For many people, the future of work seems scary.
The coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities of our modern economy, forcing thousands of businesses to shutter and putting millions of Americans and people around the world at financial risk. As businesses adapt, they are finding new ways of working, including accelerating automation.
It leads you to ask – where will the jobs come from?
The truth is that there are plenty of jobs. Industry has been adapting and embracing automation for generations – the power loom is an early example – and studies have shown that these efforts can actually create more jobs.
A 2019 European economic study found that companies that did not invest in robotics between 1990 and 1998 reduced jobs by 20% between 1998 and 2016, whereas those that did invest from ’90-‘98 created 50% more jobs during the same time period.
So, the real question is, “How will we prepare people for the jobs of the future?”
The way we train people today is not suited for these new jobs. We need to rethink how we prepare people for the workforce. The manufacturing sector has been dealing with this challenge for a long time, and we’ve built a skilling approach that can shine a path for all industries.
First, Businesses Need to Invest Properly in Re-skilling
New technologies are transforming dull and repetitive jobs into those requiring analytic and problem-solving skills. Manufacturing is on the front lines of this change – electricians are becoming digital electricians, material handlers are becoming robotically enabled, and assembly line workers are becoming robotics programmers.
To train people for these new roles, we need to invest more in re-skilling programs, which many companies are doing, but not well enough. For example, Deloitte reports that only 17% of companies have made “meaningful investments” in reskilling initiatives related to AI, one of the technologies shaping the future of work. We need to go beyond providing access to digital learning resources and invest in programs that provide hands-on experience.
Stanley Black & Decker, for example, has partnered with companies like Ready Robotics and Tulip to automate repetitive tasks at several of our plants, creating dedicated programs to re-skill all of our workers who were previously doing that work. These employees now work side-by-side with collaborative robots, becoming programmers supervising their robots and being freed up to spend more time finding ways to further increase productivity.
Second, We Need to Move Away from a Singular Focus on Four-Year Education
The value of a four-year education as a one-size-fits-all solution is more in question now than ever before. Why would we encourage our young students to take on tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt when there are high-paying careers waiting for them in skilled trades, IT and more?
Part of the reason is the lack of viable educational pathways. As businesses, we can create more opportunities through initiatives like apprenticeship programs, so successful in countries like industrialized Germany, where high school students get hands-on experience and build bridges to opportunities in these industries as they shape their future.
Specifically, we need more efforts like the Business Roundtable’s “Multiple Pathways” initiative, which is designed to increase the percentage of underrepresented populations in the workforce, providing economic opportunities and a pathway to long-term professional growth for working adults and students without two- and four-year degrees and from underrepresented populations.
In that same spirit, Stanley Black & Decker recently launched a new Vocational Leadership Program that offers employees the chance to learn the ins-and-outs of manufacturing over a 12-month period, requiring only a high school diploma or GED to participate.
Third, the Private Sector Needs to Do More to Sell Certain Jobs Effectively
Many of the jobs of the future will be in industries like manufacturing, construction, heavy industry and other skilled trades that are often stigmatized – thought of as having limited career potential.
During my time as chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force, I learned that mission provides purpose, inspiring people to pursue their path with passion. We need to sell the mission and value of these critical jobs of the future so that young people understand that skilled professions are not like they imagined. They are meaningful, well-paying jobs that are essential to unlocking human progress.
Marketing and advertising has the power to inspire new generations, and it is incumbent on the private sector to shine a new light on these careers. That’s why our company also launched an annual Maker Month each October, which celebrates these skilled trades and engages students across K-12 on the importance of STEAM careers.
These efforts can also help educate parents, educators and influencers guide younger generations toward exciting manufacturing careers.
Finally, We Need to Drive the Right Behaviors through Tax Incentives and Grant Programs
Supercharging our skilling ecosystem will also require policies that spur the investments we need to succeed. We need more grant programs encouraging students to enter skilled trade educational pathways, including technical and community colleges. Even though vocational training is often less expensive than a traditional four-year education, it can still be expensive. We need to make it more affordable so that anyone – regardless of his or her socioeconomic status – can build a career.
We also need tax credits to encourage corporations to invest in more research and development. Innovation will help create new types of jobs, providing even more opportunity for people to be successful in new ways.
The future of work presents immense opportunity, and with the pandemic continuing to threaten our economy, business leaders have a responsibility to chart a path forward for the workforce. We must bring together a wide range of stakeholders at the global and local levels to build united, integrated plans that solve for this skills gap challenge.
We call on other companies in the private sector to join us in seizing the opportunity and building a better future together. Alone we can go fast, but together we can go far.
Mark Maybury, Ph.D., is Stanley Black & Decker’s first chief technology officer and former chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force.