The reinvention of America’s workers ought to be treated with the same urgency and clarity that we have applied to world wars. We are facing the biggest restructuring of work in human history and while other countries are well into reinventing their workers, we are busy chasing our tails vilifying the rich and the immigrants. Ironic, isn’t it? Our country would forfeit its identify if they left.
We now have an entire generation of politicians that were raised on focus-group driven campaigns. For over 50 years, politicians have used focus groups to define what voters wanted to hear versus what we needed to hear. Doing so elevated the vote but eroded the value of the voter.
John F. Kennedy and the great Presidents before him didn’t use focus groups. They didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, they told us what we needed to do! In JFK’s 3 short years in office, he told us to serve our country, contribute our talent to help poor nations, to become physically fit and to put a man on the moon.
We now find ourselves in a perfect storm.
As other global powers mindfully prepare their workforces for the future, half of our country’s workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” We gloat about having the “greatest economy in the world.” Our President brands himself as “the greatest job producer that God has ever created,” while millions of people hold 3 jobs to keep a roof over their heads, kids with masters degrees serve coffee, and task workers sit in fear hoping the human resources death angel doesn’t come around that corner. Today, over 50 million workers wonder if they will ever work again in the industry they were in before the great recession.
I remember sitting for two days with the management team of a huge public company. A series of unforeseen events had quickly led the organization into a do or die turning point. We came into the meeting with a commitment that we would not leave until we had defined solutions from every single person at the table. When we were done, I looked at every face and said, “So there you have it. The truth will set us free. But first, it will piss us off.”
What is the truth that America’s workers need to hear?
Technology isn’t taking away work. Technology is taking away tasks. We can choose a mindset that treats this turn of events as a catastrophe or a mindset that treats it as freedom. The question that our workers need to be asking is, “What do you want to do with your freedom?”
But, here is the big elephant in the national room. We don’t have any leaders telling us to make that leap. No one is telling us that it is time to demonstrate courage and reinvent ourselves. Our leadership is absent on the need to reinvent the world’s richest labor pool while China is doing it with great discipline and perhaps even mastery. We don’t look to our allies that are doing a much better job on workforce development.
We just don’t look.
During much of the Democratic debates, I was regularly asking, “Who’s that?” as people I had never seen before got their one-minute sound bites to tell us why they deserve to be our president. Just trying to remember where they were from or what they were promising almost made my head explode like an Austin Power’s Fembot. But, much of the corrosive elements that marked GOP campaigns were the same, with just different targets. The most manipulative practice of all is the game of exploiters and victims. How will we win elections by demonizing the rich? Just how much is a victim or martyr going to accomplish if they are hanging on a cross or falling on their sword? How will our economy function if we throw our working immigrants to the wolves?
Please, before flipping on the culture of outrage switch and spewing, remember these are questions that ought to be directed towards all politicians. Collectively, they are doing little of value to help our nation’s workforce to establish relevance in the future. Make no mistake, the purpose of a democracy is to give relevance to everyone.
Here are just a few of my most cringe-worthy recent quotes
Andrew Yang – Democratic Presidential Candidate and Tech Entrepreneur
After making a fortune developing technology that eliminates task work, Mr. Yang suggests that we send everyone a monthly check of $1,000. This will compensate for losing all of those jobs to automation.
Bernie Sanders – Presidential Candidate
Sander’s entire platform on jobs is to start an infrastructure program building bridges and roads, to provide lower-cost loans to small businesses and to help young people get more internships. There isn’t one word on how to lead millions of workers being thrown into underemployment to establish new skills and new mindsets.
Elizabeth Warren – Presidential Candidate
Elizabeth wants to spend 2 Trillion dollars to lead the country through conversion into green sustainable energy. But throughout her platform on jobs, there is no burden on the citizens to reinvent themselves nor can we find one word on setting up a retraining drive in America.
Mitch McConnell – D.C. Turtle Preparing for his return to the Sea
This one deserved special merit. He throws out patronizing ideas with absolutely no concern of whether he is telling the truth or not. He said, “You know what we need to do with the coal miners? We need to get them into trucking. There are lots of jobs in trucking.”
Daimler had just finished a 5-year pilot program using driverless trucks throughout Nevada. It was a smashing success. These trucks operate 24-hours-a-day, are more economical, and have 95% fewer accidents. Anderson Graduate School released a study. With over 5.2 million positions, truck driving is the #1 job for men in this country. Because of robotics and technology, there will only be 600,000 positions within 7 years.
But, here is why McConnell’s ham-fisted suggestion was especially deplorable. How many coal miners heard that and paid for trucking school? Recently, professor Carl Van Horn, the director of Rutger’s Center for Workforce Development said, “Right now, we’re relying on the individual to make that investment on his or herself. You’d have to take that out of personal savings.”
When people develop fears about their work, they horde their funds. This is basic human nature.
Since this administration began, not one word has been delivered about the need for all of us to update our understanding about the new workplace or to go through the discomfort of building new skills especially the life skills that tend to make all of us successful.
Marianne Williamson’s only words on record about jobs and work:
“We’re recruiting new passionate boots on the ground in cities across Iowa to help spread our message of turning love into a political force. We’re looking for organizers, team builders, phone bankers, and door knockers from Sioux City to Cedar Rapids.”
Ah, the subtle difference a few discreet changes in words can have on our comprehension. For example, Marsha Sinetar wrote a book entitled, “Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow.” Andy Warhol summarized his success with, “Do what you love, you can always sell it.”
So, there you have it.
Thus far, Kamala Harris is the only candidate or for that matter, political leader, that has come up with a cogent plan, but it barely meets the standards of war. She calls it the 21st Century SKILLS Act. This is a program that would pay up to $8,000 to pay for training for unemployed and underemployed workers. My hope is for much more because if our biggest global competitors are ahead of us, we need a far more directive and courageous message to our country.
We need to be told that if we get up off our chairs and design new careers, the pay off will be new lives. We need leaders to tell us why we must protect the world’s greatest talent pool by growing rather than atrophying simply because we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Our country has developed an adolescent arrogance. We don’t even seem to study workforce strategies in other nations that are successful.
While many of our leaders demonize outsourcing and technology, Germany embraces state-of-the-art robotics in its manufacturing operations. It doesn’t lay off workers. Through a partnership with government, educational institutions and employers, workers are trained to take on new roles and responsibilities. Assembly line workers become problem solvers. Others move into areas of the company because they are supported in developing new skills and interests. Organizations in Germany place a great premium on the value of keeping and growing institutional knowledge.
While some of our most corpulent politicians would dismiss the model as Socialism, they simply view it as good business. Employed workers generate taxes. They don’t need stipends to survive. Employers find that retaining workers and growing their intelligence is far more economical than recruiting from a global talent base. With an average global engagement level of just 13%, why recruit when you already have an engaged worker?
Politicians find that telling the truth breeds longer relationships with their base.
When workers cannot envision where their livelihoods are headed, when politicians tell us that entire categories of people are to blame for our problems, we begin to resemble countries that had to go through bloodshed and tragedy just to make the U-Turn. When the very people that have a moral contract to help us patronize us with promises and then turn their back on us after getting that hallowed vote, where is our country’s future?
Make no mistake.
We are at war.