Meet the Expert: Samia Amin
Samia Amin leads the workforce development practice at AIR. She’s helped federal, state, local, and international governments and foundations develop and refine workforce programs. At AIR, she directs a variety of studies and is an expert in using methods such as behavioral insights, human-centered design, and research-driven pilot programs for continuous program improvement.
POSITION: Principal Researcher and Practice Area Director
AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Workforce and Human Capital
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 16+
Q: How does your work at AIR address the important issues facing today’s workforce?
Samia: Most economies around the world face the same challenges: global competition, the rise of the gig economy, automation, and the effects of climate change-related events. And then there are challenges specific to the U.S.: the opioid crisis, high incarceration rates, and the lagging standards of education and training.
U.S. education, workforce, social, and employment systems haven’t kept pace with these changes. This means that workers disproportionately bear the burden of identifying and acquiring the right skills on an ongoing basis to avoid unemployment and underemployment. Without concerted and coordinated efforts, populations already facing barriers to employment may be the ones that may fare the worst.
Our team is focused on issues related to the future of work. We’re exploring interdisciplinary approaches to working with employers, policymakers, the workforce system, and educators to develop comprehensive solutions with an eye toward vulnerable populations. For example, we’re identifying promising methods of upskilling and reskilling, studying the use of skills-based practices and evaluating educational pathways.
Q: What is the most promising development you’ve seen in the workforce field?
Samia: We’re recognizing that a “college or bust” mentality to workforce preparation is not the answer, and there’s a need not just for career ladders but also career lattices, with multiple doors for entry. Many industries are exploring apprenticeships as an alternate route to jobs.
For example, companies like AT&T are taking stock of current jobs, thinking about which skills will survive into the future and considering new roles that employ those skills. They're sharing that information with their employees and make upskilling and retraining opportunities available to help them navigate that evolving career lattice. It’s exciting work that needs to also happen at a larger scale and faster pace.
Q: What would you say to someone currently considering a career in public policy research and consulting?
Samia: Be driven by the problem you are trying to solve rather than the methods in which you have expertise. That requires getting close to the populations you seek to serve, understanding their context and their experiences. Understanding why the problem matters will push you to do your best. It will make you humble in looking for new and better ways to do what you do and drive you to be bold in pushing both your colleagues and your clients to do more.
Q: What’s your go-to professional resource?
Samia: I like looking for long-form content to inform my understanding of the human aspect of issues, the people who choose to study them, and how they do so. Currently, The Atlantic Monthly and the “Longform Podcast” are the ones I find myself reaching for when I have time. Had I not become a social sciences researcher, I would have liked to be an investigative journalist creating long-form content or a documentary filmmaker or photographer. I guess I am drawn to storytelling.
Q: What was the last great book you read?
Samia: There are two: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
Q: Where can we find you on a typical Saturday afternoon?
Samia: At my favorite bookstore followed by reading in my garden or at café with my 7-year-old and 3-year-old. Or having a long lunch with friends while our kids run around like maniacs.