John Naisbitt in Megatrends wrote, “Whenever a new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response—that is, high touch—or the technology is rejected … We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature.”
That was 1982, last millenium, decades ago. Well, was he right? In his book, A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink asserts that ‘high touch’ along with ‘high concept’ will drive the job opportunities of the U.S. workforce in the 21st century. Yes, that’s his premise. Let that thought steep a while before going on…
Our nation was founded upon an agrarian society and, in fact, our Founding Fathers believed that farming would be the standard occupation for a vast majority of the citizens forever. Such is wisdom. Yet that held true for many decades thereafter. Then came the industrial age when today’s Rust Belt cities boomed and farmers threw down their pitchforks and punched their factory time card instead. One need look no farther than the city of Detroit as a sad example of the end of the industrial age in the U.S. Asians figured it out for a fraction of the cost of labor.
The Information Age sprouted with high-tech purporting to be the savior for our displaced workers. Computers were all the rage and displaced factory workers were retrained in computer skills as they replaced their blue collars for white. Yet, Asians looked at us and they, too, figured out that computer skills and high-tech jobs were the future. Pink notes that each year, India’s colleges and universities produce about 350,000 engineering graduates. “Any job that is English-based in markets such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia can be done in India,” wrote the London Financial Times.
Outsourcing means money- not for the American worker- but for the corporation. Where are Apple’s IPhones manufactured? Pink writes, “Throughout India, you’ll find chartered accountants who prepare American tax returns, lawyers who do legal research for American lawsuits, and radiologists who read CAT scans for American hospitals.”
‘According to Forrester Research, “at least 3.3 million white-collar jobs and $ 136 billion in wages will shift from the U.S. to low-cost countries like India, China, and Russia” by 2015.’
Pink notes, “If standardized, routine [knowledge-based] work such as many kinds of financial analysis, radiology, and computer programming can be done for a lot less overseas and delivered to clients instantly via fiber optic links, that’s where the work will go.”
Advice from parent to child on career opportunities clearly has evolved in American homes through the centuries. ‘Find a good mule’ became ‘find a factory job.’ Then, ‘go to college.’ ‘Become computer savvy.’
So the conundrum for the U.S. parent now becomes: What advice to you give to your high school child? Where are the jobs, what are the jobs of the 21st century? What skills does he/she need to compete in the American market? Or does he/she need to move to Asia?
Further, what should U.S. schools be emphasizing in order to prepare the students for the 21st century? Math priorities? Science? Reading? Social Studies? Art? Music? How would we decide what skills would be needed in the future? Is past prologue? Doesn’t seem to be. The mule is long dead and so is the factory job. The high-tech jobs are in Asia.
Is this the end for the American worker? Is there, in fact, NO FUTURE?
And then there is this: what the hell is Congress and/or the White House doing about this pending mess? Is there any leadership there? Where are the Big Ideas?