Jobs and the Future Workforce, Part Two

 Update: great article in today's NY Times, Seeing Hope for Flagging Economy, West Virginia Revamps Vocational Track:
When it comes to technical education, the United States is an outlier compared with other developed nations. Only 6 percent of American high school students were enrolled in a vocational course of study, according to a 2013 Department of Education report. In the United Kingdom, 42 percent were on the vocational track; in Germany, it was 59 percent; in the Netherlands, 67 percent; and in Japan, 25 percent.
What is the program in West Virginia?
Simulated workplaces, overseen by teachers newly trained in important state industries like health, coal and even fracking, are now operating in schools across the state. Students punch a time clock, are assigned professional roles like foreman or safety supervisor, and are even offered several vacation days of their choice in addition to regular school breaks. (Many take time off during deer hunting season.)

Traditional math and English teachers have been reassigned to technical high schools, to make sure students on the vocational track still gain reading, writing and math skills.

And this fall, students enrolled in simulated workplaces will need to participate in one of the program’s boldest elements: random drug testing.
end of update

A comment from Ghost Mom from Part One of this series on jobs and the workforce:

So many formerly accepted rules of thumb are no longer valid.
  • It's not a good idea to stay at the same company and work your way up. 
  • States no longer subsidize as much of the cost of college so students have to pay for way more of it themselves, which makes it an unwise gamble for many. 
  • Preschool costs more than college in Washington state (and many other states), but there are no 529 plans or college scholarship programs for parents to pay for preschool. 
  • The whole idea of employer-based health insurance (and "group" policies) no longer works with employees shifting from company to company to climb up the ladder instead of working their way up within one company. 
  • By 2021, 9.2 million Americans are predicted to work in gig economy jobs
How are our new workers going to pay for health insurance and maternity leave and preschool and a mortgage and a vacation? So many countries assume their citizens want to get an education, pick up the skills for a career, have a relationship, establish a home and raise children. They set things up to make that possible. 
In the U.S. we seem to pretend that none of these things are the case.
Boom! She lays it out pretty darn well and it's exactly where I had planned to go with this thread (so thanks to yet another smart reader).

What is the gig economy (and what about its cousin, zero-hour contracts)?  From Wired:
The gig economy gets its name from each piece of work being akin to an individual 'gig' – although, such work can fall under multiple names. It has previously been called the "sharing economy" — mostly in reference to platforms such as Airbnb — and the "collaborative economy". However, at its core are app-based platforms that dole out work in bits and pieces — making deliveries, driving passengers or cleaning homes — leading some to prefer the term "platform economy".  

Gig-economy work and zero-hour contracts have similarities. Both treat workers as contractors and offer no guarantee of pay, but gig economy roles are normally paid per piece — such as a set rate to deliver a package or drive a fare to a location — while zero-hours contracts are paid hourly, but with no set minimum. 

Both are the result of companies trying to cut or limit staffing costs, and can leave workers unsure how much they'll earn.
That last sentence?  There's your both the danger and the lack of future job security for the next generation workforce.  Just as in the past when business has mostly put staff last - both in safety issues and pay/diversity - then now, for workers who are not employees, there a new kind of job insecurity. 

Holiday pay? Sick pay?  Nope.
That's legally possible because gig workers aren't seen by the companies they work for as employees but contractors — though a court ruling against Uber disagreed with that claim last year. 
I liken this to buying a home versus renting.  With buying, you are building equity, just as if you have a permanent job at a company, you are building work equity.  With renting and with contracted work, you are working to live but probably with zero to little health insurance or other benefits and no job equity.

Here's a great overview article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the gig economy.

What are the pros to a gig economy for workers?
  • If you just give kids "skills," they don't need college.  It's too expensive anyway.  (As if the sole reason for going to college is to gain job skills.) 
  • The companies in the gig economy say those jobs bring the flexibility to work whenever you like.  (As if most people don't need to work in order to live.)
From The Pop-Up Employer: Build a Team, Do the Job, Say Goodbye from the New York Times:
True Story was a case study in what two Stanford professors call “flash organizations” — ephemeral setups to execute a single, complex project in ways traditionally associated with corporations, nonprofit groups or governments.

In principle, many companies would find it more cost-effective to increase staff members as needed than to maintain a permanent presence. The reason they do not, economists have long argued, is that the mechanics of hiring, training and monitoring workers separately for each project can be prohibitively expensive.

But Ms. Valentine, who studies management science, and Mr. Bernstein, a computer scientist, note that technology is sharply lowering these costs. “Computation, we think, has an opportunity to dramatically shift several costs in a way that traditional organizations haven’t realized,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It’s way easier to search for people, bargain and contract with them.”
Yet the flash model appears to have revolutionary potential. If nothing else, millions of middle-management jobs that fell by the wayside in recent decades might one day be reincarnated as freelance project-manager positions. “The bottleneck now is project managers,” Ms. Valentine said. “It’s a really tough position to fill.”

And while traditional white-collar freelancing — and certainly its gig-economy equivalent on platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk — can be isolating, being part of an organization tends to be emotionally satisfying.
Still, even while fostering flexibility, the model could easily compound insecurity. Temporary firms are not likely to provide health or retirement benefits. And even if high-skilled workers like project managers and web developers find they are well compensated on the open market, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, low-skilled workers tend to fare worse outside firms.

“This could be a potent force among many in the future,” he said. “From a policy perspective, we have to figure out how to empower labor when contracts last a few minutes or a few weeks.”
Hmm, what empowers labor?  Oh right, unions.  

One key item for those in the gig economy - discipline.  It will take a huge amount of discipline to keeping looking ahead to the next job, setting up a way to save for retirement as well as bank dollars in case of a downturn or health issue.

To lend swagger to this idea of a gig economy, here's an older article from VentureBeat, Why Google doesn’t care about college degrees, in 5 quotes
“My belief is not that one shouldn’t go to college,” said (Google's HR head Lazlo) Bock. It is that among 18- to 22-year-olds — or people returning to school years later — “most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going, and what they want to get out of it.” Of course, we want an informed citizenry, where everyone has a baseline of knowledge from which to build skills. That is a social good.
But, he added, don’t just go to college because you think it is the right thing to do and that any bachelor’s degree will suffice. “The first and most important thing is to be explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education.” It’s a huge investment of time, effort and money and people should think “incredibly hard about what they’re getting in return.”
Are the liberal arts still important?
You need some people who are holistic thinkers and have liberal arts backgrounds and some who are deep functional experts. Building that balance is hard, but that’s where you end up building great societies, great organizations.”
But to the nitty-gritty:
Many businesses “require” a college degree; at Google, the word “college” isn’t even its official guide to hiring. With the rise of self-paced college courses and vocational learning, plenty of driven people can teach themselves all of the necessary skills to work at the company.
That last line is fairly flip to me and lays the groundwork for the so-called personalized learning system - if you have a computer, you can learn anything.

What are the five quotes?
  • You don’t need a college degree to be talented
  • Demonstrate a skill, not an expertise
  • Logic is learned, and stats are superimportant
  • Prove grit
  • If you go to college, focus on skills
There isn't anything necessarily wrong with those quotes.  But Mr. Bock is in the "yes, yes, yeah,sure" mode about education being necessary for civics and citizenship.  The five quotes may reflect the shaping of today's economy but I'm not sure if it's the best route for the workforce.

Related to this issue, an article from the New York Times, Hotspot for Tech Outsourcing: the United States:
Nexient, a software outsourcing company, reflects the evolving geography of technology work. It holds daily video meetings with one of its clients,, where team members stand up and say into the camera what they accomplished yesterday for, and what they plan to do tomorrow. The difference is, they are phoning in from Michigan, not Mumbai.
Salaries have risen in places like South Asia, making outsourcing there less of a bargain. In addition, as brands pour energy and money into their websites and mobile apps, more of them are deciding that there is value in having developers in the same time zone, or at least on the same continent.

As a result, the growth of offshore software work is slowing, to nearly half the pace of recent years.

“Domestic sourcing is here to stay, and it’s going to grow rapidly,” said Helen Huntley, an analyst at the research firm Gartner.


Momma Bee said…
Pre-K costs more than college in Washington state. See the article here.

Jet City mom said…
Bad headlne.
Preschool, is not child care.
Preschool is roughly 3 days a week, for 3 hrs a day( or less) More similar to how kindergarten used to be than what is needed for a parent to work full time including time for commuting.

However, Seattle does subsidize child care for families who are low or moderate income.

Lynn said…
Your definition of preschool is not universal. The City of Seattle program for example provides care for six hours a day, five days a week. It's not child care though - as no services are provided outside of the school year.
Anonymous said…
Wow! Wonder how long city has been providing the program to subsidize childcare. I was earning the lower end of the income guideline for our family years ago, when my child was small. Childcare was more than half our income level! If they had the program then, I would have qualified. Nice to see Seattle is now offering a program.
Anonymous said…
The comments about child care costing more than college always make me scratch my head. Isn't it obvious that is does? Infant childcare means 1 adult to every 4 kids in this state (1:3 in many others), going up to 1 adult for every 10 kids by their last year before kindergarten. That level of adult to child intensity costs money, plus the same and consumables that little kids use. College is typically at least partially delivered using large lectures (250+ per professor) and by grad students.

It's also a bit misleading to compare the wildly disparate educational systems in different countries. From what I've heard, yes, there are far more kids on the vocational track in Germany, but that track also includes professions such as nursing, which here require college most of the time.

NE parent
Jet City mom said…
Neither of my kids attended colleges with lecture halls larger than 70 students.
Its also pretty easy to actually make money when your children are small by providing child care. (& not worry all day about your own child)
Its how we were able to buy a house in Seattle and have two kids who are first gen college.
Former Latchkey said…
Parents in the 70s were able to afford childcare for 3 or 4 kids. Can you imagine how much you'd have to earn to do that now?
Sally said…
Although Washington state does not have a specific law on how old a child must be before you can legally leave the child alone, the state sets the guideline recommended minimum age at 10. The National SAFEKIDS Campaign says no child under the age of 12 should be left at home alone. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services says that as long as your 12-year old is mature and dependable, he or she can be left alone for a few hours but a 12-year-old shouldn't be responsible for other children. Therefore, any program for children under the age of about 10 to 12 that does not require a parent or guardian or childcare provider to attend with the child is de facto the same thing as child care.

Obviously not every childcare arrangement is school. But for children under the age of 10 to 12 in Washington state, any preschool or school that a child attends that does not ALSO require a parent or guardian or babysitter to be present and responsible for the child while the preschool/school day is underway QUALIFIES AS CHILDCARE. Children do sometimes have sessions with various kinds of teachers and therapists where a parent/guardian/childcare provider is ALSO required to be present and responsible for the child while the therapy is going on. These types of appointments would not be considered childcare.

School (including preschool) for children too young to be left alone is childcare.
Patrick said…
Parents in the 70s. I think more likely to have one parent (almost always mom, back then) stay home and take care of them. Possibly send them to child care part time to help socialize them. Or possible stay with a grandparent or older sibling or cousin.

Even now there are lots of parents not paying the entire list price for childcare. Many childcares charged only half price for children of their own workers. Or one parent only worked part time and the children were in childcare fewer hours. Or the parents staggered their shifts. Lots of compromises would have to be made.
Simon said…
Although German kids don’t test all that well on PISA, Germany’s educational system does do vocational tracking, aka the apprenticeship system, very well. It starts quite young, tracking students off around ages 14 to 16. Students gradually increase the amount of time they spend doing in-company apprenticeship work so that by age 18 they are fully qualified to work in their chosen field.

Apprenticeships are managed not by schools or school districts exactly but by chambers of commerce/guilds for the industry in question. To my mind, this liberation from direct school control is a key component of the system’s success, although it does lock people out of those professions until they gain that same training.

The apprenticeship programs with statutory training requirements are wide-ranged: electrician, mechanic, hospitality worker, metalworker, hairdresser, plumber, carpenter, joiner, etc., but also things like butcher, baker, cheesemaker, beer brewer, pastry chef, etc. (artisanal professions that have essentially no educational or training requirements in the the US).

Tracking like this applies to postsecondary education as well. Most European countries draw a distinction between research universities for traditional academic/theoretical fields (humanities, philosophy, physics, mathematics, etc.) and universities of applied sciences for professions (engineering, computer science, business, management, art/design, etc.). The former have a modular structure, whereas the latter are competency-based with a strong internship component.

In the US, we lump all kids into the same kind of school, offering only a smattering of superficial college prep or preprofessional/prevocational training before graduating everyone at the same common, fairly low academic level. This is why American kids do TWO years of general education in college (because high school doesn’t generally provide this—except for IB and IB-like programs) while European kids jump right into their specializations. German kids who graduate from apprenticeship programs are fully qualified to work in that field at age 18; American kids are only just STARTING that training at age 18, and then have to pay out of pocket for it.
Rick said…
There are a lot of underwhelming comments in this thread about childcare, people fabricating odd definitions or missing the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest. Childcare is highly variable in form, yes, but the annual cost of licensed full-time childcare in this city is generally commensurate with a year of college. This has been studied (not sure if I can add a link, but here's one to Child Care Aware of Washington: A _licensed_ childcare program serving 3- to 5-year-olds in this state is also by definition pre-K.

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