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How is America preparing for the future of work?

Three questions on retraining and the future of work with economist Jay Shambaugh.
April 18, 2018
Lawrence Jackson, White House photographer

No one can see the future, but we can still make sure we aren’t blindsided when it arrives. That’s especially true when it comes to how technology is changing workplaces in the US. We sat down with Jay Shambaugh, director of the Hamilton Project and former member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, to get an idea of what we might expect and how to make sure we’re ready.

This piece appeared in our daily newsletter Clocking In, which covers the future of work. Sign up here—it’s free!

What can individual workers do to better prepare themselves for the workplace of the future?

The silliest but probably most honest one is stay in school. I am a total believer that for the economy as a whole, education is not a sufficient way to solve wage-growth problems. But for an individual, it is. For an individual, the more education you have, the lower your unemployment rate and the higher the wages will be over your career. The other thing is to back politicians and policies that are supportive of what you think you need in your working life.

Who do you think has the responsibility to retrain workers, and who do you think is doing it effectively?

You can’t ask the public sector to do all the training, because you can’t train workers for the entire life horizon of their work. Some of the stuff is going to have to happen within the firm. I think people point to other countries where there is a much bigger apprenticeship model, and there is a lot of appealing stuff there, but I think countries’ systems evolve differently. In the US a lot of what happens as apprenticeships in other countries is taking place at the community college level instead.

What do you see the future of work looking like in the US?

In almost every economy in the world, including the US until 1980, as they got richer, people worked fewer hours. In Germany, France, and lots of other major economies, hours worked per year are declining. Either they take more vacation days or shift to a 35-hour work week. In the US since 1980, it has flattened out. It’s an odd thing. Instead of the “robots taking all our jobs” dystopia, the idea that people would have more leisure and work fewer hours seems like it should be possible. But it doesn’t feel like the US economy is moving in that direction.

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