Terry H. Schwadron
March 7, 2018
Some will see a new report on the future of our jobs as grim.
I see a platform for Democrats, who, of course, are not asking me, and instead spend their time critiquing President Donald Trump for everything from immigration and international policies to eating cheeseburgers and tweeting.
Here’s the set-up: A new report by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting for anyone who cares says that almost a million Americans will see their occupations vanish entirely by 2026, unless they get busy training now for new jobs. Without new skills, 1.4 Americans will lose jobs over the next eight years, and about 40% of them will have little to no chance of finding work without rekindling their skill set. Replacement jobs will pay less, and be yet more selective for factors like education and flexibility.
So, listen up Democrats. Your platform needs to build in lifelong learning and constant job re-training programs as central tenets. Otherwise, you’ll be just as out of touch as President Trump about how to look at the world of work.
The president’s views of the economy — and just about everything else — has been backwards to the past. Even the slogan Make America Great Again harkens to a better time in the past, when employers and manufacturers created lifelong careers that build American homes and cars, dug for coal and oil, and give employers a free hand in ignoring wage fairness, environmental and consumer protection regulations.
It’s a view that says if only we could free employers to make investments and profits, they will do the right thing by workers. The labor movement, and the creation of all those worker, environmental and consumer protection regulations say otherwise.
In any event, we are not at another important point where technologies are shaping jobs, not just technology jobs, but manufacturing, service industries, even creative work that increasingly can be performed by Artificial Intelligence and robots. These are words that Trump never mentions in his economic views, as if he is sticking his head in the sand and ignoring the tidal wave that will come with the introduction of driverless vehicles, robotic hospitals and restaurants, and automated assembly lines and shipping.
In the case of driverless cars and trucks alone, truckers and delivery people will be immediately affected, but with possibly fewer accidents, so will insurers, car body shops, parts manufacture, paint, tire industries and the like.
“As the types of skills needed in the labor market change rapidly, individual workers will have to engage in life-long learning if they are to remain not just employable but are to achieve fulfilling and rewarding careers that allow them to maximize their employment opportunities. For companies, reskilling and upskilling strategies will be critical if they are to find the talent they need and to contribute to socially responsible approaches to the future of work. For policy-makers, reskilling and retraining the existing workforce are essential levers to fuel future economic growth, enhance societal resilience in the face of technological change and pave the way for future-ready education systems for the next generation of workers,” argues the report.
On a global scale, “Gender, inter-regional, generational and income inequalities are at risk of widening. A key factor driving these concerns is the changing nature of work and the extent to which opportunities for finding stable, meaningful work that provides a good income have increasingly become fractured and polarized, favoring those fortunate enough to be living in certain geographies and to be holding certain in-demand skills.”
To distinguish themselves, Democrats should be focused on the changes coming to the workplace. “few practical approaches have existed to identify and systematically map out realistic job transition opportunities for workers facing declining job prospects, answering the question: what kinds of jobs could affected workers actually reskill to?” And their policies should coalesce around public opportunities for specialized training in various vocational fields.
Thus, in the recent example where Trump imposed tariffs on foreign-made solar panels, prompting a depressed market for more expensive panels, we would have been better off investing in training for U.S. workers to produce such panels, working with the market and companies looking to expand to meet the competition.
Overall, this particular report is largely devoted to the processes of systematically identifying and categorizing current job skills and then assessing whether those skills can be tweaked for the emergent needs of a new market.
In political terms, then, rather than having the Labor Department spend its time reviewing and rejecting past regulations seen as worker-centric, a better use of the department would be to catalog the changes coming to each industry. As a result, Labor and Education could approach federal programs aimed at providing for worker continuity and learning, and companies with a freshened work force.
What we need to do is Make America Smart, not great in a way that recalls an earlier time. We need a government that can recognize what is coming and that understands what an appropriate role it should be playing.