WorkingNation Founder and CEO Art Bilger delivered a powerful message to New York’s economic developers Wednesday at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the NY State Economic Development Council.
The conference centered around the theme “READY OR NOT: Innovation and the Future of Work” and featured comprehensive education forums designed to support economic developers as they anticipate and plan a response to the future of work’s rapidly changing dynamics within labor and real estate markets.
You may be wondering why Art was chosen to speak at the conference. His background is in investing, which means it’s important for him to think about large-scale economic trends and what their impact could be.
Art started WorkingNation in 2015 after realizing that even the most informed and thoughtful bankers, economists, and investors that he encountered were only beginning to grasp this huge issue.
This came to a head at a Deutsche Bank dinner he attended three years ago.
Art noticed that some of the smartest people in the country were gathered to talk about macroeconomic trends that could impact the U.S. economy and it turns out that very few people were focused on structural unemployment. He realized, if these people were just beginning to understand these challenges, the average American worker must have no idea what’s coming. Art felt it was important not to just stand by and watch it happen, so he founded WorkingNation.
At WorkingNation, our first goal is to ring the alarm about the rapidly changing employment demands on the U.S. workforce – and get stakeholders to begin thinking about the problem.
Our second goal is to highlight and promote the grassroots solutions that are already in place throughout this country – the wide range of corporate, nonprofit, academic, and local government programs and initiatives that are already preparing American workers for a changing labor market – so that we can begin to scale and expand them.
Art feels strongly that while we do have the ability to address this problem, we are going to have to act much faster and on a much larger scale than we currently are. And we are going to have to act starting now.
“Here in New York, we are seeing many of the same trends that exist on the national level when it comes to changing labor market,” he advised during his speech. Art referred to a Wall Street Journal report from several months back showed that New York State is home to several of the places most affected by globalization factors – such as the rise of Chinese manufacturing – over the past two decades.
Places like Amsterdam, Poughkeepsie, Olean, Binghamton, and others across the state have seen many of their traditional manufacturing jobs evaporate due to globalization. The workers that filled them – largely middle class people with no greater than a high school degree – often lack additional education or training that would allow them to easily transition to a different career.
“It’s also important to note,” he advised, “that even while globalization has eliminated millions of jobs in the United States between 1999 and 2011, total U.S. employment rose 2.1 million to 132.9 million in the same period.”
This raises an illuminating fact – Simple job creation alone won’t save the American middle class. All jobs are not created equal.
Improving the outlook for the American worker will not be about creating millions of minimum wage jobs. It will be about creating sustainable, skilled employment that allows a livable wage for people to continue to support their families and live a middle-class lifestyle. Unfortunately, many of the people being squeezed don’t have the education levels to easily navigate a mid-career career change, which is why new innovative and scalable training and education programs are so important.
Nationally, there are 2 million jobs openings in manufacturing alone that won’t be filled because employers can’t find workers with the STEM skills to do them. That’s concerning, in part, because STEM jobs in New York State have a median hourly wage of $41.74, which is nearly 60 percent higher than the comparable wages for non-STEM job titles, according to the New York Department of Labor. Certain jobs may be going away, but growth industries – such health care, green energy, robotics, and STEM – are showing promise for workers who can adapt and develop the appropriate skills to fill these jobs.
Art and WorkingNation believe that much of this work will fall to local public-private partnerships and grassroots non-profits. Here in New York, we have a perfect example how this can work in Bronx-based Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute or PHI.
PHI trains home health care workers to use technology as a tool in caring for their patients. This affordable training allows home health care workers in New York not only to improve the care they provide to their patients, but also increase the wages they earn doing it, and cut health care costs with fewer trips to the emergency room.
It’s really a win for everyone involved. PHI’s initiative has set home health care workers in New York on a path to more sustainable living wages and in many cases, has put them in an active learning mindset that encourages them to continue their training and obtain more advanced and better paying nursing certifications.
‘It can’t be overstated how vital this type of program is,” Art said. “At least 630,000 new home care-related jobs will be added in the United States by 2024. In New York State alone, the number of home health aides is expected to grow by 45 percent by 2024.And yet most people in the profession earn wages less than $9.50 per hour.”
It isn’t just the lowest-wage healthcare jobs that are poised to boom either. There is already a growing demand for various medical technologist and technician positions that offer good pay and don’t require a bachelor’s degree. As more and more people turn to healthcare for employment in the coming years, it will be imperative that programs like PHI’s Care Connection Senior Aide Initiative are in place to ensure that these jobs are a viable profession with livable wages and opportunities for growth.
WorkingNation believes there should be a program like PHI’s in communities across the country, just as there should be similar initiatives focused on training and advancing workers in other growth sectors too.
Art offered New York stakeholders the call to action, “to learn about and borrow from some of the successful programs happening around the country and begin to implement and scale similar programs right here at home.”
That’s part of what WorkingNation is trying to do. Bring attention to the solutions that are working so that others can borrow and benefit from their success.