Unlocking Human Potential: Can the Sharing Economy Bring Prosperity for Everyone?

I4J 2015

In the American workforce, a tremendous amount of human potential is underutilized.

In the U.S., only 62.5 percent of the working age population is participating in the labor force. Additionally, approximately 70 percent of employees are not engaged in their work.

That’s where opportunities for innovation exist. The premise of the Innovation for Jobs (I4J) Ecosystem Summit this past Fall was to disrupt unemployment, reduce inefficiencies in the labor market, and create more economic growth.

We’ve written before about I4J and worker disengagement, but today I’m sharing some of the discussion from the I4J Leadership Forum: Innovation for Jobs Policy about unlocking human potential.

(Full disclosure: the Kauffman Foundation provides funding for I4J.)

The discussions were conducted under Chatham House Rules, so I am purposefully not attributing individuals to these specific topics. In today’s post, I’ll frame the discussion I’ll explore these topics including the sharing economy in future posts.

As Work Changes, How Will Education Change?

A college diploma may be even less relevant to actual job tasks than it has been historically  — yet employers still commonly use it as a proxy for skill.

The current educational system of 12 to 16 years was established in a world where we wanted student to be ready for regular, rote work of systematic processes. We don’t live in that world anymore.

Instead, we live in a world of rapid technological changes that present particular difficulties for educators. For example, the titles “Big Data Architect” and “Android Developer” didn’t really exist five years ago. Today’s educators can’t know the type of work their students will be doing in five years.

14J Ecosystem Summit attendees discussed two possible ways that employers could respond. On one hand, firms are not necessarily looking for people with skills, but rather those that have the ability to learn skills. Because employers may have lots of institutional-specific knowledge, it would be desirable to have employees that are good at learning new skills.

In many countries, it is more common for firms to invest in training for employees. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of this type of training has been questioned though. Some employers may instead focus on employee competencies instead of degrees or ability to learn. An example shows up in the programming world where an employer may care more about a job candidate’s portfolio on GitHub and the ability to answer a few challenges than the candidate’s degree or experience.

These two views are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, employers would desire employees that already have competency in key tasks and take initiative to learn new tasks. Conference attendees recognized that this framework may not work as well in non-tech industries.

Measurement and Analysis

One of the key questions to quantify the discussion is to determine if we have a process for measuring the rate of change of work.

The "sharing economy" or the "gig economy", freelance work, contractor work, side jobs, and more must be captured to better define the new nature of work. Most measurement of jobs (or job seekers, firms) treats all jobs equally. The aggregation of data loses these nuances.

Participants said that we are interested in the quality of jobs, not just the quantity. We may be able to tweak some of the data we’re currently collecting to get these insights, or it might require new data collection efforts.

We also need a way to understand how broken some our formal employment systems are. The formal application and resume system online make it easy to apply for numerous jobs… and receive numerous rejections without knowing why. For job seekers, this process does not allow any learning or feedback.

Informal systems like hiring past colleagues are effective because background knowledge provides insight lost in reviewing resumes. However, this informal system requires a certain type of social capital that not everyone possesses. “Employee A” may be a tremendous worker, but not great at making personal connections. This may hurt this person’s ability to find a new job as they can’t differentiate themselves from the competition.

Many workers would love to improve their job, but they don’t know how. We need to find a way for employers to look for aptitude and not just credentials.

The nature of work is changing, but can we direct the change to provide meaningful work for everyone?


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derek ozkal

Derek Ozkal

Derek Ozkal is a program officer in Research and Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he assists with writing and analysis of various Research & Policy initiatives and administers grants, which includes managing and overseeing assigned grant portfolios, monitoring grantee performance, and reviewing grant proposals.