December 4, 2018
The United States is obsessed with the concept of jobs. Every month, we eagerly await the Labor Department’s jobs report, while the first question upon meeting a new acquaintance is often “what do you do?” But this concept of focusing on jobs is flawed in our new economic reality – we must instead focus on work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have an official number of exactly how many contract-based workers there are, but over the past 20 years, the number of workers who operate as independent contractors, often through apps, has increased by about 27 percent more than payroll employees, according to CNBC. Simply put, thinking about jobs alone – and training people for that reality – is a red herring.
This is beyond the “gig economy” moniker. We have entered the experience economy – a state of the labor market that values skills and know-how and presents a new model for working that brings together capable individuals with the companies that have work to do.
So why now? And how is this different than the gig economy? It starts with understanding how people are being trained today – and the fact that there is a skilled labor pool that is vastly underutilized.
A 2016 Pew Research Center survey, “The State of American Jobs,” found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace. But at the same time, a follow-up 2017 Pew Research Center survey (“The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training”) reported that people believe the traditional college degree will still be the primary measure of training and skills in 2026.
As we move toward a work-or project-driven economy, increasingly, the gap between what types of skills are in demand, and the training programs to build those skills, will shrink. We’re already seeing this happen as companies are building partnerships with universities to influence their curriculum – IBM has a residence at many universities around the world, including at University of South Carolina. ADP worked with University of Texas at El Paso to develop a whole curriculum track on human capital management.
In parallel to shrinking this divide, the other gap we need to examine is how the existing skilled labor pool is being utilized. Labor data shows that there is a declining rate of labor force participation, especially in the U.S., which is typically attributed to an aging-population. Economists say the fix is to expand the workforce.
I see this cause and effect differently. Declining labor force participation can also indicate that people are choosing to do something else because they don’t have a better option. In other words, the declining labor force participation could also be a result of employers not being able to find the skilled workers who are out there and available to work.
Perhaps the best example of this is the telecom industry. The internet and mobile technologies have redefined what the telecommunications industry is capable of, yet companies can’t keep up with customer demand fast enough. This means that both business and consumer customers are growing impatient in their virtual queue, waiting for services to be delivered. Service providers’ reputations (and revenue) are at risk as they can’t make good on their promises. And field engineers – the people around the world who have the right skills and are available to work right now – are not able to find meaningful work, largely because service providers can’t find them.
The common answer for telecom companies is to reskill their existing workforce. But considering the backlog of demand and increasingly global telecom market, training isn’t scalable. At the same time, it’s just not realistic to think that they can match their training with the pace of technology.
There’s work to be done, right now, and the talent is already there to fill these jobs. The experience economy demands a way to ensure skilled workers are matched with opportunities when and where their specific skills are needed.
As CEO of Field Engineer, I’ve seen this disconnect time and time again. Recently, a tier-1 telecom company wanted to work on a project in multiple global locations that was starting in just a few weeks. But they only had field engineers on the ground in the U.S., and there was no way that they could find and onboard local engineers fast enough. Again, the reality is that the expertise and talent we need may not be living and working where the work is happening.
In this new reality, this problem goes beyond telecom. Companies from Amazon to UPS and Macy’s hire thousands of seasonal workers for the holidays. But these workers must have a specific set of skills –retail associates, drivers and even more skilled logistics and project managers. While there may be a perfect candidate for these positions in Boise, Idaho, looking for supplemental income and additional work, workers are needed on the ground in Seattle, Washington, and across the country.
In May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will begin collecting data on contingent workers, signaling a formal shift in how our governing systems think about work. The next step is to use that data to analyze the skills that these contingent workers have and understand how – if at all – they are being applied.
Then, it’s time we connected the dots in the experience economy to redefine how B-to-B work gets done. We have the technology able to connect workers with work, but options like TaskRabbit don’t translate well into the B-to-B world where companies have very specific skills requirements.
The “future” of work is no longer years or months away – it’s here. In order to prepare for this era of the experience economy, we must take a new approach to how work is quantified, classified and completed.