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You Want Change? I Got Change For Ya Right Here – Job Retraining.

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wow, that's one enticing looking storefront.

Beginning today, a series of long term policy suggestions that a few enlightened souls would see as real ‘change’ rather than messing about at the edges, while most who like the notion of messing about at the edges would see as radical.

Number 1.

Job Re-training.

There’s an old political motto “When you don’t have a clue about what to do with the economy, push a serious retraining agenda”.

You might recall John McCain’s recent earnest appeal for a big retraining push during the campaign. It was greeted with the usual response for ye olde retraining concept. Total silence. Nobody likes it. Nobody hates it. Nobody believes it will have any effect whatsoever. It’s a great big yawn.

But does it have to be this way?

No. Retraining could be really exciting if we just tweaked it a little. You see, what ploddy old McCain didn’t get (and it’s not just him, it’s everyone), is that retraining for ‘jobs’ is outmoded. Jobs are old fashioned Victorian creations that have nothing to do with the new world. There are no more ‘jobs’. The vista of all those bods in a sea of cubicles is last weeks news. If you’ve lost your cubicle job, you’re unlikely to get a cosy new cubicle anytime soon.

American manufacturing is smaller leaner and more specialized. If you’ve lost your semi-skilled job in manufacturing, and you want another, move to China or Vietnam. The future is a worldwide division of labor. The US creates, China makes. The world takes.

Most people hate their ‘jobs’. All we talk about is Friday night and the weekend. They all go to work at the same time, gumming up the roads, they all put their eggs in one basket, so when they lose their gig – they’re in real trouble. What ever happened to having more than one way of making a living. We talk about diversity in investment. Why not diversity the in employment that gives you the funds to invest?

It all points to one fundamental truth. The future of ‘retraining’ lies in the home. We shouldn’t be retraining for ‘jobs’, we should be retraining for a different way of working, and a more independent way of thinking. We live in a world of cloud computing, where anyone can be anywhere and be productive. We can video conference with anyone, chat online with colleagues, manage projects, make presentations, do anything that involves a keyboard. And we don’t have to drive to work, so we save gas, we save time in traffic jams, we save the planet, we save the companies we work for a ton of money renting real estate for our cubicles. Just about every ad on TV or the web is about how mobile information has become, chat, text, email on the move, blackberry, laptop, whatever. But when it comes to ‘jobs’ we’re retraining people to go to one place. Uhh?

All these ideas massively reduce labor costs and incentivize companies to hire. And the people they’ll be hiring? They’ll be smarter, more nimble, they’ll be more motivated. The retraining will be about developing confidence. Confidence in technology, in personal growth, confidence in teamwork. These are the attributes that make people marketable. There’s nobody too old for this retraining, and nobody too young, nobody too institutionalized. And the new retraining will ease the child-care crisis, improve overall happiness, lower stress, and develop. Working from home when combined with a universal health care system will save companies a ton of money. And as for automation, it’s going to take the geeks decades to come up with an Artificial Intelligence system that’s even as good as the averagely intelligent working American.

Working at home doesn’t mean working alone. Offices will become great big meeting rooms, where team members can come, discuss, socialize, troubleshoot, create new strategy, offer work flow improvements, and feel part of the team. And not a cubicle in sight. And as long as management is more rigourous about what it needs from its team members and by when, goofing off will not be a problem. After all, right now, massive amounts of internet surfing is done from office computers. Fantasy Football is many peoples’ idea of work. Being in a cubicle doesn’t stop people from wasting time.

At its heart, retraining should be about preparing people living in a cubicle past for a less confined future, where the computer (and we all have them) is the gateway to a productive working life, not retraining for jobs.

And working at home has a real history. Before the industrial revolution, anyone who worked in a trade of any kind lived and worked in the same place. Merchants worked at home, scribes worked at home, so did blacksmiths. There were no wagon jams in sixteenth century France or England. Artisans and merchants in those days were home-based self starters. And so they will be again. Because a major positive side-effect of this new retraining approach will be to develop a burst of enterprising spirit – energizing the workforce, and delivering in the one area where America will never be bested.

Presenting this policy will be fun. The images of sad fifty-something white guys, and slouching youths tapping away at old computers in a strip-lit room have to end. We can get Google and Facebook on board, we can make it sexy, we can make it cool. Too radical, too changey? What’s not to like?


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