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Automation and Altruism: How Philanthropy Can Help People Navigate the Future of Work

  • Publication: 
    Stanford Social Innovation Review
    Date: 
    September 5, 2018

    Automation has been transforming work since the industrial revolution. The latest wave of automation technologies—spurred by increases in computing power, advances in robotics, and the rise of artificial intelligence—touches new realms of work and may change the world as we know it. Some predict a dystopian world run by robots; others envision a utopia of leisure. Meanwhile, a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) called “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained” suggests that while automation technologies will continue to lift global productivity and economic growth, they will also cause significant disruptions to labor markets as workers need to transition to new jobs with different skills.

    Philanthropists have an opportunity to improve the outcomes of this transition by increasing the overall level of giving to support workers navigating these transitions and by creatively leveraging the very technologies causing this change to help fix some of its problematic side effects.

    Improving labor market dynamism. Job seekers and employers often have difficulty finding each other. Employers complain they can’t determine prospective employees’ real skills based solely on academic credentials. Job seekers complain they don’t know what hiring managers are looking for, and they can’t find jobs to fit their skills and interest. One area ripe for philanthropic experimentation, then, is using technology to improve job matching.

    The Markle Foundation’s Rework America Task Force is doing this by bringing together CEOs, academics, and foundation and nonprofit leaders to shift hiring practices toward a more skills-based model. Working initially with the state of Colorado, Microsoft’s philanthropic arm, and LinkedIn, Markle’s Skillful initiative is piloting labor market interventions aimed at middle-skilled individuals. The effort helps businesses define what skills (not just academic degrees) they need to fill a job, and then shares that data with education providers to help them create and adapt programs to the changing labor market. It is also running an eight-month, field-and forum program for coaches at workforce centers and nonprofits to equip them with the necessary leadership skills, information, and tools they need to advise individuals on career paths and training opportunities. Finally, 20 Governors have signed up to the Skillful State Network to access a playbook of workforce best practices and tools, receive advice from Skillful staff, and share their experiences in creating a skills-based labor market.

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