i3 | June 28, 2017

The Future of Work: Hire Pursuits

Gary Arlen
Man in evolving working conditions

At a recent technology conference in Denver, telecommunications operators and manufacturers fretted about hiring enough installers to handle planned fiber optics deployment.

At a recent technology conference in Denver, telecommunications operators and manufacturers fretted about hiring enough installers to handle planned fiber optics deployment. Their challenge comes from two directions: the looming growth of fifth generation (5G) wireless broadband will lure potential job candidates to that category and the complexity of fiber installation makes it harder to train and retain their employees who now work on coaxial cable, which fiber is replacing.

The discussion underscored the inter-relationship of evolving technologies and the nature of work. It also addressed the role of corporations in education, which leads to a complicated array of policymaking to build tomorrow’s workforce. Inevitably, the role of automation from factory and retail robots to self-driving vehicles comes into the “future jobs” dialogue, usually by citing threats that machines will replace human workers.

Not necessarily so, according to David Autor, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. Technology has always created more jobs than it destroys, he said. Automating a task increases the demand for human workers to handle accompanying tasks that haven’t been automated, he explained in an Economist analysis of how artificial intelligence and automation will affect work.

“The notion that there’s only a finite amount of work to be done and therefore that if you automate some of it, there’s less for people to do is totally wrong,” Autor said, adding that there is “zero evidence” that artificial intelligence is having a significant impact on employment.

The current conundrums about the future of work stem from a variety of sources. For example, a U.S. Labor Department report a few years ago estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in new job categories that don’t yet exist. Using that assessment, the World Economic Forum, in its 2016 Future of Jobs report, deemed that “the Fourth Industrial revolution” will generate an “optimistic picture regarding job creation by technologies such as Big Data analytics, mobile internet, the Internet of Things and robotics.”

From another perspective, McKinsey and Company, in a February 2017 examination of “Technology, Jobs and the Future of Work,” pointed to the evolving tools that affect how Americans perceive employment.

“Job matching sites such as LinkedIn and Monster are changing and expanding the ways individuals look for work and companies identify and recruit talent,” McKinsey observes. It concludes that “labor markets are under strain and talent is underutilized,” suggesting that “a new category of knowledge-enabled jobs will become possible” as embedded intelligence and knowledge in devices will enable “less-skilled workers” to perform new functions with little training. McKinsey identifies new jobs such as “paratechnicians” who work via internetenabled devices.

Beyond the Think Tank

Although economists, global business analysts, academics and corporate executives have plenty of theories about “future of work” macro issues, there’s an even greater personal interest about what jobs will be created and how they will be filled. Predictably, there are conflicting forecasts about the job market, although some categories, such as health care and professional business services, appear at the top of most lists. In fact, the latest Jobs Outlook from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates those two sectors will account for more than half of all new employment (nearly 8.5 million jobs) by 2022. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest forecast for job growth through 2024 underscores the range of employment opportunities and salaries. For example, in the health services sector the two fastest growing job titles face significantly different scenarios: “Home Health Aide,” 38 percent projected hiring growth, $21,920 annual median salary and “Physical Therapist,” 34 percent growth, $84,020 salary. Here are BLS’s big opportunities in technology plus categories expected to grow slowly.

In its future jobs analysis, the World Economic Forum also stressed the corporate role in workforce planning decisions. “Firms have the potential to transform local labor markets through indirect employment and by setting the pace for changing skills and occupational requirements,” WEF said.

McKinsey’s report concluded that organizations will have to factor labor substitution – automation and other capabilities – into their operations. It recognized that automation can raise output levels, enable better quality and generate fewer errors. It also acknowledged that online talent platforms can put “the right people in the right jobs, thereby increasing their productivity along with their job satisfaction.”

“The modern 9-to-5 job that dates back to the Industrial Revolution is being challenged by technology-enabled independent work,” McKinsey says. It recommends that companies “innovate how humans work alongside machines.”

With this surfeit of forecasts and evaluations about how the technology industries will deal with the future of work, CTA explored the topic at its New American Jobs Summit in early May. The conference focused on how government and the private sector can collaborate to develop a competitive workforce, create new high-wage jobs and foster economic growth. Speakers put those issues in the context of rapid technological innovation, an aging population and increased global competition.

Education: Getting Smart

The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees that 19 of the 30 occupations with the fastest growth in coming years will require some form of postsecondary education. With the growing appetite for skilled workers, companies are accelerating their efforts to support programs to prepare students to become future employees.

Dell Inc. recently formed a national partnership with Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization seeking to close the gender gap in technology. The $400,000 donation supports after-school computer science programs for an estimated 15,000 girls.

Ford Motor Company launched a “Technical Career Entry Program” early this year, to connect graduates to the job market.

The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) helps active duty U.S. service members develop IT career skills for cloud developers, cloud administrators, and database and business intelligence administrators.

Other “coding camps” are often backed by corporate and civic organizations working with schools to prepare students for the changing workforce. Ann Kirschner, president of Comma International, a New York consultancy in technology and education, describes current job training initiatives as “a turning point in how we view the transition from education to careers.”

“‘Vocational’ training is a tired and useless anachronism in an era when the expense and time of college make it quite obvious that we need to strengthen the relationship between classroom and work,” she says. “The best way, especially if we want to level the playing field for first generation college students, is to provide more opportunities for hands-on, collaborative learning experiences through internships and research projects embedded with prospective employers.”

“This is the reinvention of coop education for the knowledge economy,” says Kirschner, who is University Professor and a former Dean at the City University of New York. “The knowledge economy is hungry for tech skills. She points out that all industries including banks, retailing, manufacturing and others, “are all tech companies.” She also urges Liberal Arts students to “take heart” since “broad, flexible, critical thinking skills” are necessary to deal with “the massive data sets and computational problem-solving that is essential to companies today.”

“The Great Displacement”

After the White House released its report on Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy in December, some analysts focused on what was called “The Great Displacement.” They referred to the continuing decline of “labor participation,” which has seen about five percent of America’s potential workforce withdraw from the employment pool in recent years. The current U.S. labor participation rate is now about 62.7 percent, just below that of El Salvador and above Ukraine.

“This is the most pressing economic and social issue of our time. Our economy is evolving in ways that will make it more and more difficult for people with lower levels of education to find jobs and support themselves,” says Andrew Yang, CEO/Founder of Venture for America, a New York-based fellowship program that helps growth companies access talent and trains the next generation of entrepreneurs. Yang says that his organization has trained more than 500 entrepreneurs in 18 U.S. cities.

Despite such promising activities to integrate new jobs and technology, there’s also a widespread awareness of the challenges to be faced. At that telecom conference about fiber optics, company executives cited several realities.

“Scale is a big problem,” explained one manager, who outlined hurdles, such as revising deployment schedules because it takes longer to splice fiber optics lines than to handle a similar task for coaxial cable. A Corning Inc. network architect described how his company has spent years developing routines to make field splicing easier and make “vconnectorization” less fragile. Other speakers agreed that companies will have to invest time and effort to develop training programs for workforce familiarity with the new skills.

Similar challenges lurk in other industries. But as Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert concluded in a recent rumination about what she called the “Fusion Revolution.” She said, “The more things change, the quicker things change.”

She observed that the reshaped jobs market is “disrupting whole industries” and cited research showing that 77 percent of companies are planning to retrain personnel “to use technology or redesign jobs to better take advantage of human skills.”

Engelbert’s outlook reflects the diversity of the future job market. Here’s an unexpected example from the realm of chatbots and customer service artificial intelligence. Software to handle a wide variety of situations will require dialogue to be written. As a result, some AI firms are hiring poets. Poets as part of the technology job-shift. Revolutionary!

Teleworking: One-Third of Employees Do It

“Employment is what you do, not where you do it,” says Charles Wilsker, president of the Telework Coalition, a 15-year-old advocacy group that promotes the awareness and acceptance of telecommuting and work-from-home activities. About 33 percent of U.S. employees are involved in telework each week, Wilsker explains, acknowledging that this figure encompasses scheduled assignments plus emergency situations caused by weather, traffic or family situations.

Like other telework proponents, Wilsker cites the growing availability of broadband as a vital factor in telework acceptance. “The advances in technologies and their adoption have enabled most workers to work from anywhere,” he explains. “If a job is primarily done using a computer and phone, there is very little reason to strap yourself in a car and drive to work when the same tools are available at home.”

Wilsker says that corporate and government decades-long flirtation with telework has had its ups and downs. The financial savings are off-set by growing concerns about cybersecurity and by managers who worry about the inability to supervise employees.

“Work can be measured by productivity, not time spent staring at a computer,” he says. “Minds are usually changed by quantifying the benefits to both the employer and employee."

The “gig economy” – contract and project-based assignments – is facilitating the corporate adoption of telework procedures. Moreover, the expansion of information-age jobs means that many specialty tasks can be handled from non-office locations.

Many future jobs will require on-site presence: construction, transportation and most manufacturing. But work-from-home tasks are moving beyond the historical mainstays such as writing/editing, data entry and customer service.

Wilsker cites jobs that can be handled from home or remote work centers, such as accounting, auditing, payroll, job interviewing, spreadsheet analysis, medical recording, procurement and fulfillment. The roster of “teleworkable” jobs also includes “Thinking.”

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