A few weeks ago, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) released The Work Ahead - Machines, Skills, and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, a report by a CFR-sponsored Task Force to assess the future of work and its implications for the US economy and national security. The Task Force was led by Penny Pritzker, - former Secretary of Commerce and founder and chair of PSP Partners, and by John Engler, - former Governor of Michigan and interim President of Michigan State University.
Their comprehensive report, - over 150 pages and 276 citations, - explored in great depth the changing nature of work as global competition and advanced technologies like AI, robotics, and smart IoT devices transform jobs and careers. It states right up front that “The most important challenge facing the United States - given the seismic forces of innovation, automation, and globalization that are changing the nature of work - is to create better pathways for all Americans to adapt and thrive. The country’s future as a stable, strong nation willing and able to devote the necessary resources and attention to meeting international challenges depends on rebuilding the links among work, opportunity, and economic security.”
For much of the 20th century, technology and globalization helped lead America to its leadership position in the world stage. Underpinning this US leadership was the American Dream, - the promise that anyone can get ahead and achieve success and prosperity through talent and hard work. But this promise has been eroding for decades. For many of its citizens, the American Dream has been steadily disappearing.
Technology advances have led to massive innovations and efficiencies, enabling companies to get the same work done with significantly fewer people. At the same time, many US-headquartered companies are truly global, doing business all over the world. Beyond outsourcing jobs to countries with lower labor costs they’ve been investing and adding jobs where the demand is highest, - which has often been in faster growing emerging markets.
The US thus faces two major challenges: “creating new work opportunities, better career paths, and higher incomes for its people, while developing a workforce that will ensure U.S. competitive success in a global economy that will continue to be reshaped by technology and trade.”