With the rapid development of digital technology and artificial intelligence, many workers are aware that they are facing an escalating job skills crisis. However, the crisis was not entirely caused by the imperfect education system or the lack of preparation of the younger generation of workers; The more important problem is that the number of companies that can provide skills training for employees is too few.
We are often told that Americans are facing a job skills crisis – which will intensify in the coming years as companies adopt more digital technology and workers learn more about coding. However, this skill crisis is not caused by the imperfect education system or the unprepared younger generation of workers, as some people think.
Many employers are either unwilling or unable to devote sufficient resources to work-based learning and the creation of skills return career paths, and they are ultimately unable to provide economic opportunities for workers at the bottom of the labor market. In general, American enterprises do invest more resources in labor training than federal or state government agencies. However, highly unbalanced investment patterns may further exacerbate the economic gap: on average, large companies are more generous and consistent in labor training than small companies.
In addition to company size, inequality in training can have a huge impact on low-income workers. Paradoxically, most employers, regardless of size, limit their support for skills development to employees who have received higher education. The company further concentrated the rewards at the top of the career hierarchy, while the people at the bottom could hardly get promotion opportunities.
What are the economic consequences of this skill imbalance? What can we do to encourage employers (especially small business employers) to take greater responsibility for skills development and expand the coverage of training? How can organizations that strive to improve working conditions and expand economic opportunities help? I believe that an important condition for solving this problem is to learn to regard skills as employment rather than education, and establish institutions to make this vision a reality.
To solve these problems, consider the case of Maddie Parlier, a South Carolina woman, introduced in an article published by Adam Davidson in Atlantic in 2012. At that time, Marty was a 22-year-old single mother with only a high school education and an entry-level job in a small auto parts manufacturer. Her story reveals the “employment crisis” faced by millions of low-income Americans. They are trapped in dead end, low wage jobs and do daily work that “will be easily replaced by robot automation in the near future”.
Suggestions to help workers like Marty fall into three broad categories: the provision of higher education, the establishment of minimum wage legislation and workplace training and support. While education and wage legislation play a central role in any policy programme for workers, workplace training is also crucial – although it often receives little attention as a policy objective.
According to Davidson, Marty’s fate and the fate of all low-income people are related to her lack of college education (including college or higher education), which is a golden ticket to the middle class. About half of the working age population in the United States have not received such education.
Famous labor scholars and analysts put forward suggestions. Some of these suggestions are very consistent with Davidson’s core philosophy – if Marty quits her unsatisfactory full-time job and goes to study for a university degree, her employment prospects will improve. Davidson takes the experience of Marty’s colleague Luke as evidence.
However, this view has serious limitations. On the one hand, receiving higher education is often accompanied by financial pressure. If Marty leaves her job to study for a degree, she will give up her two-week salary, making it more difficult for her to support herself and her daughter, and to pay for child care, rent and other household necessities. Although federal education funds and benefits can provide some temporary relief, they are risky when the final employment prospect is uncertain. Can a college degree guarantee good employment and open the door to the middle class?
This “supply side” approach also ignores a major driver of income inequality: the low quality of entry-level work. Although more education may help Marty find a better job elsewhere, the quality of her poor job has not been solved at all – another job seeker who is not financially well-off is ready to apply for the job. Any suggestion to improve Marty’s situation must improve the work itself, including changing the way in which her contribution as a worker is recognized and rewarded.
Raise the minimum wage
Another suggestion is to raise Marty’s minimum wage through legislation. Raising wages will obviously have an impact on the low wage labor market, benefiting Marty and other low-income workers. The prediction of the Institute for economic policy, a progressive think-tank, reinforces this: raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour will benefit 17 million low wage workers in the United States. If the minimum wage is set at $15 per hour, another 15 million workers will experience considerable income growth.
Therefore, there is no doubt that raising the minimum wage can increase Marty’s income potential. But can it also bring Marty a better career prospect within the company? Let her get more skills and higher salary? Scholars and activists calling for an increase in the minimum wage and minimum subsistence wage believe that this will prompt Marty’s employers to take productivity measures to offset some additional labor costs and make better use of the underutilized talents of employees. Whether this statement is correct is a core issue in the debate on the polarization of minimum wage legislation. Critics point out that Marty’s employers may respond to a higher minimum wage in a less inclusive and supportive way – perhaps taking cost cutting measures, that is, losing Marty’s job.
Nevertheless, given Marty’s unstable economic situation, it is important to recognize that these results are only the envisaged average. Although in jurisdictions where higher wages have been implemented, most employers choose to continue to expand employment, some employers have dismissed employees. Davidson’s interview with Marty’s employer shows that her boss belongs to the second camp: he is convinced that his small manufacturing company will be difficult to absorb the increased labor costs. He is already considering replacing entry-level workers with automation. He is not alone. Interest in automation is growing.
As a result, even manufacturing employers can support primary work by using workers with advanced technology, or replace workers with advanced technology to meet higher wage requirements. This choice highlights the limitations of the isolation of rigid policy tools, such as raising wages. Scholars involved in the pioneering research on the minimum wage and the minimum living wage recognize that raising the wage standard is only the beginning, and they need to design more jobs to turn these wage incomes into better job opportunities.
Workplace training and support
This brings us a third suggestion: a combination of work-based change and institutional support.
Suggestions in this regard include suggestions on on-site guidance, which means that front-line employees such as Marty will be paired with the company’s engineers or product designers (including technical experts such as her university graduated colleague Luke, who currently works separately from entry-level employees, Davidson said). Cross functional guidance allows opinion sharing and provides a channel to strengthen peer evaluation. For example, senior employees can prove the reliability and character of new colleagues and help them obtain additional support and greater job security through lobbying.
A related suggestion is to provide Marty’s employer with special time to solve group problems. This may involve employer sponsored training: adding a formal on-the-job structure through off-site course learning. This program is easily supported by company supported tuition reimbursement or flexible working time arrangement, which will enable Marty to make progress in the basic knowledge of high school mathematics and Science (which she liked and excelled in as a student).
These job-based learning opportunities can make Marty earn more while learning new skills, and have the opportunity to be promoted in the company. We can even further infer that these workplace changes will lead to lasting employee employer relations and support higher productivity, process innovation and career development, which is a win-win situation for Marty and her employer.
However, a careful study of Marty’s environment will find that it is very difficult to implement these changes alone, especially in the highly competitive auto parts market filled with low-cost foreign imports. This difficult reality brings us back to Davidson’s view: social mobility can only be realized when Marty leaves her dead end job to pursue a university degree. In other words, unless we realize that allowing enterprises to be free from any constraints in skills development and shifting too much burden to higher education institutions and their students leads to greater social and economic inequality.
So what can we do to correct this imbalance? We need a scalable solution that encourages employers to take greater responsibility for providing skills development training and provides economic opportunities for workers at the bottom of the U.S. labor market. The three principles will help to develop a course of action for the agency.
The first is to place skill development within a larger quality of work framework. Skill development is not just a prerequisite for getting a good job: it is what makes a job a good job. High quality employment gives employees the opportunity to obtain learning opportunities and employer sponsored training, so as to expand their career prospects within the company and related industries.
Many publications place employers’ support for skills development on an equal footing with supporting family wages and other income raising benefits. International labor organization is an initiative of the United Nations. It has long linked skill development with “decent work”, which is agreed by many scholars.
To help illustrate this possibility, we need to consider the second principle: Skills give workers and employers common value. Skills are not just something that workers cherish. It is valuable to both employers and employees. Workers seek new skills to promote their career development and enrich their daily work and life. Employers recognize that skills are essential to improve productivity and promote product and process innovation (which is reflected in the concern of many employers about the shortage of skills in the industry).
However, although both workers and employers may have a positive relationship with skills, for many reasons, they do not always explain it in the same way. At the most basic level, what is “skill”? Is it only technical ability in a narrow sense, or does it include less specific cognitive forms, creativity and social ability?
These thoughts remind us of the third principle: skill is a vague and malleable concept. This ambiguity stems from the different views, experiences and pressures of workers and employers. Sometimes, the resulting uncertainty will affect efforts to improve skill development at work. This may exacerbate employers’ concerns that if newly trained employees are If you find a job elsewhere, the investment in on-the-job training will bring returns to other companies. It may also cause workplace friction and undermine employers’ efforts to further expand work and learning. Many scholars and labor practitioners are disturbed by this uncertainty, so they seek greater clarity and accuracy through better skill evaluation and measurement.
In contrast, I think the ambiguity of skills is something we should accept. This can open the door for institutional action, let labor advocates cross the threshold to enter the company, and promote employers through skill centered transformation, so as to improve the work experience of economically disadvantaged workers and job seekers.
In fact, various types of workers’ support institutions, from trade unions to labor service providers, take enterprises’ interest in skills as an opportunity to intervene at the enterprise level. Their practice is based on the consensus between workers and employers that technological development is valuable to promote economic opportunities and progress.
These institutions are used (and sometimes improved) With regard to the uncertainty of skills, strengthen their advocacy role for workers. They can use the uncertainty of skills to promote a broader concept of expertise and defend low-level workers who may be regarded by employers or colleagues as lacking skills or unqualified in skills. They can promote employers to re interpret skill investment as the key to future business success, Rather than liabilities or risks.
They can negotiate around skills to affect the more difficult aspects of the employment relationship, such as higher wages and broader worker benefits. They can also link employers’ investment in labor skills with key options for technology adoption, and guide employers to implement new and improved technologies to improve the quality of work and achieve business growth, Expand rather than reduce the overall work. Therefore, the uncertainty around skills provides a strong resource that institutions can use to coordinate the interests of workers and employers.
How can we use these principles to make much-needed changes? A striking model comes from the labor organization, which adopts a “dual customer” approach, serves both job seekers and employers, and improves employment prospects through organizational expansion.
These institutions are often called labor intermediaries, and their institutional origins and affiliates vary. Some are the product of community-based non-profit organizations. Others are the extension of mature trade unions. Others are branches of county or state funded community college systems. Although they have different affiliations, all these institutions help enterprises deepen their understanding of skills The commitment to development formalizes the internal structure of enterprises by “recognizing and rewarding work-based learning and career mobility”.
What we need is not only criticism of arrogant technology, but also counterattack to enhance the influence of labor institutions in technology development and selection, not just to match skills with the latest technology trends. Strategies to reinterpret skills must be revised to support future jobs and re-establish skill development as a protected worker’s right In every sense, promoting workers’ skills is crucial to technological progress.