Harvard labor guru’s decisive questions about the jobs of the future

What will the future of work look like after the pandemic? That’s the million-dollar question, according to Rachel Lipson, founding project director of the Workforce Project at Harvard University’s Malcolm Weiner Center for Social Policy. She doesn’t have the answer, but Lipson has some ideas about trends workers should watch out for and the threat to traditional work structures.

A 9 to 5 work day, a linear path from higher education to a career, robots taking jobs, are all among the existing themes that will influence future labor market needs and will require reinventing the pathways of career, says Lipson.

In a recent interview for CNBC’s “Work in Progress” series, Lipson discussed the trends she says the workforce will need to adapt to in a post-pandemic economy. Here are three of the biggest.

Nothing is certain about remote work

At the start of the pandemic, labor experts were skeptical that America’s professional work culture was ready to embrace remote working. Almost two years later, assumptions have changed as remote and hybrid working has proven to be productive, and the focus on employee well-being and a healthy work culture has overtaken a schedule. working in person.

But Lipson says experts still reserve judgment on whether the acceptance of remote and hybrid culture is permanent. “Or over time, [are we] will see some return to normal? ”she asked.

Remote working created flexibility and eliminated daily commutes, which Lipson said led to a calculation that will be difficult to reverse: “How much time you can spend with your family if you take the commute away from the commute. equation.”

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But the remote experience also led to burnout and took place during the phenomenon of the Great Resignation. Lipson worries in the long run about a class division that could be created by a remote working system. “Some research suggests that certain groups are going to be more affected by the lack of in-person contact and interaction,” she said.

Not all workers are able to work remotely in the same way either.

“We know that, disproportionately, according to the data, workers with higher levels of education and better paying positions are more likely to have the option of working from home or working out of the office,” she declared.

Large underinvestment in older workers

There is a fundamental overhaul of the link between education and work.

“The future of work depends in many ways on the future of education,” Lipson said.

Creating transitions in the education system to good jobs, and asking whether more education necessarily equates to more success, are among the issues with major consequences for the future of work.

“Maybe someone doesn’t necessarily need a lot more education and training to be successful in finding a new job, but they need help translating their experience into their CV,” he said. she declared.

With more professional coaching, hands-on interviews and a better job match, workers can access new, better-paying jobs much faster. “But this is a place where we need human support and technological investment to facilitate these transitions,” Lipson said.

More work in progress

The traditional four-year college path to employment and higher education has been attacked as outdated in relation to the needs of the job market and Lipson said for many workers they could be a thing of the past as experts rethink how to create career paths. It has been on the minds of many – education as the only path to better paying opportunities – during the pandemic, Lipson said, and not just among experts. College enrollment has just experienced its biggest drop in two years in 50 years.

One of the areas in which the education system needs to improve is the reception of older learners, who have to change industries or roles due to economic or technological changes, or those who have difficulty finding services. on call.

“Adult learners have a lot of other things to do in their lives and wonder if the education system will change and adapt to catch up with them,” she said. “We have fundamentally under-invested in this whole area. The vast majority of US spending on education occurs before the age of 22,” Lipson said.

The United States has not been good at preparing workers to adapt

According to Lipson, 90% of the work historically done by humans is now done by technology, and while she isn’t necessarily worried about robots being taken over in a dystopian sense, she says the problem is critical for the future success of his career.

“Technology has changed throughout the history of the United States, and human jobs have changed with it,” she said.

Technological advancements have impacted jobs at an increasing rate over the past few decades, but the biggest concern will be how to help Americans who have occupied positions increasingly replaced by technology. The lowest paid roles, in particular, are at a greater disadvantage.

Automation poses a growing threat to more than 100 million low-wage workers (globally) who will need new jobs by 2030, according to a McKinsey report earlier this year.

“The question is whether we are going to invest enough in education… so that they can keep up with the changes and benefit from them equitably and grow with them,” Lipson said. “This is the biggest challenge.”

The new technology being created will require post-secondary education and training, and it’s an uphill battle for a country that lacks systems that allow people to easily switch roles and grow with technology rather than being left behind. account, she said.

“The United States has not been so good at allowing people to make these kinds of changes in their working lives,” Lipson said. But she is not without optimism about the future of work. “There will potentially be better ways to support some of the workers who have been hit hardest by technological change,” she added.

Missed CNBC’s At Work Summit this year? Access full sessions on demand at https://www.cnbcevents.com/worksummit/

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