2012-02 Rising job complexity and the need for government guaranteed work and training
In pre-modern agricultural society, practically all education and training occurred in the household and on the job. Only a thin elite received formal education. With the rise and expansion of capitalism, human capital became more important and a demand for publically provided education came forth, first from a rising middle class, and then from the working class. However, relatively little progress was made in extending educational opportunity to the working class before the end of the nineteenth century when they became capable of threatening the elites’ state with violence. Thereafter, significant advances were made during periods when workers retained relatively more political power. Guaranteed years of schooling expanded to a full 12 years, and eventually even low cost post-secondary schooling was greatly expanded. However, the erosion of working class power in the U.S. since the mid1970s has not only dramatically increased inequality, but also slowed the improvement of educational opportunities for their children. Meanwhile, the pace of change within capitalist societies has been ever increasing such that the formal education that society provides to some of its future workers is not adequate for the demands of the job market. Further, in an evermore-complex economy, the training many receive when young is not adequate for their full work lives. More will need continual retraining. While much of this training has been, and will continue to be on the job, some workers will lose their jobs and for lack of necessary skills, not find comparable new ones. Although publicly provided formal schooling might provide some of the necessary re-skilling, some workers who perform poorly in school settings learn well when training is part of their jobs. To maintain adequate skills and full employment in increasingly complex workplaces, a new model is needed, one that provides those who do poorly in school with adequate skills while continually retraining those who become and remain unemployed because of inadequate skills. This article argues that it is not only in the best interest of workers, but of society generally that a critical component of an adequate new model be a government employer of the last resort program that not only insures continuous employment, but also the necessary skills for workers to successfully enter and re-enter the private labor market.