The assembly line, energy plant and retail store have changed dramatically in the past 25 years—and the jobs have, too. Nearly 1 in 5 working Americans has a job that didn’t exist in 1980, many in technology, the fastest-growing segment across all industries. Such rapid change is one reason 6.6 million U.S. jobs are currently unfilled. More.
Currently unfilled? We hear so much about how the AI revolution is gobbling industrial era jobs that the shortage of people trained for digital era jobs takes a while to register. Trump goes on to discuss new legislation to address the shortage by providing more relevant education to future jobseekers (paywall). Meanwhile, from the White House today:
For too long, our country’s education and job training programs have prepared Americans for the economy of the past. The rapidly changing digital economy requires the United States to view education and training as encompassing more than a single period of time in a traditional classroom. We need to prepare Americans for the 21st century economy and the emerging industries of the future. We must foster an environment of lifelong learning and skills-based training, and cultivate a demand-driven approach to workforce development. My Administration will champion effective, results-driven education and training so that American students and workers can obtain the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of today and of the future.
Practically, the new initiative will commit employers “to expanding apprenticeships and increasing on-the-job training to help Americans, from high schoolers to retirees, secure stable jobs and careers in the modern economy.”
I was worried when I first saw the headline that the president might be announcing some quixotic campaign to stem the tide of automation and artificial intelligence. (The Drudge Report titled the story “Ivanka vs. Robots!”) Was Ms. Trump announcing a new tax on robots (as Bill Gates has suggested)? Tariffs on imported goods made in automated factories? Or maybe a basic income for everyone (as former President Barack Obama suggested this week)?
None of the above. The program aims to do an end run around the education system’s bias against technical training.
“That sounds good,” says Richards, “as long as it doesn’t end up as yet another well-meaning but misguided bureaucracy.” Or worse:
My worry is that the effort will deliver still more crony capitalism, in which some large companies and trade associations (read: lobbyists) make nice with the federal government to get a regulatory leg up on the competitors down the road. …
The best thing the government can do to help Americans shift to a highly-automated economy is to provide a climate where workers can get continuous training without going into debt. It should also make it easy for new start-ups to launch without a lot of fuss and bother. Small firms are where most new jobs come from. They’re also where most new jobs are destroyed. More.
One difficulty with any high-level council is that it tends to be top-heavy with people who are accustomed to living in, with, and around a problem, either avoiding it or farming it for their own benefit. For a variety of reasons, they can be poorly adapted to seeing optimum solutions and may well resist them. However, a specific objective like filling millions of vacancies with qualified personnel may impel them to succeed to at least some extent because their failure would be quite visible.
See also: Will AI lead to mass joblessness and social unrest? In his just-published book, The Human Advantage: The Future of American Work in an Age of Smart Machines, Jay Richards takes a different tack: Historically, innovation has created opportunity but required huge changes in how people view work.