23 Oct In stormy weather, technology can redirect sidelined talent
Reading an article titled “Note to Next President: Modern-Day WPA Will Save the Economy” on the WIRED Blog was eye-opening not so much from the article itself, but from the range of comments and assumptions made by readers. There are definitely people who think that a 1930s’ solution will work in this new century.
This is not the 1930s
So many people have opinions on what to do to get our economy going again, but their solutions are tied to concepts that were employed in the 1930s that would not work in today’s environment. As one reader commented:
This is nothing like the great depression. 1 ) We had idle factories then, today there are no factories. 2) Hitler and WW2 got us out of the depression and made us stronger; today, the Iraq war made us weaker. 3) No one had money then, now, no one has any money or credit….we’re screwed.
It may not be as dire as this individual summarizes, but he does make some good comparisons that show there is not a true parallel. This is a different time with many who have more advanced skills, who have been displaced by cheap labor. Some people want to revert back to something that worked 75 years ago in an industrial age economy. Why?
Go to the lowest common denominator of skills and give everyone a pick and a shovel and have them dig roadbeds and rebuild bridges. That will put many back to work.
That may sound great to some as a government works program, but in reality even roads and bridges need a higher skill leveled workforce than what they did in the 1930s. More importantly, the layers of infrastructure that need updating include network infrastructure, the power grid, and even airports with more modern air traffic control systems. All of these areas need more sophisticated workers which we actually have, but many have been underemployed since 9/11. Their skills are rusting away while the economy slides further into an abyss due to underemployment.
Job programs are aimed at the minimally skilled
With many advanced skilled workers going to state job counselors and placement offices, the solution is not to put a skilled JAVA programmer into a forklift driver’s job or a highly skilled executive into a low-level import/export paper shuffler position. Yet that is the best some placement offices can do because there is a lack of understanding the values of information-age skill sets and other complex skills. These job placement centers have to be radically overhauled to be of any real value to today’s underemployed workforce.
Many who have had more advanced training and skills have seen their salaries as well as their benefits shrink to a third of what they were making. Auto industry workers are going to find that out very quickly when they seek new opportunities.
Good luck to all those about to get laid off from the auto industry, as there is no substitute for a heavily benefited union job. Minimal skill sets that were protected and over-inflated over the years will see the blunt reality of today’s job market.
Another individual tries to convey that thought, but is off a bit as to when the Great Depression was. So much for his American history teacher:
Always the same story… build infrastructure, give people jobs. But this is not 1943, there are machines and tools that bums cannot operate. You need a bit more than to spell your name when you build a highway nowadays.
His blunt observation does have some bearing, as he is absolutely correct that minimal skills or even industrial-age skills are not enough to fill complex jobs and maximize economic development. There needs to be a higher level of skills for many jobs.
Large infrastructure projects would employ many people at many levels, as well as leave a legacy of a stronger platform for commerce, which in turn would attract more jobs. But as the reader suggests, it is not enough to be able to spell your name on the employment form.
Solid infrastructure = Platform for commerce
This equation is what needs to be understood by many at all levels of politics. Local, state, and national politicians have to be focused on today’s crisis and not be stuck in a 1950s mentality. Maybe we need to have a checklist of those politicians that understand technology and its infrastructure applications.
As I have said at many conferences and keynotes around the country:
“Economic development equals broadband connectivity and broadband connectivity equals jobs.”
Maybe I should add one more line to that: And jobs equal votes.
Today, you need a solid infrastructure platform to build a regional economy on. Regional sustainability is something that more people are becoming concerned about as job erosion hits their areas.
We first need to get Americans back into good jobs. That should be the prime requirement of any jobs program or infrastructure endeavor.
CARLINI-ISM : There is no substitute for a clear vision in times of stormy economic chaos.
This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
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