Making the Dignity of Work Everyone’s Business

Published oct. 09, 2018

If some predictions come true, robots could replace nearly a third of the US workforce by 2030. That’s 70 million Americans without a regular paycheck. But it’s not just the projected loss of income that’s unnerving. The loss of work itself—and the sense of purpose it brings people—would be devastating for our society.

But most people work, in part, because there’s dignity in work; they want to do something useful and contribute to society. It’s as true for machinists and massage therapists as for surgeons and software engineers.

We can’t just accept the idea that there will be less opportunity for work in the future. And we can’t let businesses off the hook for their potential to preserve these opportunities for millions of people.

Dignity of Work blog 2

Fortunately, several large companies are already leading the way in rethinking corporate responsibility for the very workers they may one day lay off. McDonald’s, Google, Walmart, and Amazon are among those providing benefits to help their employees gain new skills they will need to advance their careers—or even find good jobs if theirs disappear.

For example, McDonald’s Corporation recently committed to tripling its investment in educational opportunities for part-time and entry-level restaurant employees. The company and its independent franchisees employ more than 850,000 people and now provide tuition assistance of up to $3,000 a year for managers and $2,500 a year for crew.

Google is working with JFF to train low-income adults for careers in IT support. Walmart is involved in education and job training for career opportunities in retail and related sectors. And most recently, Amazon is providing tuition for its employees to learn skills that could lead them to careers outside of Amazon.

Removing barriers for people at all stages of their careers is critical to shaping the workforce of the future.

Rob Lauber, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer, McDonald’s

At McDonald’s, the only requirements are working there for at least 90 days, for at least 15 hours a week. This means essentially anyone can work part time at McDonald’s and attend community college for free.

The company also offers the Career Online High School Program to all employees and their families, removing the common barrier of not having a high school diploma for thousands of people, young and old.

“Removing barriers for people at all stages of their careers is critical to shaping the workforce of the future,” says Rob Lauber, senior vice president and chief learning officer at McDonald’s. “That’s why McDonald’s focuses on advancement for all workers, wherever they may be on their career path.”

To keep up this momentum of investing in the workforce—and expand to more companies—business and education experts must think more broadly about how to build credentialing systems that sync with workplace needs. In doing so, we hope they will take into account the value of work itself and the many ways Americans contribute to society through their work each day.

The pride and dignity of work are powerful, and they exist in garages and nursing stations and machine shops and retail outlets.

Nick Pinchuk, Chairman and CEO, Snap-on Incorporated

Nick Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on Incorporated, which partners in career and technical education programs, often speaks about the dignity of work as part of this country’s foundation and ongoing prosperity.

“We are the people of work,” Pinchuk told the crowd at JFF’s national summit in 2016. “We’ve succeeded not only on the brilliance of the few, but we’ve succeeded on the efforts of the many, everyday people . . .

“The pride and dignity of work are powerful, and they exist in garages and nursing stations and machine shops and retail outlets,” he continued. “Through these jobs, people have lives of fulfillment and satisfaction, and they keep their families warm and safe and dry.”

We can follow the current and projected effects of automation and the potential elimination of many jobs on a daily basis. We can worry about what people will do when their jobs are displaced. Or, we can use this moment to reassess the value of work and how it contributes to our own self-worth and importance.

As part of a major rebranding effort focused on the future, JFF has adopted a new tagline: “Building a Future that Works.” We are proud to have employers partnering with us to promote meaningful work and opportunities for all, now and as our economy evolves.