“Job creation” is, once again, a major national talking point. The U.S. economy is strong, yet while unemployment is at a record low, poverty is at a record high. This is because many of the jobs that are available are low-paying, contract-based and/or routine-based (e.g. Lyft driver, cashier).
While our president boasts of bringing back jobs, there is a more sustainable way to support workers. Bringing back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is not the solution. Those jobs are no longer relevant or reliable. Besides, workers in Taiwan, China and Vietnam, our current manufacturing workforce, will soon lose their jobs too, not to cheaper labor, but to robots.
The techies have worked hard to create robots to make repetitive tasks obsolete for humans.
Computerization researchers, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, found that “47 percent of workers in America had jobs at high risk of potential automation” because much of our work includes routine cognitive and manual tasks (i.e., transportation, telemarketers, accountants, etc.), “likely to be substituted by computer capital.” Given our global economy and the pace of technological advances, researchers concluded that, “recent developments in machine learning will put a substantial share of employment, across a wide range of occupations, at risk in the near future.”
What can our government, businesses, nonprofits and educators do to prevent technological progress from making millions of jobs obsolete?
Jobs of the future will require skills that cannot become obsolete. These skills are not based on task-mastery, but on social awareness, self management and relationship management. The only way to foster this is to support a workforce that can continually learn and adapt to the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world in which we live.
Our educational, nonprofit and governmental institutions must work together to identify the skills that make their employees indispensable, then support their people in developing these skills.
Many schools and nonprofits are working on this. Santa Rosa Junior College, for example, is working feverishly to fill the health care employment gap with qualified health professionals. The San Diego Community College District is working with Qualcomm to focus educational paths on jobs that are high-paying and relevant to their local economy.
These efforts are great steps to creating quality jobs and preparing the workforce of today for the jobs of the future.
But, we need to scale these efforts to ensure that my generation and yours does not become a footnote in the age of automation. We need a large-scale government commitment to the education-business-nonprofit collaboration that is already underway in many industries.
Whether we like it or not, globalization is here to stay, technological advancement is only gaining momentum and if we continue to look to the past for new jobs, we are ignoring the realities of the present. The workforce of tomorrow does not want to perform a job a computer can do, and employers will not pay a salary plus benefits for a job a robot can perform for far less.
The workforce of the 21st century wants to perform work with purpose, with opportunities for advancement, and a paycheck that supports life in vibrant communities.
If the current administration wants to create jobs, then collaborating with the organizations and institutions that are already preparing today’s workers for the workplace of tomorrow will prove far more sustainable, profitable and impactful than negotiating back jobs that our technology and economy has left in the Industrial Age.