SENATOR WARNER’S REMARKS on the Future of Work
I want to congratulate the grant recipients today. I also want to thank Google.org for supporting the increasingly important conversation surrounding the Future of Work.
Changing Nature of Work
I don’t have to convince anyone in this room that we are experiencing one of the most dramatic transformations in the American workforce in decades.
Whether by economic necessity or choice, as many as one-third of Americans now find themselves in the contingent workforce. They are working as independent contractors, as temps, freelancers, or in the on-demand, or ‘gig,’ economy.
Some estimates have this number growing to half of the workforce over the next 10 years.
And economists Larry Katz and Alan Krueger estimate that almost all the net job growth over the last decade occurred in independent work.
Policy and Data
These changes create challenges – and opportunities.
But policymaking has lagged behind these seismic labor shifts.
Here in D.C., I’m still working to wake up some of my colleagues in public office to the realities of working in the 21s t century.
Part of this lag is due to lack of accurate data.
Here in the United States, the gold standard survey on how employers are training workers has not been conducted in over two decades.
And before this year, the last time the government had surveyed Americans on contingent work was 2005. For reference, the first iPhone was released in 2007. The app store was born in 2008.
As an organization that provides a keyhole into the wealth of data of the internet, Google knows better than anyone the power of data in informing decision-making.
Bayes Impact, one of today’s grantees, is already finding ways to leverage that data towards better job placements and closing the skills gap in France.
While it may be near-impossible to predict what the future of work will hold, being prepared for that future demands an understanding of where we are today. And on the data front, we obviously need to do better.
With the nature of work changing at internet speed, if you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.
My dad worked for the same firm for 30+ years. People in my generation are expected to have had six jobs over their careers.
The jobs available today – and the jobs expected tomorrow – are higher-skill jobs that will require targeted and continuous learning to allow workers to adapt to changing technology.
That’s why I believe we must come up with new and smarter approaches to workforce training.
The trend toward shorter job tenure has been a disincentive for employers to invest in upskilling their workers.
We need to make it easier and more affordable for people to access skills training by incentivizing employers to constantly up-skill their workforce.
For instance, a Worker Training Tax Credit — modeled on the popular R&D tax credit — could be used by small and large businesses to invest in training for their lower- and middle-income workers.
I want to keep working with you all to find solutions to help workers thrive in this changing economy.
Portable Benefits Experimentation
While the changing nature of work has opened up more opportunities and made work more independent, it’s also less stable and less secure.
People who are not attached to full-time employment usually have no access to the suite of benefits and protections we have traditionally tied to employment status since the 1930s.
To move the ball forward on a 21st century social safety net, we have introduced legislation establishing grant a program specifically to fund experimentation around portable benefits models.
If we attempt a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach from Washington, we’re going to screw this up.
Innovators need to get busy innovating before regulators rush in to regulate.
For instance, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, here today, is already doing great work in this field, helping domestic workers access benefits like sick leave.
Just as we’re not sure what skills the jobs of the future will require, we are not sure what the hours or work schedules of the future will look like. Or the benefits those workers will most need.
That’s why our bill emphasizes innovation and experimentation across all kinds of benefits, and all kinds of methods of providing them.
And this isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue.
There are folks from both parties who recognize the changing nature of work is going to change the ways we support the workforce.
I’m pleased that just this week, actually, Senator Todd Young – Republican from Indiana – decided to co-sponsor our bill.
Innovation and Experimentation
For almost two years now, I’ve been crisscrossing the country, attempting to learn everything I can about these issues of the future of work. I don’t know where this conversation ends, but here’s where it might start.
First, we have a greater responsibility to strengthen the social contract than ever. Too many low- and middle-income Americans are getting the short end of the stick. The objectives of the social contract remain the same, but the pathways to achieving it need to be modernized to meet the demands of this new era.
Second , we have to make innovation our ally, not our enemy. Solutions to these challenges should develop from some of the same technological advances and entrepreneurial creativity that are driving new business models.
Third , we should be innovating now to design models that can support the many new ways people work, with more nimble ways of upskilling the workforce, and portable benefits attached to the individual regardless of the number of jobs they might have over the course of a day or a career.
Fourth, as a longtime entrepreneur myself, I strongly urge forward-leaning business leaders and policymakers to do exactly what you’re doing today — looking for opportunities and creative partnerships to further explore what works, and what doesn’t.
If those of us in public office do not find new ways to think about and work on these issues, then shame on us: we will have learned nothing from the message sent by the voters last November.
I know that this constant nonsense in the news makes you want to throw your shoe at the TV. I feel that way too, and I’m in the TV.
But if we can get this right and change the conversation on our economy to orient less left versus right and more future versus past, I believe we will emerge stronger because of it.
So thank you for having me here today and thank you for the meaningful work you are doing.