Sunday, January 28, 2018

Time Value: Reskilling, or Perhaps Reorientation?

Should we focus entirely on reskilling for our (hopeful) inclusion in future workplaces? After all, reskilling implies shedding for good, previous skills investments on our part which are supposedly outdated. Yet many of us have committed extensive resources over the course of a lifetime, for the costs of economic access, with limited results. While lost skills value on our part is sometimes true, perhaps it would be worth our while, to examine more closely, whether the "broken value" of our skills capacity is not always so.

I've questioned "useless" skills consensus, in part because much of what we learn and experience, also provides value for others in contexts beyond our present day workplaces. These informal contexts deserve more of our attention than they've received, thus far. Indeed, I found reason to question the rationale of "useless skill" in the early nineties. Upon losing a valued job, I was told certain work opportunities were "disappearing" and I should consider a career change, yet younger individuals were still being hired in a position I'd recently paid more than a thousand dollars to acquire. While the rationale for that lost job opportunity (automation) could have been understandable, how to explain the fact that individuals younger than myself, were still preparing for essentially the same work?

Granted, these new hires were coming in with more (skill specific) formal education, than what was necessary when I entered office work. Even now, many office responsibilities are still secretarial in nature, but full time secretarial work with benefits is mostly reserved for those with college degrees. That long ago job loss was frustrating, since secretarial work was strongly recommended by my family (and a few bosses as well) for those such as myself who didn't complete college. Fifteen years after my first office work, when so many baby boomers were let go, it was easier for many of us who lost the opportunity cost gamble, to simply restart in a new direction, rather than prolong the frustration by suing for discrimination when our jobs went to younger workers.

As it turned out, the secretarial job loss would not be the only lost investment in economic access. Plus, later investment losses for self employment ventures were much higher. Life experiences such as these, make me question the idea of reskilling as capable of solving future employment needs for all concerned. In particular: When our institutions no longer need the workforce capacity that was once necessary, it's time to reconsider how our mutual commitments with one another, might safely take place well into the future.

Present day firms will continue to discriminate from pools of potential job applicants, simply because it is so easy to do so. There's a lot more of us looking for meaningful economic engagement, than society is presently organized to accommodate. Worse, this circumstance has created false impressions that vast numbers of us aren't "up to speed" or "good enough", for something as incredibly basic in life as economic participation.

Meanwhile, others keep telling the marginalized how we are making the "wrong" human capital investment choices, even as policy makers cross their fingers and insist all citizens will somehow be able to adapt, to today's increasingly concentrated institutional needs. From a recent report by the World Economic Forum:
Economic value creation is increasingly based on the use of ever higher levels of specialized skills and knowledge, creating unprecedented new opportunities for some while threatening to leave behind a significant share of the workforce. In a recent survey of OECD countries, more than one in four adults report a mismatch between their current skills sets and the qualifications required to do their jobs.
One in four? What does the high institutional mismatch suggest, about the ways we are currently going about all this? The report continues:
Even among people formerly working good jobs, disrupting technological and socio-economic forces threaten to swiftly outdate the shelf life of people's skill sets.
At the very least, we observe a wide range of multiple skill sets in our personal lives which we highly value - from the practical to the experiential. But we have inexplicably lost the social and economic context by which we could make them valid, on terms that could be mutually honored. Perhaps all of this is less a matter of reskilling, and more a matter of desperately needed reorientation.

Some economists now argue that if fewer of us go to college, businesses may once again become willing to hire folks without college degrees. If only this were true, but it scarcely seems likely for firms which still offer full time employment with benefits. And this is the kind of work which presently allows people to take responsibility for their lives. Even though the exhaustive costs of reskilling pay off in some instances, many can't reasonably afford to place their bets on this approach. Chances are, the status quo workplace of the near future is only going to need a mere fraction of today's humanity. The rest us would do well, to reorient how we approach mutual employment and economic engagement.

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