We recently read with great interest the New York Times opinion piece, How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class. David Autor and David Dorn thoughtfully analyze how computers have replaced middle-skilled workers in managing large amounts of data, performing calculations, and executing repetitive tasks in fields such as bookkeeping, clerical work, and manufacturing. The authors’ ideas are not new, but they push toward potential solutions in a novel and heartening way. In particular, they formulate a prototype for middle-skill jobs that will thrive in the future economy. How can we in the workforce and economic development field capitalize on the potential for these jobs?
Many in the field have seized upon the “college payoff” as proof that the proportion of Americans that go to college should be greatly expanded. Autor and Dorn raise an unpopular but accurate truth that not everyone is going to be able to succeed in college; for proof, they point to low graduation rates. We would add this important additional angle: the “college payoff” is strongest for those who graduate from selective colleges. Those who graduate from non-selective colleges receive much less benefit from their degree in the work force; their diminished earning potential is often compounded by mountains of student debt. They then go on to present three types of jobs – what can the workforce and economic development field learn from them?