Employment Sustainability: 2013 Roundtable on Employment and Technology
On April 12, 2013, Cornell's ILR School convened 40 scholars, business leaders, policy makers, media experts, and representatives from grant-making foundations in an invitation-only discussion of employers' use of new technologies and the impact on quality job-creation in the United States.
This event launched a dialogue through which the ILR School - partnering with its Institute for Compensation Studies and Labor Dynamics Institute, and the EPRN Sustainable Entrepreneurship Network and The Conference Board - looks to advance informed and open-minded, cross-sector conversation about the forces driving the high adoption rates of productivity-enhancing technologies throughout the U.S. economy, and the impacts on employment and the future of work.
Key points of the discussion are summarized below and will be expanded upon in the coming days, as will the links to related resources. Roundtable participants are free to communicate their own thoughts through their chosen channels. Because the Roundtable was convened under the Chatham House Rule to allow for a free and frank dialogue, participants' comments will not be attributed by name or affiliation without their express permission.
Some key points raised and addressed during the April 12, 2013, Cornell ILR School Roundtable on Employment and Technology:
The continuing sea-changes in technological advancement, particularly when combined with the forces of globalization, are significantly impacting U.S. jobs and raising the risk that more and more U.S. workers will be caught "in the middle" as jobs migrate to higher-skill and lower skill work.
- What can best help the many middle-wage earners whose jobs are being transformed or eliminated by technological advances?
- Which training/retraining programs work, which ones don't, and how do we free up the resources from the latter to support the former?
- How do we identify and/or create sectors in which workforce skills and technology could combine to add the most jobs?
- Are U.S. institutions and U.S. education keeping pace with the rate of technological change and sufficiently forward-looking to anticipate the changes to come?
- How do we better enable and equip individuals themselves to adapt to these changes and make informed choices that increase their chances of making a good, sustainable living, essentially investing in their own human capital?
Collection of U.S. economic data for the purposes of measuring work and the labor market is not keeping pace with the rapidly changing world of work. Measuring work and productivity needs to be more about "tasks completed" & less about counting the numbers of W-2 employees in traditional workplaces. New metrics need to be developed to better measure innovation and productivity in our increasingly complex economy.
Employment statistics that report "net" gains and losses fail to capture job-market "churn," as the pace at which businesses are adopting technology to make process improvements that require fewer workers seems to be faster than that of technology-spurred innovation that creates new products and services and by extension new jobs.
More and/or better synthesized data are needed about technology's impact on the many kinds of work that increasingly make up U.S. employment,covering part-time and freelance workers as well as salaried workers,analyses by profession and job category and the specifics of job loss and job creation attributable to automation, enhanced productivity and outsourcing.
New tools are needed to assess the pace of U.S. innovation, as well as the benefits to U.S. society of advances in technology and today's greater variety of products and services. For example,it's easy to count the number of people who work at companies like Google and Facebook. But how can we measure the value added by their businesses via the multitudes of non-staff application developers and their respective support and sales functions?
As globalization and technology make it more efficient for companies to engage fewer workers, and more of them in low-cost countries such as India and China, the combination of these forces is also changing the innovation advantage held by the United States.
Technology's impact on the U.S. workplace, in terms of the number of jobs and how work gets done, is inextricably linked to the forces of globalization. Revenues from outside the United States contribute significantly to profits earned by U.S. companies. Expanding participation in the global economy by emerging markets has dramatically increased the globally accessible supply of labor. In economic theory, holding all else constant, increasing the labor supply will lower the "price" of labor, i.e., what people earn. But "all else" is not constant - technology is rapidly changing and it is affecting supply and demand for different skill sets on both a local and global basis. The dynamic productivity-enhancing advancements of new technology can raise the earnings of some workers who are made productive by it, but also lower the earnings of other workers if that productivity materially impacts the demand for those skills. The globalization conundrum for U.S. employment is that, simultaneously, the interactive effect between globalization and technology increases the efficiency of engaging workers in low-cost countries to perform work, regardless of where the final products or services are needed.
Historical evidence suggests that innovation follows manufacturing, but with manufacturing moving offshore, how quickly is innovation following? How can the United States accelerate the pace of innovation at home that creates new products and new jobs? And what skills will be needed in this globalized economy to support such innovation?
Current conceptualization of corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn't enough. "ESR," the social responsibilities of employers and engineers, may need to move onto the radar screen as well.
Changes in U.S. corporate culture and social norms have increasingly distanced top business leaders from their employees' living standards, which depend greatly on how much the company pays them. "Productivity layoffs" to reap efficiency cost-cutting savings are today considered almost a routine and necessary business process, even when a company's profitability is strong.
Should U.S. business establish and adhere to best practices regarding the "sustainability" and societal effects of companies' employment practices as well as their environmental impact? Should engineering and projects be measured by their social, as well as environmental, impact?
Overall, there was widespread agreement that a much broader and more vigorous national discussion is needed regarding the short- and longer-term impacts of technological advances on the nature of work, on the creation and elimination of jobs, and on the ability of U.S. workers to earn a sustainable living. The discussion needs to extend to how the enormous gains and benefits from advances in technology can be shared to have the widest and most positive effect on our economy and individual standards of living.
A more detailed summary will be published soon.
Roundtable Collaborating Partners