How Can We Build a Workforce for Our New Economy?

Mar 05, 2018 - 4:15pm

Senior Vice President, C_TEC

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Travelers wait at a ride service pick up area at Los Angeles International Airport.
Travelers wait at a ride service pick up area at Los Angeles International Airport.

In his State of American Business Address earlier this year, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue noted the importance of embracing technology for the growth-driver and game-changer that it is.

Realizing that technology is an integral part of every industry and will continue to revolutionize the way we work, it is time to evaluate how we prepare workers to compete in the 21st century while modernizing a benefits structure stuck in yesterday’s economy.  

Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) launched the New Economy Working Group. The event featured a keynote from Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, a polling presentation by Morning Consult, and a preview of C_TEC’s 2018 new economy policy agenda from the New Economy Working Group co-chairs Expedia and Postmates.

In his remarks, Secretary Acosta captured the same theme noted by Tom Donohue in his State of American Business address – technology has empowered individuals to reach a global market, and it is essential that we embrace this change by reducing barriers and seizing opportunity. Secretary Acosta referred to this new economy as the “entrepreneurial economy.”

The New Economy Working Group is focused on technology’s impact on the American workforce. It is also a highly collaborative effort that leverages teams across the Chamber and the U.S. Chamber Foundation. Exploring issues and dynamics of tech marketplace models in the sharing, gig, on-demand, and peer-to-peer economies, the working group will:

  1. Identify the skills and talent development required to prepare American workers to compete in the 21st century.
  2. Advocate to modernize the benefits structure to reflect the changing nature of work.
  3. Contribute to data about the new economy.

Preparing Americans to compete in the 21st century

The Morning Consult poll found seven in ten people are concerned Americans will not have the skills necessary to find and keep employment due to automation and innovation in technology. Further, three in four adults say developing programs to teach these skills should be a top or important national priority.

These numbers reaffirm the work of ongoing efforts by the U.S. Chamber Foundation's Center for Education and Workforce. One project in particular, called the Opportunity Project, recognizes that “as we boldly enter the future, we need to make sure that we do so in a way that preserves the entrepreneurial spirit of America as a nation of risk takers, yet also equips businesses, workers, and communities with a new playbook for how to manage a constantly changing economy and world.”

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This effort is designed to create a national dialog around the skills necessary to prepare the American workforce to compete in the 21st century.

The New Economy Working Group will work closely with the Center for Education and Workforce to address the growing concern about opportunity in America and support their efforts to establish a new social contract that is “equal parts public- and private-sector solutions that together create the new playbook for how we help employers and workers manage the opportunities and risks that come with change.”

Modernizing our benefits structure

New economy workers are overwhelmingly satisfied with their experience in the space with four in five describing working in the new economy as positive, according to the Morning Consult poll. Three in four say their financial situation has improved since working in the new economy, even among workers who do not earn a large share of their income through these means.

In his remarks at the New Economy Working Group launch, Secretary Acosta asked an important question: Are there individuals out there that would love to go work for themselves, that would love to be part of this new economy, but doing so is scary?

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The answer to the Secretary’s question is: yes. There are people who, despite prioritizing the flexibility the new economy offers and the desire to take that leap from 9-5 to being their own boss, never do it.

It is scary because it means leaving the comforts of the traditional employer-employee relationship and the benefits associated with it. It is scary because it requires time – one of the most precious commodities for new economy workers, freelancers, sole proprietors, and small business owners. It is scary because the time spent figuring out their benefits is an actual cost that distracts from time spent starting and scaling their business.

Simply, our benefits structure is stuck in yesterday’s economy. With the expertise of the private and public sector, the New Economy Working Group is dedicated to advancing bipartisan solutions to modernizing the benefits structure so that it is simple and designed for people operating in the new economy.

Building an evidence base using a common language

Data matters. It is a tool that objectively guides lawmakers towards evidence-based policy solutions. Despite the fact that millions of people receive income from multiple places in the new economy, rather than in structured payroll jobs, there is little evidence that evaluates new economy workers using credible quantitative or qualitative data sets. To further complicate things, everybody talks about the new economy in a different way. To date, there is really no common language used in the space.  

In his remarks, Secretary Acosta mentioned the upcoming release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 Contingent Work Supplement – that evaluates contingent and alternative work arrangements. This survey was last conducted in 2005 and according to the Secretary, it should be released in May.

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The New Economy Working Group will work with the administration to build a credible foundation of new economy data. It is a critical component of our effort to develop a better understanding the new economy while calibrating the way we talk about it. 

The Chamber has a long history of supporting small businesses owners and entrepreneurs with the drive to start, scale, and succeed in business. Given the breadth of expertise on the complex issues impacting the new economy – the Chamber is uniquely positioned to deliver results.

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About the Author

About the Author

Tim Day Portrait
Senior Vice President, C_TEC

As senior vice president of C_TEC (Chamber Technology Engagement Center) at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tim Day highlights the role of technology in our economy and advocates for emerging technology.