Today, concert workers are a bit like the metalworkers of old, looking for a job for the day. They have the freedom, but not the predictability and protection that comes with their job. Rexnord was a place that helped its workers access drug and alcohol treatment. It paid off for you to go back to school if you wanted a degree. If you had an accident or had a child in the hospital, your coworkers would pass you a hat and collect money for you. For Shannon, a metallurgist whom I followed for the book, the factory was an anchor in an otherwise chaotic life. She knew exactly what time she needed to be at work each day and exactly what to do once there. After the factory closed, she struggled to figure out what to do with her time. She called a former factory mentor and asked him, âWill you be my boss? Some people just aren’t cut out for âconcertâ work, which to me feels much more lonely and lacking the structure, guidance, training, and long-term commitments that many people need to thrive.
Due to the pandemic, the workforce has again changed dramatically with the workforce in the leverage headquarters and companies struggling to recruit. Some call it the Great Resignation and others the Great Revaluation. How do you see it?
I think there are several things going on at the same time. Some people worked harder than ever during Covid, risking their lives. Nurses, cashiers, bus drivers, caregivers for the elderly. I expect these people to be exhausted and ready to quit just so they can rest. Others in the âknowledge economyâ continued to work from home. Many of them have continued to collect their wages, but have reduced their expenses to such an extent that they have money in the bank and time to think about what they really want to do with their lives and their needs. they really want to spend two hours a day commuting to and from work.
The habit of going to work has been broken. Many blue-collar Americans, like Shannon, had jobs that couldn’t be done at home. Many were made redundant when the economy slowed. Shannon made more money from unemployment checks during Covid than she made while working. Many people who lived from hand to mouth now have money in the bank that they did not have before. According to the JPMorgan Chase Institute, the median household checking account balance was 50% higher in July 2021 than in 2019. This means that people actually didn’t have too much financial pressure on them to return to work, even in states that have cut coverage for Covid. I expect these people to spend their savings and eventually return to work.
What are the major ongoing trends in the workplace that we need to pay attention to that could impact the future workforce?
We are entering an era of continuous learning. It is not enough to have a university degree from ten years ago. People are going to have to constantly master new skills to stay viable in the workplace. I expect to see more people rely on short technical certification courses than formal college degrees. A young friend who grew up in social housing chose to focus on getting Microsoft certifications rather than going to college, and she has done well as an office manager and now an entrepreneur. And she has no regrets about not having a four-year degree. Elite colleges will always be a thing because they are an integrated social network. But many workers and businesses will continue to find alternatives to the traditional college.
What will recent commitments in infrastructure and other regulations have on the labor economy?
I expect the infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress to produce many well-paying blue collar jobs, not only in building roads and bridges, but also laying broadband. Bringing broadband to parts of the country could be as big a problem as when the New Deal brought electricity to rural America in the 1930s. If the people of the “knowledge economy” can do their bit. work from places like Morgantown, W.Va. – which is full of ATV trails and beautiful rivers – they could settle there instead of paying billions of dollars for a house in Oakland, Calif., with no back- court. If the well-to-do digital economy workers were spread more evenly across the country, then the benefits of this part of the economy could be reaped by blue-collar workers – construction crews, restaurant staff, auto mechanics, maids. and babysitters – in the Rust Belt and beyond. This could help heal our political polarization, linked to our economic and geographic separation.