Great Power, Great Responsibility
Organizations and employers are carefully evaluating how to best prepare for the uncertain future of work amid the rapid growth of automation. There is debate over the responsibility of educators and employers to help better develop the workforce, particularly the tech companies that are contributing to the changes in work. Can innovators be doing more to support the portion of the workforce whose jobs may be displaced by automation? Some of these organizations are already taking strides to help provide better training: Google offers free training programs for small business owners, students and teachers, and startup founders. Apple’s LearnQuest initiative teaches app development with proficiency-based certificates. Amazon’s Career Choice program assists with employee tuition for degree programs. And, LinkedIn has the potential to lead by example through their “partnerships with cities to help them utilize LinkedIn’s data in an effort to provide more insight into the labor needs of different communities.” The Atlantic’s Lolade Fadulu suggests that tech leaders also have an opportunity to “fund education programs at postsecondary institutions,” such as robotics programs, and participate on workforce-development boards to help “provide information on where the jobs are and what the jobs need.” Regardless of who bears responsibility for preparing the workforce for the future, there is a growing consensus on the benefits from increased access to continuous training.
Tracking the closing of physical retail locations garnered regular headlines over the course of 2017, and so far has continued into the first week of 2018, as Sears announced the closing of over 100 stores, and Macy’s reported 5,000+ job cuts. Yet, flying under the radar of the retail apocalypse is the story of one retailer who has been experiencing major growth: Dollar General. Currently, Dollar General has 14,000 brick and mortar locations — exceeding the number of Dollar Tree, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens locations combined — and is planning to add 1,000 more stores in the near future. Dollar General thrives in rural, sparsely populated areas that have “shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery,” where customers need a convenient place to buy basic items at a cheaper price than local operations offer. Its main success comes from doing what Walmart can’t: becoming a “lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains,” and by reaching a lower-end market that is protected from competitors like Amazon. The company plans to continue expanding “rapidly in poor, rural communities where it has come to represent not decline, but economic resurgence, or at least survival.” In March, the company announced they were investing $70 million dollars in “raises and training” in an effort to improve service; coming on the heels of a slowdown in sales growth at the end of last year. So far, it looks like these efforts may have already started having a positive impact. Although it can not be isolated to service alone, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the chain saw quarterly sales rise at the fastest pace in three years, with sales in existing stores rising by over 4%. All told, the story behind the “retail apocalypse” has many layers, and as the industry continues to evolve, Dollar General’s current and future growth has the attention of both retail workers and employers alike.
Last month, LinkedIn released its emerging jobs report, which identifies the most in-demand jobs and skills, predictions for the future job market, and the jobs that are being replaced the most. One of the report's key findings is that soft skills will be essential for all emerging jobs. While tech-centric roles dominate the list, soft skills remain important across the board, regardless of occupation. Hiring managers in particular seek out soft skills such as leadership, culture fit, growth potential, and collaboration. The report also found that “future-proofing skills is critical,” especially as many professionals feel their skills will be outdated over the next few years due to a lack of consistent training in necessary skills to keep pace with the ever-changing jobs landscape, particularly with the creation of new occupations that didn’t exist a few years ago. LinkedIn’s report further details career paths for workers in the top five emerging roles, most crucial skills for those roles, the rise of freelance workers, and more.
2017 was a big year for high-profile acquisitions: Amazon and Whole Foods, Apple and Shazam, Disney and 21st Century Fox, and in mid-December CVS announced its acquisition of Aetna. There was a flurry of coverage on how this will affect CVS customers, Aetna patients, and the future of healthcare. For starters, having Aetna’s 22 million patients fill prescriptions at brick-and-mortar CVS locations could help drive more retail revenue at CVS storefronts. But more interestingly, CVS drugstores also have the potential to turn into local “health hubs” where customers fill prescriptions, receive medical exams and counseling, and those recently discharged from the hospital can get help on understanding their medications. Having one-stop all-service clinics “could help reduce healthcare costs by delivering medical services in a convenient place and reducing patients’ needs for pricey hospital visits.” In a recent Harvard Business Review article, John Toussaint explores the deeper significance of insurers merging with clinics: it takes “the care process to the patient,” and by focusing “physician and ancillary resources on preventing unnecessary hospital care, which drives 70% or more of medical cost, the total cost of care and therefore premium cost can be lowered.” This shift is set to challenge hospitals. These new mergers are creating organizations that are “looking to improve value by delivering lower-cost, higher-quality service to large populations of patients,” and Toussaint sees the CVS-Aetna merger as “only the tip of the iceberg,” and highlights the necessary shifts that will be needed in management and leadership behavior if traditional care delivery and hospitals expect to survive.
Ready Player One
Stephane Kasriel, co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Work, Gender and Education and CEO of Upwork, recently shared predictions for the future of work, notably the state of jobs and education. While many fear that artificial intelligence and robotics will cause massive job displacement, Kasriel suggests that while some jobs will be lost, far more jobs will be created “as long as we responsibly guide innovation” by “opening up new windows of opportunity, not eliminating them.” Part of guiding innovation is learning to work alongside automation and AI by continuing to build and develop new skills. Rather than a scarcity of jobs, the shortage of skills to fill jobs will be a far more pressing issue, which further heightens the importance of lifelong learning and continuous training. Kasriel also predicts that for future generations, “education will become more flexible to suit the needs of a 21st century workforce,” such as project-based schools that help “prepare students for a lifetime of learning better paced to the rapid evolution of skills.” Kasriel further explores why the majority of the workforce will freelance by 2027, and how cities will embark on “the talent war of the future.”
Breaking the Cycle
As part of the “What Makes a Worker?” project by The Atlantic — supported by a grant from the Lumina Foundation — Lolade Fadulu explores why the U.S. has consistently fallen short when it comes to retraining workers. The state of today’s working climate seems to echo the 1980s: “the global economy is expanding, new technology is entering the workplace … and automation will create new jobs.” In response, policymakers and business leaders have continued to follow the lead of the government as they’ve done in the past, by creating largely unsuccessful job-training programs. Why don’t these programs work? In general, job-training programs affect white- and blue-collar workers differently: training often doesn’t meet the needs of employers and workers, the programs don’t help create better working conditions or enforce higher pay, and most tellingly, the programs tend to focus on “changing the worker rather than the jobs.” As a result, training programs aren’t always attractive to workers, and sometimes those who need training aren’t aware of the programs or are excluded. Further, there is a lack of consistency and continuity in federal training programs. While white-collar workers may be able to adapt more easily to automation, blue-collar workers are sometimes “trapped in a job landscape where all skills have an expiration date” and are thus hit harder by job displacement. Until federal training programs can focus on what employers and workers really need, the cycle may continue.