On October 5 & 6, 2017, more than two hundred people participated in the Institute’s two-day conference that challenged conventions regarding business and workers.
In many ways, the event took on the trappings of a “people’s conference.” The vast majority had never participated in a meeting on the “future of work.” A diverse mix of stakeholders including grassroots community activists and worker organizers, business and union leaders, educators and trainers, workforce and economic development professionals, government and policy experts, and many from the philanthropic community made up the conferees. While we drew heavily from academia for subject matter experts, one goal was to give voice to people who deal on a daily basis with the consequences of structural changes in the workplace. Consequently, forty-seven people identified themselves as coming from grassroots organizations, three were from unions, ten self-identified as entrepreneurs and eight came from business. Twenty-five identified themselves as part of the education and training system and 14 were from state or local workforce systems.
The conference was organized along six major themes:
The innovative enterprise: The label “innovative” is applied indiscriminately to a range of organizations, often as a way of connoting “freshness” or “advancement.” The focus of this theme was to clarify what is meant by the term, “innovative enterprise,” and how such an enterprise is essential to the retention and growth of middle class jobs.
Restoring the middle: Businesses grow and prosper by retaining and reinvesting in the productive capabilities of workers who can transform ideas into innovative goods and services. These workers act collectively and learn cumulatively; they effectively form the middle tiers of innovative business. The conference addressed the roles for business enterprises, civil society organizations, government agencies, and labor unions in restoring the middle.
Structural racism: Structural racism jeopardizes the security of middle and low-income African Americans, Native Americans and other racial and ethnic groups that are stigmatized by the majority population. The conference addressed possible new policies and strategies for changing these structures, for enhancing the job security of marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and for supporting broad-based upward mobility.
Age, gender, disability, prior engagement with the criminal justice system, and immigration: Barriers to accessing middle-income jobs are also constructed along the lines of age, gender, disability and place of origin. Although various barriers manifest themselves in different ways, it is possible that they lend themselves to systemic solutions.
The on-demand economy and the commodification of work and skills: Work that ties an individual to an employer for an unspecified period of time is generally regarded as standard employment. But, not all work is standard – and never has been so. The conference examined how on-demand work models may be diminishing the value of standard employment and are reinforcing trends in the commodification of work and skills.
Economic justice and the imperatives of work and family: The issue of economic justice is a global concern. What is the meaning of “inclusiveness” as it is applied to the concepts of economic justice and growth, sustainability, and equality? Do questions of economic justice and morality have standing in public policies that pertain to jobs and employment? Assuming yes, what principles should guide public policies and practices and how are they manifested through action?