What Now: Jobs, Leadership and Silicon Valley

Just as farm jobs did not come back after the rise of manufacturing early last century, low-skilled manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by automation and modern factory jobs. There’s too much evidence that the nature of work has already changed – and continues to change – to look in the rearview mirror. To help those left behind, we need to invest in American workers by advancing their skills to meet the unfilled jobs we already have. Just a few statistics to make us all bolt upright and take notice:

Here’s another reality we can’t ignore: Too many Americans do not want low-skilled work. According to a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of Americans without jobs, 44 percent of men surveyed said they could get jobs in their area but they weren’t willing to take them. There may be more agreement around advancing skills than meets the eye.

A Gap We Urgently Need to Fill

We urgently need to invest in American skills. Workers without some form of post-secondary education or training are far more likely today to be living in poverty than their counterparts a generation ago. Yet the US currently only spends .1% of GDP on job retraining, workforce development centers and adult education subsidies, just one-sixth of the rich-country average, according to The Economist. How might we do things differently?

  • Expand apprenticeships, following successful German, Swiss and other models that effectively combine education and work experience. US apprenticeship programs, tiny in comparison, have tremendous potential.
  • Build bold national programs, like the GI Bill of the 1940s and 1950s. China reportedly invests250 billion each year to educate tens of millions of young adults, in part to advance national priorities such as alternative energy, biotechnology and hybrid and all-electric cars (even China, manufacturer to the world, is not prioritizing last-century manufacturing).
  • Invest in technical and vocational teachers, whose employment is currently predicted to grow by only 4% through 2024, slower than the US average for all occupations.
  • Increase tax incentives for companies to invest in what manufacturing executives say are the most effective ways to close skills gaps: internal employee training and development (94%), involvement with local schools and communities (72%), external training and certification programs (64%) and creating new veteran hiring programs (49%).

We must also better coordinate federal, state, county and local programs that target adult job and skills training/re-training, whose effectiveness could be multiplied if they worked together instead of in geographic and political siloes.

Everyone Wins When We Invest in the Future

  • Rewards await American workers and companies that embrace technology and the future. Findings from Leaders 2020, a new study from Oxford Economics and SuccessFactors, shows “companies perform better in the marketplace and have happier, more engaged employees” when they invest in order to:
  • Embrace digital technologies, embedding technology in all aspects of the organization
  • Make data-driven decisions, using relevant technologies to streamline real-time decision-making
  • Offer employees the latest technologies, helping to reduce complexity and bureaucracy
  • Build a digital workforce, improving digital proficiency and emphasizing technology transformation and readiness

I see this all around me here in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of global technology and key driver of the sixth largest economy in the world: the State of California. As I’ve written previously regarding the gender wage gap and family leave policies, Silicon Valley companies have an obligation to lead by example and help create pathways to that future that bring along all Americans.

There is no stopping progress. Let us invest urgently in bringing Americans ahead of progress and together into the future.