The above is an article about how Samsung is taking advantage of robotic technology on their production lines and hiring fewer entry-level jobs. It’s a really bleak piece that misses an entire economic trend of entrepreneurship and small businesses. I’ve copied some very key quotes below that contribute to a very toxic social narrative. It’s the Kool-ade everyone is drinking these days, and it’s time somebody knocked-over the punch bowl. I’m going to make a blanket statement: “We need to find better stories to tell ourselves.”
“‘All those old entry-level positions have been replaced by robots,” said Glass, the facility’s curriculum strategist. ‘An operator position is much higher and more technically advanced than it used to be.’”
“The swath of middle-skills jobs that once supported a robust American middle class has thinned, leading to more polarization of the job market. In the past three decades, middle-skills occupations have dropped from nearly 60 percent of total U.S. employment to about 45 percent, according to research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor David Autor.”
“…said Harry Holzer, public policy professor at Georgetown University. ‘Middle-wage jobs almost all require some sort of post-secondary training, like an associate’s degree.’”
The article’s narrative is: “Attention Middle Class: all of your jobs are going away because robots are taking over. Go get really advanced degrees, because that will get you a good job.”
That is one way to look at the situation. it also ignores the huge trend of young Americans abandoning the “safe” corporate route, and choosing to blaze their own trail. Compare the risk between starting something and getting a “stable job” and you’ll see it’s fairly equal at this point. It makes a lot of sense to ask whether those corporate jobs were actually a good thing in the first place. The trade used to be “security” for “freedom.” You took a secure job because you knew it would be there for 10-20 years. Now, that security is gone, but those jobs are still cubicles where the human spirit goes to die. The movie “Office Space” was more true to life than we might want to admit. ”Middle-wage” is probably code for “middle management.”
I read that article and I thought, “There has got to be a more hopeful story that we can tell ourselves.”
What if I had pulled a quote from the story that said this:
“While automation is eliminating certain jobs, we’re seeing millions of American men and women seize the opportunity to start their own businesses. The same technological advances that eliminate entry-level jobs have also made the cost of starting a business a fraction of what it was 10 years ago, and a surge of Americans are taking advantage of this incredible time in human history.”
I wrote that one myself, but it’s as plausible as the other one. Substitute “entrepreneurship” for “advanced degrees” and the story changes dramatically. The first narrative says, “Run for the hills! Unless you’ve got a master’s degree, you can’t get a good job!”
The second narrative says, “Hey, check out all these tools I can use to build something cool! This is way better than punching the clock at Samsung. Why did I go to college in the first place?”
Of course, BOTH narratives are a gross oversimplification of the reality. Neither one gets at the whole picture, and in fact, there are elements of truth in both of them. The middle class IS seeing its economic foundation eroding, and the jobs that were there 10-20 years ago, simply aren’t anymore. BUT, things aren’t as bad as the toxic reporters would have us believe. The article implicitly states that the answer is to go back to college, when adding MORE DEBT to the middle class is a BAD SOLUTION. In the second narrative, I’m overstating the case for entrepreneurship as well. It’s NOT simple to start a business. In fact, it’s really, really hard. Not everyone is cut out for it. However, the advantage to the second narrative is 1) a sense of hope and opportunity, and 2) Much less debt.
Maybe it’s important to tell a story about the economy that injects economic hope into the American bloodstream in 2012. I don’t mean hope from a presidential candidate, but hope found inside each one of us to create our own opportunities. It’s like that Henry Ford quote:
“If you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Given the choice, I’ll choose to take a risk and be wrong any day over being right that I couldn’t do something and not try. Being willing to be wrong is the difference between getting up one more time and giving something another shot. The news has an amazing power to tell stories that encourage us. The stories we tell ourselves affect our beliefs. I think we used to believe in ourselves as a country, and I think that we can believe in ourselves again.
I think my generation already believes, and we’re going to show the world in the next few years.
Of course, I could be 100% dead wrong about it. I’m still going to tell the story of hope. I’m still going to live as if my life is all going to work out. When I look at the last 25 years, things have all worked out.
I hope this helps a lot.
Austin W. Gunter