CWS 3.0: September 5, 2012

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Can Labor Keep Up with Technology?

Moore’s Law suggests that the power of technology is essentially doubling every two years or so, not quite the same speed as the advent of the agricultural and automation advances over decades. We know that the workforce in general has undergone a cataclysmic shift as a result of technology since 1980 or so and both our economy and the labor force continue to adjust as technological advances continue happening. How does a program that uses contingent workers keep up?

First, know your core competencies and invest your talent dollars in those by making sure that your core employees are skilled, maintaining the technological edge and your hardware is up to date. Second, use technology to drive contingent workforce talent acquisition and management. Third, take care of basics like infrastructure and education before your contingent workers come on board. Make sure that the contingents who are supplied to you come trained on current and upcoming technologies that affect your core competencies.

As we know, technology can mete out firm punishment to those who fall behind. Peter Diamond, the MIT economist who won a 2010 Nobel Prize for his work on market imperfections including those that affect employment, says that permanently high unemployment as a consequence of technology is not in the cards. He believes that the “nature of jobs going away has changed.  Communication and computer abilities mean that the type of jobs affected have moved up the income distribution,” he says. This can be good news if you and your workforce are keeping up with the latest in technological advances that affect your work. It also means that we are in the midst of a period of alteration as labor adjusts to continual improvements in technology. Whether a technological advance enables programmers from Eastern Europe to gain market share, automate a factory in China, enable radiology readings from India or provide recruiting services the progress of technology affects global labor every day. What will change are the skills required as technology advances, wage rates will adjust as workers either gain the skills or not. In some cases, the advances in workplace automation are being deployed at a faster pace than ever, making it more difficult for workers to adapt as their tasks can increasingly be taken over by software and robots.

Consider the agriculture industry: 90 percent of the labor market was in agriculture in the 1800s; now the industry accounts for just 2 percent of overall employment. It seems that in the shift from an agricultural society to an industrial society, most workers and companies figured out how to focus, train and reallocate skills. Remember that during the recession most of the jobs lost were not on either end of the employment spectrum but rather were those in the middle that could be replaced by technology. Yes, labor will keep up with technology but it will be different types of workers. So drive talent through technology and train your workforce so that it can keep up with technology despite Moore’s Law.

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