What is the future of work for low-skilled laborers in high-wage countries?
This article from +The Atlantic
is a nice exploration of some of the issues in tension as globalization and technology-aided productivity increase. It's an age-old question: does technology destroy jobs? Often the answer is...yes, but it also creates new ones. What is challenging about the question is that our imaginations can't always foresee how or where the new ones will come from.
I'm prompted to think about this question most often in the context of the Internet, which is accused by many industries of destroying jobs left and right. But as +McKinsey & Company
found in their Internet Matters report, 2.4 jobs are created for every one that is destroyed by the sweeping changes the Internet has introduced (full report here: http://bit.ly/wmvT2w
). Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. To me, the counterintuitive nature of the finding only suggests the limitations of our imagination, and our inability to predict outputs of complex systems.
Something similar may be going on in how we think about jobs generally in an age of global trade and an information economy. We're too used to industrial economy metrics in general—how many widgets got made, and how many got sold, who exported them and who imported them—and it turns out these metrics don't work very well if you're trying to understand the information economy. Some economists have laid initial groundwork for new methods, metrics and research to help understand this new world, but we need many more of them.
There are also some good ideas in here about how we think about education reform in this era. So much of the popular discourse around education seems, to me, to be focused on college degrees and the failure of professional degrees, for example law and business, to generate returns proportional to the costs invested and loans extended. Maybe that discussion should be balanced with some investigation into how we get people like the young woman, Maddie, in this article into trade schools.
The author notes: I came to realize, though, that Maddie represents a large population: people who, for whatever reason, are not going to be able to leave the workforce long enough to get the skills they need. Luke doesn’t have children, and his parents could afford to support him while he was in school. Those with the right ability and circumstances will, most likely, make the right adjustments, get the right skills, and eventually thrive. But I fear that those who are challenged now will only fall further behind. To solve all the problems that keep people from acquiring skills would require tackling the toughest issues our country faces: a broken educational system, teen pregnancy, drug use, racial discrimination, a fractured political culture.
Recommended #longread for anyone interested in these issues.