Tagworkplace futurism

Want To Unionize Developers? Focus On Workplace Democracy

I wrote at TechCrunch:

Despite the efforts of many different organizers over the years software developers have resisted unionization. The relatively high pay and good working conditions of developers, the stereotype of geeks as loners and the general decline of unions in the U.S. are all commonly cited reasons. But maybe unions are failing in tech because they’re not addressing the real issue: giving developers more control over their work life.

Developers want autonomy. They don’t want to be jerked around by stupid managers who impose unrealistic deadlines, make impossible promises to clients and just generally disrespect their employees. Historically developers have had two options for dealing with bad management: find a better job or found a startup. But worker self-management would offer a third options — give the developers control over their own work.

Companies like Valve prove that self-management can work in the software industry. Unionization could potentially provide a path to that sort of workplace structure, if organizers can move up Maslow’s pyramid a bit.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Want To Unionize Developers? Focus On Workplace Democracy

5 Careers Expected to Have Shortages in the Next Decade

For a report titled “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future,” McKinsey Global Instititute conducted research that included sector analysis, interviews with human resource executives, a survey of business leaders and the firm’s own scenario analysis and modeling.

According to McKinsey, the U.S would need to create 21 million new jobs to put unemployed Americans back to work and employ a growing population. Only the most optimistic scenario shows a return to full employment before 2020. The report notes, as others have, that the length of recovery after each recession since WWII gets longer and longer.

Also, according to the report, “too few Americans who attend college and vocational schools choose fields of study that will give them the specific skills that employers are seeking.” McKinsey cited a few specific vocations that, based on its interviews, employers expect to have more vacancies than they can fill. Here are the five professions mentioned in the report, along with some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I have no idea what sort of track record the BLS has for its projections, so be warned).

Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Dietitians and Nutritionists:

2010 Median Pay: $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour

Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree (along with state certification)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

According to the Wikipedia nutritionist entry:

Some use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” as basically interchangeable. However in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught.[2] In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected, whereas the title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”

According to the Wikipedia dietitian entry:

Besides academic education, dietitians must complete at least 1200 hours of practical, supervised experience through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. In a coordinated program, students acquire internship hours concurrently with their coursework. In a didactic program, these hours are obtained through a dietetic internship that is completed after obtaining a degree.

Welders

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers:

2010 Media pay: $35,450 per year or $17.04 per hour.

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent (“Training ranges from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low-skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs.”)

Job Outlook, 2010-2020: 15% (About average)

Nurse’s aides

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants:

2010 Median Pay: $24,010 per year or $11.54 per hour.

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Job outlook 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)

Nuclear technicians

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.”

2010 Median Pay: $68,090 per year, $32.73 per hour.

Entry-level education: Associate’s degree (plus extensive on the job training)

Job Outlook, 2010-20: 14% (About as fast as average)

Computer specialists and engineers

This is obviously a giant bucket that includes a wide range of jobs. I don’t know much about traditional engineering fields like civil or mechanical engineering, but computer tech changes quick. People with the right skills can command high salaries, but people with outdated skills can be unemployed for years at a time. My colleague Alex Williams recently wrote about which tech skills are growing fastest (hint: mobile application development is huge).

Where Do Companies Get Ideas for New Robots? They Look at Areas with Lots of Manual Labor

Cup of Robots

Julia Kirby writes:

I heard about other applications — the use of robots to inspect sewers for damage, to automate warehouse operations, to harvest crops in fields. The list goes on. In response to one would-be entrepreneur’s question, “How do you come up with a good idea to turn into a business?” a panel of CEOs had no end of answers.

Charles Grinnell, who leads Harvest Automation, said simply: look at places where there is still a lot of manual labor. When his team did that, he says they narrowed things down to 15 very viable product ideas. Deborah Theobald, CEO of Vecna Technologies, put it this way: “In whatever field you work in—ours is healthcare—you see what the issues are. If as you look around, robots are on your mind, you see the applications everywhere.”

Harvard Business Review: Seeing Robots Everywhere

(via Race Against the Machine)

Artwork by hobvias sudoneighm

Degree Inflation as Predicted in 1975

Andrew McAfee points to this passage from economist Thomas Sowell’s Race and Economics in 1975:

The widespread use of high school diplomas and college degrees as employment screening devices by employers has led to a belief that increasing education will increase opportunities, and/or that the reason for escalating educational “requirements” is a corresponding increase in the knowledge necessary to perform a given job. The well-organized education lobbies exploit these beliefs to the fullest. In fact, however, educational ”requirements” are often used by employers who are wholly unconcerned about the specific content of the education, but who regards a diploma or degree as an indication of the job applicant’s willingness to persevere and his grades as a rough index of his mental capability. The educational requirements are a hurdle which eliminates enough job applicants to narrow the employer’s choice down to manageable proportions. By making it possible for more young people to go over a given hurdle, society also makes it necessary for employers to raise the hurdle in order to weed out the same proportion of applicants. The result has been an upward spiral of credentials and requirements with more and more young people being forced to endure more and more years of education that they do not want in order to qualify for jobs where the education is not needed. As more and more jobs have been put beyond the reach of those without the necessary credentials, whether or not such individuals can do the work itself, those ethnic minorities who are not traditionally oriented toward formal education are particularly hard hit.

McAfee adds: “Higher education has become much more expensive, student loans now account for more debt in America than do credit cards, and a lot of diploma mills (by which I do not just mean for-profit universities) have sprung up.”

Andrew McAfee: Education and Employment: Some Thoughts Against the Conventional Wisdom

I would add to the list of woes the sorry amount of actual learning that seems to go on in universities.

McAfee also discusses briefly potential solutions.

My Interview with Bruce Sterling and Vernor Vinge on Augmented Reality in the Workplace

Here’s my interview with Bruce Sterling and Vernor Vinge on augmented reality in the workplace. Bruce, Vernor and several others will be speaking at are2011 May 17-18.

I told Sterling and Vinge that I thought that apart from gaming, AR would be most useful to professionals. Yet the only widespread use of AR that I could think of outside of gaming and marketing is in the military. I asked Sterling and Vinge whether they thought AR would be more useful in the civilian workplace than in consumer technology. “The consumer coverage hasn’t covered the most important applications in that domain either,” Vinge said. “AR will be enormously useful in both domains, with the consumer end providing social acceptance and product pricing to further encourage workplace changes.”

Sterling pointed out that “Every medium in a capitalist society has ‘marketing gimmicks.’ TV, cinema, Internet, newspapers, recorded music, even sci-fi novels have gimmicks. Even if AR gets terrifically good at doing something more serious, those marketing gimmicks are not going away.”

Sterling also emphasized that AR needn’t be a stand-alone industry. There’s room for many technologies that apply the general idea of AR.

ReadWriteWeb: Bruce Sterling and Vernor Vinge on Augmented Reality in the Workplace

The Future of Manufacturing is Local

iPad covers manufacture

Good stuff, but I couldn’t help getting this icky “all those people who have been downsized and laid-off and otherwise had their lives destroyed by the hollowing out of the U.S. economy just just need to shut-up, stop complaining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” vibe from the article.

“Manufacturing isn’t dead and doesn’t need to be preserved,” she says. “Let’s stop fixating on what’s lost. Let’s see what we have here, what’s doing well, and let’s help those folks do better.” […]

SFMade helps companies assess a product’s “manufacturability,” which sometimes results in an adjustment of (for instance) the design, to make it easier and less costly to manufacture. SFMade will then help companies either connect to existing contract manufacturing resources in the city or establish their own production capacity. Instead of assuming that things like sewing, printing and assembly need to happen overseas, SFMade is working to reconnect local production capacity to big companies (i.e., San Francisco-based Levi’s, exploring the possibility of local sample production). Other large San Francisco-based corporations have initiated relationships with SFMade, like Bank of America (which felt it had lost its footing as a “local” business) and Virgin America (which features local products for sale onboard its aircraft and in their San Francisco terminal). […]

Similar efforts are happening in New York (and indeed, The Times’ City Blog spotlighted the things still made in the city, from lightbulbs to envelopes, in the Made in N.Y.C. series two years ago). Though it launched post-9/11 as a strategy to lift the city back up, Made in N.Y.C. has evolved over time. Sustainability has become a large part of its mission: member companies can post the environmental impacts of their manufacturing processes on the Made in N.Y.C. Web site, with those excelling in greener process and product able to earn a “green apple.” Tying economic growth inextricably to environmental stewardship has so far been a strong strategy.

New York Times: The Future of Manufacturing Is Local

(via Chris)

Robots, Automation and the Future of Work

This is a presentation by Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works. He’s written more extensively on the subject in an essay called Robotic Nation, which I haven’t read yet.

I think Brain might be overestimating the ability of machine-vision and natural language processing to supplant human intelligence, but the general trend towards fewer and fewer jobs is real one that I’ve written about a lot lately.

(via Justin Pickard)

Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

not hiring

I have a new piece on the dismal impact of information technology on the workforce at ReadWriteWeb:

Last week we told you that enterprises are investing more into business intelligence and analytics initiatives. This week there’s more good news for professionals in this area: according to KDNuggets, salaries are rising for analytics and data mining professionals.

Based on a poll with approximately 250 respondents, KDNuggets found that salaries are up from its 2010 poll in North America, Western Europe, Asia and Latin America. (There is no mention of Eastern Europe, Africa or Antarctica.)

It’s a good time to be a geek, particularly one with a background in statistics, analytics and data mining. But a bad time to be almost any other type of worker.

For example, The New York Times reported on software that can process legal documents at a fraction of the cost of hiring lawyers and paralegals:

“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”

That’s good news for the people who develop that software. But for people in the legal profession? Not so much.

ReadWriteWeb: Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

Supplemental reading:

Paul Krugman: Degrees and Dollars

Paul Krugman: Autor! Autor!

Krugman, again, on the same issue back in 1996

And, less dreary but probably less realistic:

Jobs 2.0: Data-centric Jobs for Generation Y

Photo by Daniel Lobo

Is IT Investment Hurting US Job Growth?

not hiring

Here’s my coverage of how information technology may be hurting the economy:

Forrester released today a report called Caution: IT Investment May Be Hurting US Job Growth. The report’s authors – Andrew Bartels, Christopher Mines and Sarah Musto – note that despite record corporate profits, unemployment remains unchanged. Forrester notes that poor job growth both causes and is caused by poor economic growth. It’s a vicious cycle.

The report suggests that corporations are investing in IT instead of hiring workers. The analysts looked at research from 62 industries to find out what’s going on. The report says that the industries with the highest IT investment are also the ones with the biggest decline in jobs. The analysts conclude that there is a causal connection between IT investment growth and the lack of employment growth.

Forrester is not the first to suggest this. Gartner VP and fellow Tom Austin’s blog post on the same subject lead us to ask last year “What Can IT Do To Stimulate the Job Market?” And AMI Partners claimed last year that cloud computing would result in 200,000 – 250,000 job losses over the next decade. […]

“Looking across these 62 private sector industries, we found a modest but statistically significant inverse or negative correlation between IT investment and employment,” the report says. The effect was most pronounced in manufacturing.

ReadWriteWeb: Forrester: Is IT Investment Hurting US Job Growth?

See also:

Great Demands from Employers Mean Jobs Go Unfilled Even with High Unemployment

What Can IT Do To Stimulate the Job Market?

Photo by Daniel Lobo

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