The Growing Gap Between Creative Jobs and Routine Jobs

Roger Martin at Wired writes:

“However, the real challenge for the U.S. economy is what to do with routine-oriented jobs in dispersed industries. That category makes up almost half of the jobs in America and the average employment income for these jobs is under $25,000. That is a big chunk of America that is just scraping by economically…

“The current challenges with income inequality are in large part a function of the emergence of these two extremes — the creativity-oriented workers in clustered industries (a little more than 10 percent of jobs) and routine-service workers in dispersed industries (about a third of all jobs). The former are doing great — they aren’t being outsourced or downsized or laid off. The latter are being squeezed in every way.”

It’s certainly a clear statement of the problem (complete with some nice graphs). However I am a bit skeptical of the proposed response:

“[My] view (and Richard’s) is that we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy. We fear that job structuring and classification becomes entirely self-sealing for many American workers. Once a job is defined as routine, it becomes routine and the individual in it doesn’t exercise judgment or decision-making. That employee then becomes by definition low-productivity and both can’t be paid much and is easier to think of as a candidate for off-shoring.

“If instead, the employee was asked to exercise judgment and decision-making in order to innovate and enhance the productivity of the operation, then the possibility for higher productivity, higher firm performance and higher wages exists.”

I think contained within this statement is good advice for employees, who should make it their business to avoid being pigeon-holed into routine tasks and narrow job descriptions whenever possible. However its not clear why this would necessarily be a compelling case for employers, who often benefit from a supply of low cost, interchangeable workers. In other words, if we want to empower more workers to make creative decisions, how are we going to sell the bosses on that concept?

Read the full article.

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