Greetings from the real economy. I’m Steve Lohr, a tech reporter for The Times, and I tend to focus on the effects of technology beyond Silicon Valley. No question, the Valley is a wellspring of innovation and home to the ascendant digital corporate giants, both feared and admired. But it’s just a sliver of the $20 trillion American economy.
Technology is only a tool in service of greater ends, and those ends presumably extend beyond creating billionaires and enriching investors. The larger agenda, in economic terms, includes growth, productivity, living standards and jobs.
Let’s take one of those economic ingredients — jobs.
Forecasts of technology’s impact on jobs run the spectrum from apocalyptic to sanguine, depending largely on the pace of progress in artificial intelligence. But there is a consistency to the serious research on the coming course of automation: In the near term, occupations are more likely to be transformed by digital technology than destroyed by it.
But a decade or so out, there will be big changes. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that up to a third of the American work force will have to switch to new occupations by 2030.
The work of the future, it seems clear, is going to be digitally inflected. Software skills are increasingly essential to every field. Most tech workers no longer work in the tech industry, and that trend is accelerating.
The biggest challenge is finding pathways to good jobs in the modern economy for the two-thirds of Americans who do not have four-year college degrees. Addressing that challenge is the focus of policymakers, state and local governments, some companies, and several nonprofits like the Markle Foundation and Opportunity@Work.
These efforts are typically not far along yet, but the ones that seem to work best are collaborations — public-private partnerships that also involve nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.