The Clock and a Skilled Workforce

Technology continues to change the nature of work, requiring more nimble technicians at a time when many people aspire for careers with more flexibility than the typical 40-hour work week, according to Community College Daily.

The National Science Board (NSB) is focusing attention on the skilled technical workforce, which it defines as “people who use STEM skills in the workplace, but who do not have a four-year degree.” It held two “listening sessions” on October 26 at Baton Rouge Community College and Xavier University, the article reports.  The NSB governs the National Science Foundation (NSF) and advises Congress and the president on science policies.

As a research professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Nicole Smith noted that contingent work appeals to many young people who want more flexibility than nine-to-five or other shift-based employment. “Because of changing nature of work, we have to look at different types of incentives to get people to work longer hours, separate and apart from money,” she said. While aversion to student loan debt is understandable, she added, “the only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college.”

Please read the article for a profile of Connecticut’s new program reflecting this approach.

Time is an interesting concept to think about in its relation to work. If you labored for wages in the past, you probably punched a time clock—a device with a soul-crushing effect on many people. On the other hand, when the work day was concluded, presumably you could punch out and use the rest of the day on your own clock.

In prior ages, when hunting-gathering, agriculture, and the raising of livestock provided the livelihood of most people, the clock, if it existed, didn’t mean much. The industrial revolution ushered in the importance of precise chronology (helped along by the railroads and telegraph). It would be ironic if the new information age takes us back to a period when getting a job done mattered more than time served.

As we all know, the semester hour is a function of time. Some educational reformers favor its replacement with various metrics to gauge productivity instead of “seat time.” So far the semester hour endures, but you will note all sorts of new definitions of the semester itself.

Modern companies such as Google are well-known for an aversion to seat time. Assignments are given and employees are expected to work together to solve problems as necessity and opportunity demands, and creativity permits. If young folks prefer to work into the wee hours and then sleep in, no problem with HR. It’s not hard to find inside critics of this approach, who argue that higher stress levels and longer hours are the real result. And, let’s remember, if your flight leaves at 7:00 a.m., you better be there. The clock matters.

Woody Allen once famously remarked that 80 percent of life is just showing up. We’ll see if this percentage changes over the next generation.