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As workplace changes, what will jobs be like?


There appear to be about as many reasons for working people to worry as well as celebrate this Labor Day. On the one hand, there seems to be plenty of job opportunities -- after all, the unemployment rate is low, and the American economy is generating tens of thousands of new openings each month.

But there are disturbing signs that the new jobs might not be all working people need. Many of the new jobs offer few benefits, low pay and little security.

As Americans rest from their labors tomorrow, many wonder: What will jobs of the future be like? What will the best jobs be? And how should people prepare to deal with the job market of the future?

Sally Gore

Leader of Human Resources

W.L Gore & Associates Inc.

We have droves of people coming to visit us. We are studied in most of the business schools in the U.S. and have won awards from publications such as Business Week, Industry Week, as one of the most innovative companies.

One important thing that makes us a different employer than most is that our company is organized around teams. We make decisions in teams. We manufacture in cells.

And we don't have employees, we have associates. That changes the relationship right there. You don't work for me, you work with me. I can't order you around. I have to treat you with respect.

We try to keep plants small, at about 150 associates. When it moves up toward 200, we focus on building another plant. We now have 14 plants in this area, [including nine in Cecil County]. It is much more costly to build small plants. But in smaller places, people feel they are an important part of the team, so they excel.

Those people who said we would all be working at home with computers were wrong. That will not come to pass because it does not meet basic human needs. People need other people around.

In terms of factories, there will be far more automation. Robots will do the repetitive work. People will work more in small teams.

Edward Montgomery

Professor of Economics

University of Maryland

There are two trends going on simultaneously. The traditional avenues to well-paying manufacturing or blue collar type jobs are disappearing. And there is nothing in any data that says they are ever going to come back. The group of people with less education and less work experience will suffer.

But for Americans with college degrees, professional degrees, real wages will continue to grow. They will be in growing demand.

I'll tell my kids, even more than my parents said to me, go to college. They've got to be math-versant and have good communication skills. And it will be important to communicate with people in different countries. They should study Japanese, Spanish or Chinese.

I'm optimistic. I see no reason to be afraid, no reason that there won't be a possibility of many good, well-paying jobs in the future. Just because today's trend is towards a shrinking middle class, that doesn't necessarily mean we can't reverse those trends.

Government needs to change its policy . . . subsidize state universities more. A big engine of economic growth is the skills the population has. We have got to have skilled workers. And we need to do things to help those on the bottom get an education, or else we will lock out a whole generation of people.

Joseph H. Boyett

Author, Workforce 2000

and Beyond Workforce 2000

I'm going to celebrate Labor Day by working. I'm an entrepreneur. I don't have any traditional vacation days. And that's the new reality Americans are going to have to face.

Jobs that run from eight to five five days a week, that's not a reality in the future.

By the year 2000, or shortly thereafter, about half the working population will not have full-time permanent jobs. They are going to be part-time workers, temporary employees, contract workers or self-employed.

If they have a lot of skills, if they are talented and entrepreneurial in spirit, they are going to be doing very well.

But if they have poor skills, they will be very miserable.

Half the population will also be telecommuters. Work will be a thing people do, not a place people go. Technology is making it possible to have peers scattered around the world. Your competitors for jobs will not be people in your area. You'll be competing for work with people in China, South America. You will have to be very, very good at what you do.

The people who are going to do very well are people who own businesses, who have investments in the stock market, or who have very strong technical skills.

The unskilled and semi-skilled are in a great deal of trouble.

It is conceivable society could split into real halves. The upper end will be expanded. But there will be a tremendous number of poor unskilled people who cannot find work and live short violent kinds of lives.

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