Job disruption as a result of automation and new technologies accelerated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it is clearer than ever that we need to examine how forward-thinking policies might catalyze technological innovation so that it provides good jobs and promotes equitable economic growth. We need not presume that technology will work against workers. Unlike our early approach to the Internet, where policymakers stood back and let the market set the objectives, now is the time to advance good policy as these technologies grow in commercial application. An inclusive economy is central to a strong democracy, as well as a driver of economic growth and worker wellbeing.
It is important to start with a focus on the 106 million workers, almost 70 percent of the American labor market, without four-year college degrees. These workers are disproportionately people of color. So that they are not left out of the gains of a digital economy, we need to leverage policy to steer the commercialization of technology to create jobs that pay well, offer security and dignity, and provide real opportunities for advancement.
Last year, the Markle Foundation initiated The Rework America Alliance—an unprecedented nationwide collaboration of unions, employers, civil rights and non-profit organizations, and philanthropy, to enable unemployed and low-wage workers to emerge from this crisis stronger.[ii] Our research, conducted to support the work of the Alliance, shows that, even amid massive disruption, there exist meaningful pathways to good jobs for people without college degrees. We identify 77 “gateway” occupations that are affected by technology and that could provide workers with long-term economic security.[iii]We show that there is a large pool of workers who have the experience that makes them ideal candidates for these occupations. And where there is an existing skill shortfall, these workers can be trained to acquire needed additional skills. Alongside these optimistic findings, however, our research also shows that the challenges are real—without targeted interventions and innovative policies, there simply will not be enough jobs that recognize the potential of workers without college degrees.
“Unlocking Experience-Based Job Progressions for Millions of Workers,” Rework America Alliance, June 2, 2021, https://www.mckinsey.com/about-us/covid-response-center/inclusive-economy/unlocking-experience-based-job-progressions-for-millions-of-workers.
[ii]“Rework America Alliance,” Markle, accessed November 10, 2021, https://live-markle-wordpress-new.pantheonsite.io/alliance.
[iii]“Unlocking Experience-Based Job Progressions for Millions of Workers,” Rework America Alliance, June 2, 2021, https://live-markle-wordpress-new.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/Unlocking-Job-Progressions-Full-Report.pdf.