As folks know in Silicon Valley, the digital economy is great for the one percent, but most Americans can’t keep up. Many here are promoting universal basic income (UBI) to repel what they fear are a barrage of pitchforks. But with respect, UBI is a lousy answer. We need solutions that empower everyday people with skills, purpose, and dignity.
Digital systems distort the value of people’s contributions to economic growth. Two related issues: many workers lack technical or creative expertise, and despite data’s immense value, people aren’t paid for sharing their data. We must build the people’s ability to provide what the digital economy values, and make sure they are fairly compensated. Very briefly, below are five actions aimed at building a skilled 21st century workforce.
First, we should enable lifelong learning by providing all adults with portable learning accounts, compatible with any qualified education or training program.
How to pay for such accounts? As the value of routine labor declines, people should be compensated for their other economic contributions. The Economist wrote in 2017 that data has replaced oil as the world’s most valuable resource, and the value of data held by U.S. companies
likely runs into the trillions. Europe’s GDPR codified the fact that people own their data.
Second, by the same principle underlying royalties for copyrighted works, wages for labor, and rent for land, companies should compensate
people for data when they profit from its use. To start, we should establish an organization that will research and establish standards for data’s value and create a program modeled on the LEED standard that certifies companies for fair data valuation practices. These micro-payments over time could fund each person’s lifelong learning accounts. Technology companies that pay data royalties for lifelong learning accounts are potentially creating future skilled employees.
Third, we should revamp our antiquated workforce training programs through artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of being threatened by AI, let’s use it to develop personalized learning programs that teach valued technical skills to underemployed Americans. Many examples already exist, from Khan Academy to the U.S. Navy’s Digital Tutor program for training IT professionals. These personalized experiences should be accessible to all workers and universally deployed by workforce development agencies and employers alike.
Fourth, unemployment insurance funds could be repurposed to support guaranteed trial employment and on-the-job training periods. Instead of subsidizing unemployment, let’s partner with employers to subsidize employment during or after personalized skills training.
Fifth, governments, workforce training boards, community colleges, and employers must coordinate-on-steroids to identify employer
hiring needs and match trainees to job openings on an ongoing basis. Governors have carrots and sticks to encourage greater coalescence. A
universal, personalized training approach with a job guarantee would address the shortcomings of past workforce training efforts, and give
displaced workers a shot at succeeding in the digital economy.
Many other issues should be addressed to ensure shared prosperity in a world of digital dominance. However, by focusing on giving individuals convenient resources to reinvent themselves, we can build the optimistic future that digital systems promise.