Emerging Influences on the Future of Work
Pam Sornson, JD
The disparities embedded in today’s society have a negative impact on everyone. Workers who aren’t compensated appropriately often rely on already stressed public resources to make up the difference. Those public assistance reserves are limited at the best of times; people compelled to seek that support are also often unable to put back into those coffers what they are taking out. The ultimate consequence is that the whole community suffers when its reservoir of assets (both human and material) is depleted.
The new year promises to be momentous as society continues its course out of the chaos of the pandemic and into its re-envisioned economic future. Three emerging influences appear to be rising rapidly, and each offers a unique context in which to examine nascent workforce development opportunities:
The newly launched Infrastructure Bill, and
The possibilities afforded to all through a centrally sited EWD department in every community college.
Themes one and two arise in the technology and economic policy sectors, and both of those are potent influences on theme three. Throughout 2024, we will be tracking the evolution of these phenomena, with particular attention paid to how technology and policy impact higher education. The focus will be on how well – if at all – innovations in the greater workforce development sector can reverse the erosion of economic health caused by the pandemic and previously accepted social policies.
Artificial Intelligence: Friend or Foe?
Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) is the product of decades of development, beginning in its current iteration when Alan Turing published his treatise, “Computer Machinery and Intelligence,” in 1950. Already, AI responsible for ‘automating’ many jobs, making them more productive while reducing both their errors and their costs.
However, recently released digital applications (“ChatGPT,” as an example) are challenging many traditional occupations by taking over some or all of their functions, effectively displacing the humans who previously had performed those tasks. In many, many cases, the results are overwhelmingly positive:
Doctors can make more accurate diagnoses so patients get better treatment;
Automated drones can access locations where humans cannot go, and the images they collect provide exceptional data that may not have been discovered otherwise;
People with disabilities now have automated tools that facilitate experiences they would never have encountered.
As laudable as those accomplishments are, however, the technology also comes with many drawbacks and challenges. The reality is that AI doesn’t actually ‘think’ independently like a human does. Instead, it scours billions of digital files to find those it determines to be most ‘related’ to the question posed. The program does NOT also determine the accuracy, truthfulness, or relevance of the data it produces; it simply posts it for the reader to consume ‘as is.’ Too many people are already relying on AI to provide them with accurate, timely information related to their computer queries, but because the user can’t tell whether what they’re reading is actually applicable to their situation, any subsequent decisions they make based on that erroneous ‘information’ can be disastrous.
Despite these conflicting attributes, AI is here to stay, and its influence on industry, the workforce, and the economy will continue to grow. The next step in mastering it will be to ensure that people who use it understand that they can’t or shouldn’t rely on it as a credible resource.
Now two years old, the IIJA has had a significant impact on the country’s economy. As a government investment vehicle, the Act is substantial:
It provides 452 distinct ‘funding pots’ that offer
Over $850 billion in funding options.
Overall, the Bill is expected to invest $1.2 trillion in rebuilding the country’s aging and decaying foundations.
Major construction and reconstruction projects, such as bridge and tunnel repairs, long-deferred highway maintenance, and environmental cleanups, are now underway, providing well-paying jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Its companion law, the Build Back Better Act (signed into law August 16, 2022), directs funding toward projects supporting economic development activities, including financial resources for child care, elder care, rebates, and tax incentives for environmentally sensitive initiatives. Its Registered Apprentice program provides funding for thousands of paid on-the-job training opportunities across virtually all industries.
Not least, both Acts mandate intentional remedial actions to ‘level America’s economic playing field’ that is now so rife with inequities and disparities.
The Expansion of Workforce Development Hubs within California’s Community Colleges
Admittedly, this premise is still just that: a possible response to the nation’s current challenge of finding appropriate job training and education for its unemployed that also responds to the high industrial demand for skilled labor. California’s community college system is a world-class network of educators, innovators, and collaborators. Together, these 116 schools offer courses and programs to almost two million students each year. Their impact on their local community is enormous and growing.
They are also at the center of the State’s investment in its economic infrastructure. The leaders in Sacramento have poured billions of dollars into developing their higher education system into a workforce development incubator. Their intentions and investments direct school administrators to build partnerships and strategies with neighboring businesses and industries to align those labor demands with the training programs the schools will provide. These propositions have been manifesting over the past several years and are already showing success in many locations. The current scheme is to continue this forward momentum until every corner of the state has in place the labor development tools it needs for its local and regional economies to thrive.
The lessons learned throughout 2023 about how society values (or doesn’t value) its human labor assets will inform our analysis of 2024’s economic development actions. We hope you continue to follow our progress. Thank you for your continued support of our work.
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