. Find resources that help keep workers safe and healthy on the job.
  8. Demonstrate how workers can communicate with others—including people in authority roles—to ask questions or report problems or concerns when they feel unsafe or threatened.

These core skills are general, can apply to all industries and occupations, and fit well with existing work readiness programs. These basic skills offer a framework where other job-specific safety and health skills can be built. Teaching the NIOSH 8CCs in schools and other work readiness and job preparation programs can equip workers to handle the hazards they may find on the job.

NIOSH Safe-Skilled Ready Workforce Program

The NIOSH Safe • Skilled • Ready Workforce (SSRW) Program advances science supporting foundational OSH training programs that prepare new workers. These include younger workers and those in temporary jobs. Ideally, core OSH skills will be taught to teenagers before they enter the workforce. To help achieve this goal, NIOSH and its partners developed Youth@WorkTalking Safety. Talking Safety is a training course that gives middle- and high school students basic OSH knowledge.6 Research shows Talking Safety is effective at promoting positive changes in OSH knowledge and attitudes about workplace safety.7

The SSRW Program partnered with the American Industrial Hygiene Association to create a 1-hour introduction to OSH called Safety Matters. Through partnership with the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California at Berkeley, the SSRW Program also created Staying Safe at Work, a basic OSH training for workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Workforce development organizations are focused on promoting job readiness skills and career development opportunities among lower skilled workers. These organizations can also help promote OSH knowledge and skills among young and contingent workers. To support this, the SSRW Program is partnering with the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council to study the effectiveness of a draft OSH training curriculum for workforce development organizations and their program participants. The draft curriculum, called Safety Skills at Work, is intended to promote positive changes in safety and health knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behaviors. Study results will serve as the first step toward developing an evidence base for this curriculum.

OSHA 10-Hour Training

The OSHA 10-hour training offers workers basic training on common workplace safety and health hazards and protections. Students receive an OSHA 10-hour card after they complete the training. This nationally recognized card can enhance students’ resumes by showing they have completed basic workplace safety and health training.

The OSHA 10-hour training may be beneficial for students in high school and post-secondary career and technical education (CTE) programs. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been working to add the OSHA 10-hour training to CTE programs in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York. This training is important for CTE students in construction and manufacturing. It can also benefit students in other CTE pathways, such as healthcare, transportation, cosmetology, information technology, agricultural sciences, and culinary and hospitality.

The SSRW Program is partnering with AFT on a research study to evaluate integration of the OSHA 10-hour General Industry Training into the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) health sciences CTE program. M-DCPS is the third largest school district in the country.

As part of this partnership, the SSRW Program and AFT are developing an adapted OSHA 10-hour training curriculum that includes the NIOSH 8CCs and is tailored for the health sciences. AFT is helping M-DCPS health science CTE teachers get the required training (the OSHA 511 and the OSHA 501) to become General Industry OSHA-authorized trainers. So far, 19 teachers have completed this training. The trained teachers then teach the OSHA 10-hour training to their classes, so their students can earn OSHA 10-hour cards.

The SSRW Program is collecting data from administrators, teachers, and students to assess the effectiveness and scalability of this approach. So far, 400 students in M-DCPS have earned their OSHA 10-hour cards. Through this research, the SSRW Program and AFT are hoping to learn how this model program can be promoted in CTE programs across the country.

To keep workers safe, they need to be equipped with OSH knowledge and skills. While employers must give workers job-specific safety and health training, schools and workforce development organizations can be primary venues for providing foundational OSH education. Foundational OSH skills can help workers better understand and benefit from future job-specific training provided by employers. Better job skills lead to more and better jobs with higher pay and status.8 OSH skills are critical to workers’ safety, health, and productivity.1

Would you like to learn more? A recorded NIOSH Future of Work Initiative webinar titled The Role of Skills in the Future of Work covers these topics. The recording features Dr. Lauren Menger-Ogle from NIOSH and Mr. Brian Bisson from the AFT.


Lauren Menger-Ogle, PhD is a Social Scientist within the NIOSH Division of Science Integration, Social Science and Translation Research Branch. Dr. Menger-Ogle coordinates the NIOSH Safe-Skilled-Ready Workforce Program and the NIOSH Services Sector Program.

Molly Leshner, MPH is a Health Scientist within the NIOSH, Division of Science Integration, Risk Evaluation Branch. She serves as the primary Health Communication Specialist.  

Brian Bisson works in the Health Issues Department of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). As an OSHA Authorized General and Construction Industry Instructor Trainer, Mr. Bisson coordinates and facilitates OSHA trainer courses for AFT Career and Technical Education teachers, which enables the teachers to conduct OSHA 10- and 30-hour awareness classes for their students.



  1. Tamers SL, Streit J, Pana‐Cryan R, Ray T, Syron L, Flynn MA, Castillo D, Roth G, Geraci C, Guerin R, Schulte P, Henn S, Chang C-C, Felknor S, Howard J [2020]. Envisioning the future of work to safeguard the safety, health, and well‐being of the workforce: a perspective from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Am J Ind Med 63(12):1065–1084,
  2. CDC [2020]. Nonfatal occupational injuries to younger workers – United States, 2012–2018. By Guerin RJ, Reichard AA, Derk S, Hendricks KJ, Menger-Ogle LM, Okun AH. MMWR 69(35):1204–1209,
  3. Al-Tarawneh IS, Wurzelbacher SJ, Bertke SJ [2020]. Comparative analyses of workers’ compensation claims of injury among temporary and permanent employed workers in Ohio. Am J Ind Med 63(1):3–22,
  4. Foley M [2017]. Factors underlying observed injury rate differences between temporary workers and permanent peers. Am J Ind Med 60(10):841–851,
  5. Okun AH, Guerin RJ, Schulte PA [2016]. Foundational workplace safety and health competencies for the emerging workforce. J Safety Res 59:43–51,
  6. NIOSH [2014]. Youth@Work—Talking Safety. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,
  7. Guerin RJ, Okun AH, Barile JP, Emshoff JG, Ediger MD, Baker DS [2019]. Preparing teens to stay afe and healthy on the job: A multilevel evaluation of the Talking Safety curriculum for middle schools and high schools. Prev Sci 20:510-520.
  8. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, et al. [2017]. Building America’s skilled technical workforce. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.


Posted on by Lauren Menger-Ogle, PhD; Molly Leshner, MPH; and Brian Bisson

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Page last reviewed: November 29, 2023
Page last updated: November 29, 2023