Along with Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Zoë Baird ran Markle’s Rework America initiative, and invited me to join the task force as a member. That invitation was a major contribution to the thinking behind this event. I had long been interested in what people were calling the peer economy and other ways that technology is changing the ways of work, but during the year and a half I spent working with Zoë on the Rework America initiative, I saw that there was a much bigger story, including the decline of the American middle class, the role of ethics in the prosperity of nations, and how big dreams about what work needs to be done to build a better future is the one sure way to create jobs.
— Tim O’Reilly
The United States has the opportunity to become a world leader in defining digital age jobs. We are already significantly ahead in creating technology tools and services, and we are on the threshold of a new era of data-driven progress where the jobs of the future will not look like the jobs of the past. The economic growth technology has generated to date has not been widely shared, however, and we therefore also face intractable unemployment, widespread decline in real wages, and a growing national bitterness and divisiveness.
How can there be so many paths to opportunity with so few people traveling them?
We have at our fingertips the power of Internet-based platform marketplaces, and the enormous potential of data and analytics—but they are still exceptions to the norm. We need to fully integrate them into mainstream work and upgrade jobs so that, empowered with information, we develop millions of more valuable workers—and train a new generation to succeed within that context as second nature.
In the modern economy, information, power, and the ability to make things happen are all distributed, rather than concentrated. So why are people’s capacities judged solely by old centralized markers like a high school or college diploma.… The old system of credentialing talent is antiquated. Blue-collar, white-collar—it’s a hierarchy that doesn’t accurately reflect people’s abilities, and handcuffs employers to ineffective metrics when trying to find new workers or fill open positions. Job categories, and the skills they require, are changing every day. We require new ways of categorizing and credentialing talent—one in which no worker or employer is limited by arbitrary delineations.
Automation and technology’s efficiencies are rendering many jobs obsolete and dramatically altering millions of others. Today, the lives of many working Americans are getting worse even as the Internet gets better. This is the first recovery in at least 50 years in which real wages for most have declined. The share of middle-income jobs in the U.S. has fallen significantly as low-income jobs have increased. The relative decline in real wages is greatly unfavorable to the less educated, particularly those without four-year college degrees, a group that comprises 70% of all Americans. We cannot accept that continued progress in technology will be accompanied by a hollowing out of the middle class. We must start thinking systematically about how everyone can benefit from the new tools of the information revolution.
Zoë Baird is CEO and president of the Markle Foundation, which works to address some of the nation’s most challenging issues in health, national security, and the economy. She leads Rework America, a national initiative of diverse leaders who offer a bold vision for Americans in today’s economy in their collectively authored book, America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age. Zoë previously served as senior vice president and general counsel at Aetna, counsel and staff executive at General Electric, partner at O’Melveny & Myers, associate counsel to President Carter, and as attorney-advisor at the U.S. Department of Justice. She is a board member of the Chubb Corporation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group.
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