Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business at MIT Sloan, and Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business
From the Financial Times
It is easy to be pessimistic about jobs and pay these days. More and more work is being automated away by ever more powerful and capable technologies.
Not only can computers transcribe and translate normal human speech, they can also understand it well enough to carry out simple instructions. Machines now make sense of huge pools of unstructured information, and in many cases detect patterns and draw inferences better than highly trained and experienced humans. Recent advances include autonomous cars and aircraft, and robots that can work alongside humans in factories, warehouses and the open air.
Earlier this year, McKinsey & Co. published a survey of 1,400 managers revealing that female executives are just as ambitious as men. The survey found that79% of all mid- or senior-level women say they “have the desire to reach a top-management position,” similar to 81% of men.
Works councils — elected bodies representing all workers in a plant, both blue and white collar — are acclaimed as one of the best, most innovative features of Germany’s labor relations system. They have been shown to enhance efficiency, adaptability and cooperation. By supporting the use of work sharing (agreeing to reduce everyone’s hours rather than laying some people off), for example, these councils helped Germany experience less unemployment during the Great Recession and a faster, more robust recovery since then.
For years, labor law, labor economics and labor-management researchers like us have urged experimentation with works councils in the United States. Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers are proposing to do just that at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant. This could be a watershed in American labor relations, one that rejects the outmoded adversarial doctrines that have built up in U.S. labor law and practice. And it signals management and labor support for a new model of cooperation and partnership.
Unfortunately, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and others are opposing this effort by arguing that such cooperation would violate U.S. labor law’s 1935 ban on sham or “company” dominated unions.
A comparison of German and American labor law makes it clear they are dead wrong.
With retailers opening ever earlier on Thanksgiving Day and being rewarded with ever longer lines out their doors, it’s no wonder they see the holiday as a bottom-line bonanza that may benefit everyone — except employees who have to spend long hours at work and miss out on time with their families. Opening on Thanksgiving Day is yet another demonstration of how little retailers value their employees. That disregard is a natural result of the way most retailers view their labor force — a large cost that needs to be minimized. The result is millions of bad jobs with poverty-level wages, minimal benefits, very little training, and unpredictable work schedules.
Conventional corporate wisdom is that bad jobs are the only way to keep costs down and prices low. Otherwise, customers would have to pay more or companies would have to make less. But I have been studying retail operations for over a decade and have found that the assumed trade-off between good jobs and low prices is false.
While many graduating MBA students are still heading to traditional sectors like finance, consulting and technology, one of the biggest trends among top business schools is an increase in the diversity of students’ career interests. Perhaps it’s related to fallout from the financial crisis or even a generational trend, but more and more students are pursuing positions in a broader array of areas.
At MIT Sloan, about 60% of our MBA graduates in the past few years have gone to those traditional areas. Among our other MBA students, we are indeed seeing this trend toward diverse interests. Strong areas of focus for that group include: entrepreneurship; sustainability; energy; social enterprise; health care; operations and supply chain management; and entertainment, media and sports.