Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to “Make America Great Again” and a big part of this is bringing good jobs back to the U.S. from overseas. Knowledge@Wharton interviewed Art Bilger, who founded WorkingNation and is a highly accomplished venture capitalist, to provide key insights into the major trends that are at odds with Trump’s plans.
Bilger believes that employment trends are fundamentally changing and can’t be reversed. There are difficult solutions, however, to cope up with these changes but they must be based on a four-pronged approach consisting of corporations, the federal and local governments (e.g., tax and budget policies), nonprofits, and academic entities. He warns that these changes are coming fast, that processes are not yet in place to keep up and that many of even the most sophisticated leaders do not yet have an understanding of the depth of the problem. He said, in simple terms,
“We’re talking about a third of the population that doesn’t have the skills for the jobs of today, let alone the jobs of 10, 20, 30 years from now….And to compound it, we’re doing something extremely well, putting aside cost, and that’s longevity…. Here’s the math: A third of the population drops out at 15 and we keep them alive to 85. What do you do?”
“Put a billion people into the global workforce at lower price points than we work for here. Great for the globe, not so good for jobs here. … So, when you take globalization, technology, longevity and broken education, put those four together, … the slope of the curve [based on the] change in jobs and skills measured against time has never been as steep as it is today.”
“A study out of Oxford shows that we could lose 47% of all our jobs within 25 years … through a combination of globalization, automation and the fact that so many people don’t have the skills that will be required for those jobs. There are many corporations out there today who will tell you they have plenty of jobs they can’t fill. They are developing apprenticeship programs, things like that, to re-skill the workforce.”
Necessity is likely to speed up the need for retraining soon because technology changes may eliminate many high-volume jobs relatively quickly. This could impact the lower-middle, the middle-middle and the upper-middle classes in jobs involving areas such as truck, bus and taxi driving, marketing, fast food restaurants and people who move from manufacturing jobs to the service sector. Before retraining can occur, however, people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s will need to surmount a very difficult psychological hurdle, even if the right education is available; they must want to be retrained,
- Are you taking action now to prepare your workforce to be able to supply the new skills your business or organization will need in 3-5 years? If not, are you prepared, due to employee turnover, to lose your investment in their knowledge and expertise, to experience business disruption, suffer a potential loss of customers and a decrease in credibility with your other stakeholders?
- How should nonprofits help people across the middle class spectrum to prepare for the coming turmoil due to job upheaval? How will they prepare them psychologically to change even though they may be deep into their careers? How will they prepare 40-50 year-old employees to be able to support themselves for another 30-50 years?
- How should educational institutions provide the necessary training for jobs that may not exist yet? What sources of information will they need to keep ahead of coming changes? Where will the funding come from to speed up the cycles of change and enable millions of people to keep up even though they have not been in school for many years?
- If very low-wage jobs come back to the U.S., are manufacturers likely to a) pay five times more per hour to U.S. workers, b) replace them whenever possible with technology solutions, or c) raise prices significantly? If the answer is “b”, are people fooling themselves if they rely on the government to save them? Will they take the initiative for watching market trends and for retraining themselves?