Keeping Up


Technology Review takes us through the “tectonic shifts” occurring in employment (trends we’ve been talking about for some time):

The United States faces a protracted unemployment crisis: 6.3 million fewer Americans have jobs than was true at the end of 2007. And yet the country’s economic output is higher today than it was before the financial crisis. Where did the jobs go? Several factors, including outsourcing, help explain the state of the labor market, but fast-advancing, IT-driven automation might be playing the biggest role.

There are no easy answers to this problem. Employment is becoming a game of musical chairs in which automation (along with other other drivers) is pulling chairs out of the ring while the tempo of the music gets faster and faster.

But the solution (or at least part of the solution) may lie in how the problem is framed in the passage quoted above. We’re producing more than we did in 2007, and with a smaller workforce. It’s entirely possible that come 2017, we’ll be producing even more with an even smaller workforce. The trick is to produce something new. Of course, it it still has to be needed, wanted, etc. — “new” alone won’t cut it.

The idea is that if you can produce something that automation hasn’t caught up with yet, there is a place for you in the workforce until automation does catch up. That sounds really hard and iffy, but maybe that’s only because it assumes a somewhat different perspective than the one we’ve had.  Once upon a time, having a job required (among other things) acquiring a skill set to address a defined need or set of needs. Going forward, we may have to be the ones defining the needs — and then defining the skill sets that go with them.

That definitely sounds harder, but it provides us a creative contribution to the process that we never had before.

Image via Wikimedia Commons


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  19. 2011-12-26 22:12:08

    We are in a very frustrating interim period between established manufacturing formats right now. A modest commercial-grade fabricator runs about $15k, about what a new baseline car or pick-up truck costs. While there is a readily available market of credit and business opportunity for the latter category of purchase, you pretty much need to be able to front the cash for the former (in large part because there is little common recognition of individual business opportunity attached to private ownership of such a machine). An interesting opportunity might exist as a result. By producing a (initially on-line) video series that has one actual fabrication expert leading several "ordinary Joe's/Jane's" through the development curve to becoming "professional fabricators", it would be possible to increase common awareness of this rapidly developing technology as well as the availability of opportunity/means for them (the audience) to become professional fabber's themselves. If the video production values were of sufficiently high enough quality to translate to television, there would be considerable opportunity to attract advertisers for a more extensive (and structured for broadcast television requirements) production that used much of the previously recorded video in the new program. A forward thinking company could even structure the series to emphasise it's own product as an intrinsic part of the series programming. Such a series would need to go into considerable detail about the marketing and contracting aspects of a manufacture-to-order business model, as much for potential fabbers in the audience as for those in the financial industry. Call the series "Making Merlin" maybe, what with the "magic" of deposition fabrication vs traditional manufacturing methods. Whatever the method chosen to do so though, making the transition from the historical Industrial Revolution model that we are experiencing the gradual end of into the next iteration of product development, manufacturing and marketing needs to be accellerated and made as broadly available as can be arranged.

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