Guest Blog Post: Employees. Employees. Employees.

Employees. Employees. Employees.

Jobs will always be an important political goal, but how we get there is evolving

By Lynn Shelton
Enterprise Minnesota's Vice President of Marketing

Lynn Shelton, Enterprise Minnesota's vice president of marketing
(Lynn Shelton, vice president of marketing, Enterprise Minnesota)
Rudy Perpich, Minnesota’s venerable governor in the ‘70s and ‘80s once said that he constructed all of his political campaigns around three issues: Jobs. Jobs. And Jobs. A lot of observers at the time thought his attitude reflected his Iron Range roots, a place whose then-collapsing mining economy removed a lot of his friends and neighbors on to the unemployment roles.
But other folks (me among them) understood his philosophy for its brilliant, non-partisan simplicity. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs united communities, policy-makers and political organizations around a tangible and achievable goal. To some, a robust job market invariably signified a healthy economy; job creators are profit-makers. To others, more and better jobs represented a universal elixir that remedied a wide variety of social and cultural issues. Those politicos used to say that the best family policy is a job, the best healthcare policy is a job, the best education policy is a job, and on and on.
“Jobs” will remain a frontline political issue in upcoming elections, but its underlying substructure will change dramatically. Let me use our annual State of Manufacturing® survey to tell you what I mean. In most of the 10 years that we’ve conducted the survey manufacturing executives have been sounding alarms about how the unavailability of skilled workers was impeding their profitability. But the recent results of our survey show how the skills gap has eroded into a “warm body” gap.
After politicians have finished celebrating how their policies have dramatically reduced the rates of unemployment, they will be faced with the reality (probably unacknowledged) that their policies had little to do with it. Unemployment is being reduced by demographics, and it is far from a good thing. Baby Boomers are retiring and there are not enough young people to replace them in the workforce. The end result of this could be disastrous.
Trust me on this: The new common campaign refrain will be Employees. Employees. Employees.
And if candidates are smart, these new non-partisan discussions will encompass the issues that manufacturers have been telling us for a decade. Such as:
  • We need rethink the future of work. Public policies must assume that young people can launch lucrative, enriching, life-long careers without having to endure the mostly crushing financial burden of a modern four-year degree.
  • We need to rethink education. College should remain a hallowed American institution, but not considered the exclusive domain of a successful life. Does everyone need a four-year degree? (Ask the baristas.) Policy should elevate the cultural prestige of technical degrees and should integrate what’s taught with the needs of employers.
  • And we need to rethink the workplace. Public policy should view artificial intelligence and The Internet of Things, and robotics as friends, not a diabolical effort to cheat people out of jobs. The future belongs to policies that understand that the new reality is that there will be more jobs than people. We need to do our best to ensure that the remaining jobs will be more remunerative and satisfying than ever.
Jobs. Jobs. Jobs will always be an important “elixir,” but responsible policy-makers will help survive political rhetoric.

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