Tender

Tender

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Contingency



Employees are a pain. They complain. They expect. They need training. They need benefits. They get sick. They don't always get along. They ask challenging questions at All Hands presentations and set each other off. They make mistakes. They show up late. They always want more money and less work.

It's not that employers don't appreciate what the employees DO provide - that's what they're paid for. If they didn't provide value, they certainly wouldn't be there. So the rest - the rest is additional cost, the overhead of using human machines to produce value. Employers tolerate it, but they want to reduce those costs. They want fewer human machines involved in the production of value. It's an unspoken preoccupation.

To be fair, having employees is expensive. It's considered one of the most expensive parts of doing business. Employers are on the hunt for ways to save. Employees, unfortunately, are not like the nuts and bolts that don't mind when you switch suppliers. 

Employers love a contingent workforce. People who are trained and capable, ready to work, but if you don't need them today you don't need to pay them. Sometimes you need them every day for years, but when you're done, you say, thanks, see you around. That is ideal. 

We have failed to provide a contingent workforce. 

First, we have allowed our education systems to lapse in an industrial-based model that does not adequately incorporate principles of learning and human development explored in the last 20 years. This education system produces too many assembly-line humans and far too few custom or high-end-general-purpose humans. The cost of post-secondary education acts as a dissuasion for any exceptional humans that could be further refined. By not investing adequately in individualized learning focused on developing and expanding on each human's strengths, we have failed to keep up with the employers' need for talent.

In parallel, we have established a jobs-based system of economics that under-values and de-values critical components of the economy (such as the work of households and the work of caring for dependent humans) while establishing employer-paid work as the primary source of basic bodily needs. Thus, the human machines we produce from our education system must, themselves, find and secure continuous paid employment in order to remain alive among their own society. Unfortunately, since most are not qualified for the requirements of employers, they vie for lower-skill jobs, undercutting each other and even the government's regulations in order to work cheaply. They must. 

And those are also the humans responsible for the learning, nutrition and care of other humans, especially those who are children being educated in our outdated systems. Those individuals who did not become expensively trained, who are working very long hours for very little money, are left with little time, energy, patience or enthusiasm. They do their best for their kids. Their best, under their circumstances, often provides inadequate supplementary learning to permit their children to "pop up" at the end of school as eligible for scholarships or as capable of participating in the post-secondary education necessary to ensure consistent employment.

So we've screwed people both directions and we leave more behind each year. It's not getting better. The "labour shortage" to come is only in expensive jobs, needing expensively-trained humans. With automation, we will continue to need fewer and fewer assembly-line human machines doing low skill work.That's what robots are for, and they are far, far better machines. What do we do with all those people we produced when we can't sell them to employers to pay for their feed and shelter, even as contingency?

I attended a conference on Basic Incomes a few weeks ago, and became increasingly intrigued with the idea of somehow tying a basic income concept to what employers really want - a ready, contingent workforce to whom they owe nothing but an hour's pay (and not even that if you can get away with it...) I wonder about a negative income tax approach where a person who worked would never make less than LICO (the poverty line, for most intents and purposes). What would happen if people could live as a contingent workforce without the constant threat of income instability?

But what about the poor employers, happy to have their hourly contingent but still waiting for their high-end Custom and General-Purpose "knowledge" workers? 

I've observed that, when humans are not feeling desperate, they start thinking and acting with more hope. I often converse with people called "working poor" (people who work at least 35 and often up to 85 hours a week, but still struggle to make rent and food due to low pay, transportation and childcare costs) When I ask what they would do with $1,000 a month, no strings, it's amazing. Almost invariably they say one of four things*, two of which are relevant here. One: they would put the money into their children - lessons and activities, saving for University. Two: they would go back to school themselves, evenings or even full time. 

It's just possible that creating more security for the humans produced by our existing systems might lead to more people taking their own initiative and managing to "pop up" into the Qualification Zone for the jobs employers most want filled. Now imagine if we combined that strategy with an education-system reboot.

Oh, and it's not too expensive. 

In fact, when you look at the whole person, whole society, and all the costs across government levels, it's cheaper. Start here if you don't buy it, and move on to a full report. 

What we lack isn't knowledge, ideas or even evidence on what works. What we lack is effective political leadership sharply focused on making our country a great nation where most citizens can live and work in peace, with as much freedom as possible. The political focus has become diluted with other concerns. Freedom and peace have taken a back seat to "security" and growth. 

So, what's next?



*The other two things people would do with $1000 a month? savings for emergencies, and paying off debt. No one has ever said they would quit their job or even reduce hours worked, except to upgrade skills and education, or spend more time caring for young children. I have asked at least 150 people this question.

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