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There’s More than One ‘Future of Work’: National Skills Coalition sponsors series to bring more perspectives into the Washington discussion

Everybody in Washington wants to talk about the Future of Work (FOW), but they don’t necessarily want to have the same discussion—nor should they.  That’s why National Skills Coalition is sponsoring a series of events in our nation’s capital—and streamed to the rest of the country—to unpack how different industries, different groups of workers, and different sized companies will each face unique challenges as automation, artificial intelligence and digitalization redefine skilled work in the U.S.  As our nation’s leaders assess policy options proposed to respond to these changes, they need to pay attention to these various FutureS of Work that often go unaddressed by popular one-size-fits-all FOW solutions.

Representing a nationwide network of workforce development experts who have been dealing with the impacts of technology and changing skills needs in America’s labor market for years, National Skills Coalition wants to bring some of that hands-on expertise into Washington’s assessment of these issues. Community colleges and community organizations, unions and labor-management partnerships, leaders of both small and large businesses across a range of sectors—manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, construction, energy, retail, and agriculture:  Each of these brings real-world insight into how a tech-driven economy has and will impact different workers and workplaces.  They’ve also seen where government policies have worked and where they have fallen short in supporting the most effective local strategies for upskilling millions of American workers to meet changing economic demands.

NSC hopes the following events bring some additional depth to the Future of Work discussions in Washington:

Register for these Events

  • Uneven Prospects for Different Groups of Workers:  February 6th, 2019, 9:00-10:30 AMHosted by National Skills Coalition at its 2019 Skills Summit, Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert St NW, Washington, DC, 20008.  (Conference registration required to attend in-person.)

    Technology associated with the Future of Work will impact workers in every sector and at every level in the U.S. economy—but those impacts will not be borne equally.  Research indicates the majority of job losses from automation will be borne by workers earning less than $20 / hour with a high school degree or less; many of these will be workers of color. Mid- and late-career workers with less developed digital skills than their younger counterparts are likewise vulnerable, as are a range of other experienced workers if they’re at a workplace that is not willing or able to continually invest in their re-skilling.  How should public policy respond to the FOW impacts felt by these different groups of working Americans? What complimentary role can private industry play in these responses, and how can public policy better leverage those investments for workers most vulnerable to these changes? 

  • Tech’s Workforce Impact Across Different Industries:  February 28nd, 2019, 9:00-10:30 AMHosted by Microsoft at the Microsoft Policy and Innovation Center, 901 K Street NW, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20001. 

    Popular discussions about technology and the Future of Work often reference robots in manufacturing as the prototypical demonstration of automation’s likely impact on future workers.  But automation’s 20th century introduction into modern U.S. manufacturing—and the role that national policy played in that tech diffusion—is distinctive and likely quite different from how new technologies will be introduced into other U.S. industries here in the 21st century.  How will the introduction of AI, automation, and digitization look different between different sectors, based on their contrasting operational structures and workforce compositions? As national policymakers think about how to respond to these changes, is there a need to consider some industry-specific policies that need to be developed around workforce re-skilling to complement other more universal policies to assist workers and firms across industries?  Industry workforce experts will share their thinking on these issues.  

  • Small Companies versus International Firms:  Date, time & location TBD

    The introduction of new workplace technology is a significant capital expense that company operators have to weigh against prospective increases in productivity and profitability.  That math is often going to play out differently depending not only on the relative cost of the technology, but also upon the relative ability of a firm’s workforce to take full advantage of the technology.  As such, smaller firms—despite the availability of new productivity-enhancing technologies—will often introduce technology at a slower rate, or perhaps not all, even as larger firms in their industry are leaning ahead.  In industries in which the predominant number of firms are smaller companies, what does that mean for the uneven pace of technology adoption in the Future of Work? Should there be different type of policy interventions considered to assist firms of various sizes within the same industry, including how to help their workforces re-skill to make use of these new tools?

Register for these Events

A final culminating event in the series will be scheduled for late spring, in which a number of emerging and actionable policy options will be presented to Washington policymakers and other experts, developed in consultation with the stakeholders featured during the event series. the course of the three prior events. 

National Skills Coalition is excited to bring these additional perspectives into the national FOW policy debate. Click here to find out what National Skills Coalition is doing on future of work and related workforce skills and employment issues.

Posted In: Future of Work

Factory robots versus mom’s caregiver: Industry-specific differences within the Future of Work

  ·   By Danielle Bustillo and Andy Van Kleunen
Factory robots versus mom’s caregiver: Industry-specific differences within the Future of Work

This post was originally posted on NSC's Medium.

Everybody wants to talk about the Future of Work (FOW), but they don’t necessarily want to have the same discussion — nor should they. It’s time to recognize that there is a diversity of futures ahead for U.S. workers in different industries, even when they’re dealing with the same structural shifts in the labor market. Our policy responses will need to be just as nuanced and industry-focused.

Mega-trends are just part of the story

When confronting a topic as large as the future economy, researchers tend to focus on the big picture — the structural mega-trends that could potentially touch all workers and companies. But even at that conceptual level, there are disagreements between FOW analysts (and their foundation sponsors) about which mega-trend is the dominant threat. For some, it’s the rise of alternative work arrangements that are replacing traditional employer-employee relationships with low-wage gigs and independent contracting. For others, the FOW is about automation’s perceived threat to replace human labor with machines and computer algorithms.

These dueling FOW discussions attract not only different think-tanks and foundations, but also different groups of worker advocates, industry leaders, and policymakers. They likewise generate different policy recommendations, from portable benefit packages to offset the gigs, to universal basic income or lifelong learning to help humans keep pace with the robots.

So there is already more than one future being discussed under the Future of Work banner. But for those of us in the workforce development field — training providers and intermediaries preparing under-employed workers for skilled jobs, or helping employees advance into higher-skilled positions within companies — the FOW is even more complicated than that. Grappling with these mega-trends with firms of various sizes across different industries — manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, construction, energy, retail, agriculture — we see a multiplicity of futures that standard FOW policy proposals can only partially confront. As leaders of a coalition that has long called for U.S. labor policies that build out a national infrastructure of industry partnerships that can fine-tune policies to focus on a sector’s specific workforce challenges, we see a need for such a perspective within current FOW discussions as well.

Manufacturing as FOW poster child?

Take, for example, the differing trajectories that technology and workforce issues have taken between the manufacturing and healthcare sectors.

Manufacturing has been the default lens through which most people currently view the future of automation and A.I. Download any “Future of Work” publication, and it likely sports a graphic of colorful robotic arms on a factory floor with nary a human being in sight. That image taps into a popular narrative of U.S. manufacturing: Tech = machines in workplaces where humans once stood = shrinking workforce = bad for workers.

Of course that narrative glosses over other factors that contributed to manufacturing job losses over the past half-century, including trade and international competition. It also misses how technology in many cases improved the job quality and wages of factory work over the same period. As early as the 1950s, union leaders like the United Auto Workers’ Walter Reuther testified to Congress about the labor movement’s cautious embrace of automation as a way to improve the working conditions (decreased repetitive tasks, improved safety) and productivity of U.S. manufacturing workers, so long as that increased productivity led to higher wages for those newly skilled to harness that technology. That same belief is still resonant today, as was apparent at a recent meeting of the AFL-CIO’s newly created Future of Work Commission. Industrial union leaders cited Reuther’s legacy when talking about the labor movement’s interest in managing, rather than fighting, the introduction of A.I. onto the factory floor. Labor/management partnerships would also ensure that current as well as new workers were trained to be the pilots versus the victims of new robots and other tools.

Over the years, the federal government has likewise stepped in to support the introduction of new technologies into American manufacturing. This included the creation the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), based out of the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST), to help smaller manufacturers adopt the latest technologies used by larger firms to stay internationally competitive. More recently, President Obama (and to a lesser extent, President Bush before him) called for new federal investments in training to prepare millions of workers for jobs that manufacturers claimed were going unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers. The Trump administration has even more loudly staked its political claim on the future of the U.S. manufacturing workforce — though it has been less clear, beyond its effort on trade, if the administration has any plans to tangibly invest in training the manufacturing workers of tomorrow.

The future of work in U.S. manufacturing will thus follow a pretty distinctive history. Automation’s impact on factory employment has been over a half-century in the making, such that both workers and employers in the sector have become accustomed to the trend. While images of factory robots may prompt anxiety from FOW observers outside the industry, many people inside manufacturing — both those who own the robots and those who work with them — see technology as a hedge against future job losses in an increasingly competitive international market. Worker advocates acknowledge that the number of factory workers may continue to decline, but that most of that job loss will be concentrated in lower-skilled manufacturing occupations that require a high school degree or less. This is a tragedy for the workers who were in those less-skilled positions; their displacement raises a set of equity issues that to date have received relatively little attention from policymakers. Otherwise, most of today’s manufacturing workforce discussion has been about how to attract workers — particularly young workers — with higher levels of education into the sector. Rather than being a harbinger of potential future displacement, robots and associated tech are actually a selling point to these prospective young recruits whose parents’ generation otherwise still sees manufacturing as low-skilled, dirty and dying.

The FOW in healthcare faces different challenges

How might the same technology trends play out for our nation’s healthcare workforce — a sector that has received relatively little attention in FOW discussions?

Specifically, what impact might AI and digital technologies have on caregiving occupations — the nurse aides, home health aides and personal care assistants who comprise the majority of healthcare workers?

For one, unlike the long-term trend toward fewer, higher-skilled manufacturing workers, caregivers are only poised to grow in number, pushing the healthcare sector to become the largest single major industry for employment by 2026. Industry efforts to control costs and increase the productivity of that growing healthcare workforce have likewise been different. While manufacturers increased worker productivity through the infusion of modern technology, today’s healthcare providers had more often relied on an old school method that factory owners had instituted a century ago to get more output per each worker — that is, the “speed-up.” Caregivers who were physically lifting, cleaning, feeding, medicating and toileting patients were just asked to work faster to cover more patients during each shift. Such strenuous demands took its toll, generating among the highest workplace injury rates of any employment sector.

All of this contributed to average annual caregiving workforce turnover rates of anywhere from 60 to 100%. Such a labor strategy could only be sustained by a ready supply of workers, often women of color and immigrants, who lacked many other job options. But with growing demand for aging and disability services and a tightening labor market in which even lower-skilled workers have less demanding job options for the same low pay, caregiving’s high-turnover, high-stress workforce strategy has finally met its limit. There is also a small but growing number of healthcare providers who have become concerned about the quality of care that could be provided by an unsupported workforce, and thus have begun collaborating with unions and other sector intermediaries to assess new approaches to their employees’ training, retention and overall job quality.

It’s in that context that the healthcare industry must re-examine technology as a means to both improve patient care and to stabilize its over-stretched workforce. The issue in healthcare is not necessarily whether the workforce is going to be down-sized by tech, but rather how the jobs of millions of healthcare workers — more than the entire manufacturing workforce in the U.S. — are going to be changed in a sector that to date has not seen many new labor-enhancing investments in technology. As more baby boomers demand to “age in place” at home versus in an institutional setting, new technologies to support that shift — ”smart” refrigerators that can assess when food is running low, blood pressure and medication regulators monitored off-site, telemedicine that allows doctors to communicate with patients at any hour — could soon become part of the frontline caregiver’s workplace, while at the same time even further increasing the number of home care jobs. Growing reliance on digital medical records and care plans that can be transmitted in real-time to caregivers will ensure more fine-tuned care for home-based patients, but it will also require caregivers with the necessary literacy and digital fluency to make use of that information.

Herein lies the fundamental challenge for a tech-infused future for caregiving work. While new factory technologies are being introduced into a sector staffed by higher skilled, tech-ready workers, home and community-based patient care is being delivered by a workforce that, statistically, has among the lowest literacy, math and digital skill levels of any industry cluster, including a large proportion of workers for whom English is not their first language. While the low-skilled, low-wage manufacturing worker is an anachronism of the past, the less and quickly trained, low-wage healthcare worker is the default for this growing industry.

Efforts to improve the wages, benefits, training opportunities and working conditions for this workforce have been a longstanding priority for advocates in the sector, including those in the unionized sectors led by SEIU and others. These efforts, coupled with the increases in safety and reduced injuries — to caregivers as well as their patients — that could come from new technologies, provide a welcome boost to current workers and should become more common in the industry. But healthcare also needs to make the sector more attractive to an entirely new generation of recruits. While manufacturers are using the glitz and sex appeal of shiny robots to enlist more educated young applicants, that option is not available for the majority of jobs in the healthcare sector. Healthcare has to figure out how to provide real opportunities to the millions of low-wage workers it already has — and will likely continue to attract — to raise their skills and increase job quality while keeping pace with the sector’s new technologies.

The Healthcare Career Advancement Program (H-CAP), a national organization of SEIU union locals and healthcare employers partnering to develop forward thinking solutions to emerging workforce issues in healthcare, has begun to bring this FOW discussion to the communities where such caregiving is taking place, involving employers, workers, and education and training providers in the conversation. With an extended network of workforce intermediaries that covers almost 1,000 employers and 650,000 workers from every occupational level in the healthcare industry — from home care, to skilled nursing facilities, to clinics and hospitals — across 15 states plus the District of Columbia, these labor/management industry partnerships are on the front lines of developing an FOW agenda that directly engages industry to develop workforce solutions. This agenda prepares new and incumbent workers with the skills needed to support a transitioning delivery system — now and in the future — and harnesses technological innovation in order to provide higher quality care to patients.

The need for “future” sector-specific policies

It may not seem particularly insightful to conclude that manufacturing and healthcare are two different industries. We would agree. But as participants in various “future of work” events over the years, we’ve noted that obvious point is often lost in FOW forums (with some notable exceptions). In-depth discussions about the breadth or tempo of AI’s future applications, while fascinating, often miss the basic point that workplace technology’s impact will ultimately be determined not by the acumen of its design engineers, but by the operating constraints and capital budgets of different companies, and by the skills of the workers tasked to apply it. Firm and workforce constraints, in turn, are going to be quite different from industry to industry.

As we saw with automation in manufacturing, the availability of the technology did not guarantee its adoption by smaller firms without government assistance. Worker adoption of technology in a manner that benefited both firms and the workforce required both public and private investments in the skills of those workers, as well as efforts by unions and other industry intermediaries to jointly manage the technology’s introduction in a manner that took full advantage of the new abilities of a changing workforce. Some of those same challenges will face tech’s introduction into the healthcare sector, requiring both public and private interventions that enable that transition effectively and equitably. Yet healthcare’s specific industry context will likely mean that the specific interventions required — new training regimens, new occupational titles and career pathways, new means for ensuring that new tech improves both job quality for workers and care quality for clients — are likely going to be quite different from those developed for the FOW in manufacturing.

Industry context should be incorporated not only by FOW theorists. It needs to be embraced by policymakers as well. While there are some universal policies that could be improved across the board for all workers impacted by automation — such as a more robust and predictable public means for supporting and retraining workers whose displacement is a result of irreversible structural changes in an industry vs. the cyclical result of a momentary downturn in the economy. But other FOW policies, particularly those trying to support the advancement of workers and firms in a new technological age, are going to have to be industry-specific. Such sector-specific policies could be initiated at the national level, as was done for U.S. manufacturing in the past. They could also be developed or implemented at the regional level by sector-specific partnerships of employers, unions, workers, labor/management partnerships, training providers and other intermediaries. Either way, we will need a more diverse set of joint public and private collaborations in managing the FOW than has been discussed up until now.

Our coalition members — employers, unions, community colleges, community organizations, workforce boards, industry intermediaries — look forward to working with FOW experts and policymakers to see if we can bring more of their on-the-ground, industry-specific expertise into future FOW discussions. There is more than one future in the FOW. Let’s involve workforce experts from across all sectors to help figure out how to make that future accessible and beneficial to all U.S. workers and businesses.

Posted In: Future of Work
22 Meet-Ups Reveal Angst Across Communities: California leaders get real about automation, stranded workers and skills

This post was originally posted on NSC's Medium.

By Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Digital Futures of California Community Colleges and Kermit Kaleba, Federal Policy Director of National Skills Coalition

Technology and market forces are changing the workplace, the talent needs of employers, and the skills workers need to stay in the game. For example, digital skills have become the new basic skill of the workplace; according to Burning Glass, 80 percent of middle-skill jobs require some digital skills. And the shelf life for those skills is getting shorter. The rapid pace of technological change means that workers need regular skill booster shots — that is, access to reskilling over time — to increase their economic resiliency.

In this climate, a growing segment of “stranded workers” are finding that the market for their skills is disappearing and they aren’t able to access those skill booster shots. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 2.5 million Californians — in the prime working ages of 25 to 34 — are in the economically vulnerable situation of having a high school degree but no industry-valued credential. Within the broader California labor force — age 25 to 65 — more than 8 million adults are in this situation. Across the country, this population stands at more than 31 million, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Over the last four months, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has met with hundreds of business, workforce, community, civic, labor, and education leaders in 22 community meetings throughout California to hear their insights on the future of work and the economic imperative of helping stranded workers train and retrain for jobs of the 21st century.

Automation is reshaping work and the shelf life of skills

In every community, leaders expressed expectations about disruptions in the workplace from automation. Automation is welcomed when it eliminates unpleasant jobs unwanted by people. But, automation is also reshaping existing jobs and their workflow. The business and economic development leaders shared this loud and clear. Yet, they also articulated which skills will transcend waves of automation.

In the Salinas Valley, Wesley Van Camp, general counsel at Tanimura & Antle, a premium produce grower, said “Technology is not going to replace our employees. They have the soft skills. As the jobs require computer literacy, the jobs will become better jobs.” The company has developed its own training program because classes were not available when its employees were available for training.

In San Bernardino County, the Workforce Development Board’s Business Service Manager shared the story of a robot security guard patrolling the parking structure at a local health care facility. “I saw a couple of people repairing the robot — doing jobs that no doubt pay better than the security guard the robot replaced.”

Reskilling stranded workers: We need local partnerships, support services, and accessible programs

Leaders shared three key strategies for ensuring stranded workers have a way back into the economy.

First and foremost, partnerships between community colleges, community organizations, and industry will be essential, but industry needs to be the leading voice. In the Central Valley, Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern County Economic Development Corporation said, “We won’t be immune to the impact of automation.” But he added that partnerships between industry and colleges to reskill the workforce will be “critical to prepare for the coming disruption.”

Second, access to support services will also be essential. To effectively engage in upskilling, the “stranded worker” population will need a high-support student experience that is culturally appropriate. In the far north of the state, Butte County leaders highlighted the importance of partnering with community-based organizations, who would could help working learners access and navigate support services.

Finally, community leaders emphasized that reskilling opportunities need to be short (less than a semester) and available at accessible times and in accessible formats and platforms. Many “stranded workers” currently can’t retrain because of work and family obligations, scheduling challenges, transportation time to campus and affordability. In addition, about half of them come from Spanish-speaking households.

Solutions: In California and in Washington, D.C.

To address the impact of automation on the workplace, the California Community Colleges are working with the California Economic Summit and its robust regional network as well as others to implement the Strong Workforce Program — a strategic investment to align college programs with the skills needed to prepare Californians for jobs that pay better than minimum wage. In addition to an infusion of $248 million a year, the Strong Workforce Program requires colleges to consult with businesses and align programs and curricula with in-demand jobs within regional economies. Colleges are financially rewarded for increasing student completion and employment.

In addition, to address the particular needs of stranded workers and the issues lifted up by the community leaders in these 22 cities, Governor Brown proposed creating California’s 115th community college — a statewide online college that can reach Californians who need to develop additional skills to rise above minimum-wage jobs and stay ahead of shifts in the economy. The college will offer industry-driven, competency-based pathways that allow students to progress as they master skills. The college will offer start times throughout the year uncoupled from the academic calendar, and classes will be offered during hours when students are able to take them. Students will receive individual and personalized support from success coaches.

California has big plans but can’t do it alone. Leaders in Congress will need to join in the efforts. First and foremost, Congress must update the Higher Education Act to better address the millions of “stranded workers” across the nation and the impact that automation is having on the necessity for constant reskilling. If amended to include oversight and accountability provisions, pending Federal legislation could provide an avenue to address the issues lifted up in California — issues that are being felt in communities across the nation.

The Community College to Career Fund Act includes provisions aimed at supporting local partnerships between industry and community colleges to help ensure reskilling is tied to the needs of local employers. The Gateways to Career Act seeks to provide essential support services to workers balancing work, family, and education. Finally, the JOBS Act includes provisions to update the federal Pell grant student aid program to support the kinds of short-term programs that can address the rapid reskilling pressures caused by automation and the particular needs of working learners. When accompanied by meaningful accountability to ensure colleges and programs are using public funds responsibly, and that a robust oversight structure protects against the abuses of bad actors, these changes will ensure all Americans can gain the knowledge and skills valued by employers, critical to our future economy.

There are a lot of solutions being offered to the perceived impacts of automation, but not all of these solutions are based on the real experiences of business leaders, educators, and other local leaders at the frontlines of workforce and economic development. A growing number of workers are being stranded as their skills lose value. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business is changing radically and the education system needs to match that radical change. We can change the postsecondary education ecosystem so that it is structured to address changes in the workplace and regional economies. But changing that ecosystem requires true partnerships between states and regions, and among colleges and employers within the regions. It requires the support of both state and federal policy. If we can heed the expertise of local experience and re-tool our approach to re-skilling, our regional economies can thrive, and no worker will be stranded.

Find out more on the National Skills Coalition position on these federal policies here: https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/

Posted In: Future of Work