Labour market, University and politics-- interesting, incomplete argument from Andrew Jackson
Start with this article:
I find it an interesting series of observations and hope to share that with anyone who has not yet read the article.
However, I also think the argument does not cover all the ground I think we want to look at as a part of the context of its content.
It does not address the growing trend toward movement to job-matching higher education. The article appears on the same page as many on the political right who want to match more closely education to employment (I suspect that Jackson himself is not with the right on this). Others go further than Jackson ever would promoting handing over much of higher education to job-specific training that really ought to be provided by employers. Jackson does not anticipate and respond to the obvious interpretation they would make of his article: that it supports more connections between employers and universities. That argument being made seemingly everywhere ought to have been exploded by the Broadbent Institute not supported, however inadvertently.
We have heard from others the importance of the pure sciences -- the value they have to both short term and long term applications. We have also heard before the need for independent thought, skills, individuals need even if they are less valued by many employers. We have not discussed enough in our society the consequence of tighter connection between higher education and employers on the very thing this connection is promoted to achieve: employment. The closer a person is aligned in their higher education to a specific job, in theory the more likely they will be to get a job-- that is assuming the employer does not seek further diversity of ideas. But what happens when the employer changes focus? If the employer leaves the market either through closure or leaves for cheaper labour elsewhere? We have spoken for years about retraining people for whom their education became obsolete. More specifically job-connected education surely risks obsolescence more quickly than the more general education valued by previous generations. This closer connection to employment trend is likely to lead us to a less flexible workforce more dependent on specific employers and job descriptions than ever before. This should worry you and any article talking about higher education should acknowledge it. I wish Jackson had raised this point.
Then there is the elephant in the room. It is one of the globalized mistakes of our generation with respect to labour and education. We have a global competition for productivity and efficiency. Quite rightly, these are of interest to employers trying to make the most money at the least cost in labour. But governments have rushed headlong to please employers trying to make work more and more productive, more efficient, and cheaper. Where does that leave a society that is in fact being lead in another direction. That brings us to the elephant: technology is already moving us rapidly towards a different reality.
As we globalize, become more efficient, centralize, and move offshore all that can be done cheaper elsewhere, we are able to use far fewer hours of labour to achieve all that must be done than ever before. It no longer is a question of getting our young people ready for whatever skills the job market wants, but about preparing them for a job market that won't need most of them. Those it does need, the market wants them to fill low wage positions-- in many cases requiring no skills other than the ability to live on minimum wage-- part-time at that. This process, where job markets are wanting fewer and fewer people to do the same work is hidden in part by trends towards aging. Aging reduces the number of people available for work as a percentage of the population. But population aging is a cycle and it will end, ironically maybe before we have even prepared for it.
Eventually population stabilizes and the children of today will not have a large older population to take care of. Their parents will have done that. The education system we create today must work for them as well and so must our social structure. With all the efficiency and all the ability to derive more and more profit from fewer and fewer workers, it is unrealistic to imagine any need for a 40-hour week. We, led by our corporate leaders, maintain the fantasy of a 40 hour week in order to give that precious work to fewer people, to pretend that low hourly wages are closer to living wages even though many of them are part time positions.
We used to have an idea that the more efficient we get, the more wealth we create the more we should get paid. But the market does not work that way. The more efficient we get, the fewer of us are needed to make even more money. The fewer of us who are needed, the more the employers will expect to get given the wider choice. The more taxes we must pay to cover the costs of government. The more who are unemployed the less we get paid because there are more out there who will do our work for less money. Efficiency, it turns out is not good for society, not good for people but very good for corporations who will make more money with less cost and less contribution to society. We already understand that the only thing a corporation really contributes, other than through taxes, is employment opportunity and when they say they want greater efficiency they are really promising to provide less social contribution for more profit. Their friends in government reward them by advocating that they also pay less contribution in tax. If we go through this population aging without moving towards a shorter workweek, once the population age stabilizes and there are no longer huge numbers of older consumers who are not working, unemployment could be expected to skyrocket. But that is not all that is happening.
We are seeing the effects from another trend that almost nobody is talking about. This is the convergence of tools for work and pleasure. Technology for years dreamed up new things to help us and amuse us. But what do you get the boy or girl who has everything? Eventually you get them convergence. It saves money, it saves space, it saves learning more things, it saves energy and consumption and ultimately that is good for the planet. You get them a tool that will replace two or three or ten others. You get them ways to have more fun time on fewer things. You replace their radio, hi-fi, TV, games with one thing-- a computer. Companies are working hard to dream up more things to sell but in many cases we will need fewer and fewer. And I am not complaining about that but once you only need a computer made in China for much of your work and play what exactly are we going to get workers to make here? Convergence includes whole jobs. Some of those were low wage positions but not all of them. Even heard of an architectural draftsperson? People went to university to do that. They worked with architects producing the drawing and breathing life into the design of the building. Now AutoCAD does that and if you are an architectural draftsperson you are likely to be unemployed or doing something else. There are programs that can work out much of the engineering as well-- you don't need a university educated person to work out all the loads-- if you are an architect you just need to know a bit about it and a program can work it out.But if you are someone that hires architects, you can go on line and buy a design, have a program modify it and you don't even need the architect most of the time. Or at least not as many of them. Someone now just goes over the plans that have been made so much more efficiently and they do in a short time what several people used to get their livelihood from. And that person is not paid more, likely paid less, than any of those people.
Once there are only a few things required for the consumer as we move to supertools that do everything you don't need all the specialized retail stores that sold you hardware and stereos. Even the selling has become efficient. You learn about it on your computer and go get it in a mega store from a kid being paid minimum wage to go to school for jobs that simply will not exist. And if possible, you build it yourself.
I still have not talked much about politics but we have not yet discussed public services. As we have massive convergence in so many ways there is one growth industry: healthcare. They can't make all that in China. As we cut taxes on corporations who make more money and we spend less on other services, many of which we simply stop providing as people do it themselves online, healthcare grows in proportion as it can't shrink in the way other services have. But instead of acknowledging the greater role health care and health costs play in our society and taking up the slack of other shrinking budgets and the opening of more people to do the work, corporations and their government friends weigh in again.
That healthcare did not shrink in cost as did televisions, and health services did not get reduced like other services that can be centralized or delivered online, the sector was criticized. As other industries went paperless its crime was that it did not go peopleless. For that sin, it must be cut, privatized, limited and however reduced in quality or quantity. The importance and value of healthcare is not a part of most discussions about its apparent growth in relative size. Most of the time we do not acknowledge that the growth in healthcare has been more relative to other declines than in actual size. These arguments are applied to education and most public services. So we cannot trust that even public services that cannot be made efficient by importation or done long distance from India will not expand based on the capacity we would have with all we save through other efficiency. They too, must be cut.
So the real question ought not to be how do our children for their future but how can we expect that they can be prepared for a future we who control the society of today are not preparing them for?
When was the last time you heard of a society adding up the work that must be done and dividing it by the population to work out how much work each needs to do to get their fair share of resources. Why are we not having that conversation?