Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Should we do something simply because we can? 6: finding societal support in meeting societal needs 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 7, 2014

This is my sixth installment to a series on fundamental change that is starting to take place in the nature of work and of employability, in the face of dramatic and fundamental changes in our capacity to automate and robotize what have traditionally been human-performed jobs (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, supplemental postings at the bottom of that web page, postings 56 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I have been discussing a rapidly emerging trend in this series: an essentially irreversible shift in the nature of the workplace that is fundamentally and permanently changing the nature of the workforce and of what constitutes employability. Automation, coupling artificial intelligence control systems with mechanized and automated implementation systems, is entering a new phase of development and is coming to replace and supplant direct hands-on human labor in more and more traditional work and career areas.

• We are already seeing this emerging trend take significant effect as automated and semi-automated systems and their deployment, have led to a full economic recovery on the business side, coming out of our recent Great Recession,
• But as a still remarkably jobless recovery with disturbingly large numbers of would-be workers and employees remaining long-term unemployed.

Much, and even way too much of the debate that this employment crisis has generated politically, has been about band aide fixes and about the pros and cons, largely ideologically based, of extending unemployment benefits and certainly in the United States and countries like it. But the situation that these proposed solutions would seek to address is not a simple, and with time reversible cyclical problem. It represents a long-term and even permanent structural change, and one that will prove to be at least as profound in its impact as occurred with the dawn of the first Industrial Revolution when large numbers of workers were pushed off of the farm and out of agricultural work and into urban settings where their only real paths forwards where in factories and in new and rapidly emerging manufacturing industries and their support.

What we are witnessing, in fact, is the dawn of a new next generation industrial revolution. And this leads us into both a new realm of productivity and business efficiency, and a matching, countervailing societal challenge as many become unemployed and even unemployable and certainly if limited by the constraints of their work experience and skills sets as they have developed up to now. There is a reason why unemployment has remained so high and in so many countries coming out of the Great Recession, and with particular impact in more technologically developed countries such as the United States. Entire job categories and career path options have been closing down. And this brings me up to the point at which I finished Part 5 of this series.

I stated at the end of that installment that I would:

• … continue its discussion in a next series installment where I will offer some thoughts on what a societal response to this might entail. I note here that this does not and cannot mean simply throwing money at this problem, as that has never worked, and certainly in addressing educational system challenges. What we need are cost-effective, and I add politically acceptable solutions that can be used to bridge the too-often hyper-polarized political divides that separate us from actually addressing large numbers of ongoing societal problems.

We cannot rely on politics or politicians to resolve this challenge, at least on their own and certainly when they operate in such a hyperpolarized environment and when the word “compromise” has become a curse word. When the American politician Henry Clay was spoken of as the Great Compromiser, that was a complement and an accolade and from both his political allies and from his political opponents as well. He was skilled at finding mutually agreeable resolutions to seemingly intractable points of difference and disagreement. But certainly in the United States at this time, as of this writing and likely through any foreseeable future, the prospect of compromise on even minor points of political disagreement are construed to constitute compromise on core moral and ethical principle. We cannot rely on our politicians to reach meaningful and even essentially necessary compromise on anything, at least not on their own. But the private sector cannot manage this entirely on its own either and government help is going to be needed too – even if their part of a joint effort means offering tax incentives in support of private sector retraining initiatives, and support for validating and accrediting and monitoring effective programs and limiting inefficient and fraudulent retraining programs.

This is going to mean fundamentally reframing employment and employability issues as commonly discussed and argued in our current political and highly politicized climate, away from simply arguing the case for or against stop-gap and fundamentally dead-end solutions like unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits, as previously noted in this series can help pay the here and now bills due and that is important, but they cannot and will not in and of themselves make the long-term out of work employable again or help them land a new career path next job with their new skills.

Private sector buy-in and support are going to be needed and both in shaping the retraining programs that these would-be employees participate in, and for helping those who successfully complete them to secure new work and with a living wage.

• What we need is a new private sector/public sector collaboration with governmental support added in to make programs that meet private sector needs financially possible, and with governmental support offered to would-be employers to make it possible for them to participate in all of this and to succeed through it.
• For countries like this United States, this may very well mean making specific antitrust law allowances for same-industry competitors to work together collaboratively in setting up and supporting retraining programs.

And that means that our politicians have to relearn that word “compromise” to how it was used and as a positive, from before our current divisiveness across all political aisles. And our politicians will have to abandon their quick and easy political talking points of ideological purity on all sides, and be willing to accept that common grounds can exist and be achieved that might not be perfect from anyone’s idealized perspective but that are acceptable to essentially all – and that would work.

I do not like to bring politics into this blog, but this is a case where that is necessary. And this is a context where politics as usual are more hindrance and barrier than anything else and from all sides. Given that, this is a situation where the private sector has to take the lead, and has to take a long-term perspective on what is needed societally if they are to have a long term successful future, where large numbers of the chronically unemployed can only mean societal volatility and unrest that can only be bad for all.

I am going to finish this supplemental posting series here, but it is certain that I will come back to further discuss our structurally, fundamentally changing workplace and what means for all who seek stable employment and real careers. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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