The times, they are a-changin’.
Former Vice President Joe Biden references his coming of age in the ’60s quite a bit, but this time, the times are now, and the changes are bigger than anything the Boomers imagined.
The job market is evolving toward tech dominance — something that rightfully strikes fear into blue-collar communities where advanced degrees are scarce. Manufacturing, transportation and even service jobs will all be automated before long. What’s a modern government to do?
Some are pushing for a universal basic income — income paid by the government to citizens who don’t work because their jobs have been displaced by automation.
But Biden’s having none of that. There will always be work, he believes, but it will require completely rethinking every notion we have about education and employment.
Biden’s co-panelists for the “Choosing a Future of Quality Jobs” event at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute on Tuesday included Byron Auguste, president of Opprtunity@Work; Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former U.S. Secretary of Labor; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; and Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International.
The engaging, light-yet-serious panel brought up some ideas and practices that can create a new technology-based economy that is inclusive of everyone. Are you ready?
The six predictions that could change everything:
1. Two more years of universal free education
Delaware is already working toward this, with the SEED program, which offers two years of tuition-free community college for in-state students who stay out of trouble and meet basic standards. Unfortunately some of the kids who can benefit from the program (as well as need-based tuition payments like Pell Grants) are often shut out, either by lack of information or because the qualifications make them non-universal. Biden is a proponent of a 14-year free education for all, which would not only increase the number of skilled workers, it would also cut undergraduate tuition in half.
2. Hiring based on skills, not education level
“People confuse level of education with skills and what you can do,” said Auguste. “They’re not the same thing. Folks who might not have the credentials may already have the skills, but it gets screened out because you don’t have the right degree.” Instead, his company looks at skills needed by a company and matches it with a potential employee who has those skills — regardless of education level.
3. Companies hiring underemployed locals and providing training
One of the big misconceptions is that people from low-income neighborhoods with limited education can’t be taught IT or programming, especially if they’re over a certain age. The panelists provided multiple examples proving that line of thinking wrong (and more than a little prejudiced). In particular, Biden mentioned a company in Detroit that couldn’t find people with the skills it needed. The firm set up a local training program to fill the positions rather than hire from elsewhere. They trained primarily lower-income Black women; they all passed and were hired, with salaries that ranged from $57,000 to $180,000.
4. Instead of telling companies what skills you offer, companies will tell colleges what skills they need
Murren, whose MGM Resorts each employ thousands of workers in a wide range of jobs, is a proponent of hiring locally, and of communicating with vocational and community colleges about what kind of skills they’re looking for locally, and giving students those skills. “Companies who say they can’t find good employees aren’t trying hard enough,” he said.
5. Never-ending education
Anyone who works in marketing or SEO knows this — what was effective a year ago is ineffective today, at best. Tech people are used to learning and re-learning things. Our education system isn’t set up for that. No one expects that their advanced degree will be obsolete in a decade, but it most likely will be. Employers will need to train employees continuously.
6. A shared focus on the future
“We need to return to the idea that in spite of different ideologies, we share values,” said Transportation Secretary Chao, who brought a more conservative perspective to the panel. This one should be obvious, but it’s easier said than done in such divisive times, when many just want to go back to a manufacturing-based economy with its well-paying factory jobs. A smooth transition will require cooperation, said Henry. “Government, CEOs and unions should make the transition from service to the technology age together.”
It’s clear that we need to let go of a few things to transition to our best future. Rethink tech education from the ground up; put more value in community colleges; prioritize what potential employees can do over education status; and realize that the tech economy can be much more than elites making big money while everyone else gets a check from the government as a consolation for no longer being necessary.
Holly Quinn is Technical.ly Delaware's Lead Reporter. The longtime Delaware-based freelance journalist has written for the News Journal as well as national publications. You can find her on LinkedIn here.