Event: Future of Work Panel with Senator Eric Lesser

Rahkeem Morris
March 13, 2019

     On Thursday, March 14, I’ll be joining a panel with Massachusetts State Senator Eric Lesser discussing the Future of Work. It’s hosted by UMass Boston’s Venture Development Center and open to the public!

Prior to joining this panel, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the Future of Work - as someone who’s worked a bunch of part-time jobs, and as someone who’s starting a technology company in the space.

First, on Senator Lesser’s three bill proposals (read more detail about them here).

     One is a grant fund to test portable benefits - basically, decoupling a worker’s benefits (think healthcare, retirement, etc.) from her employer. There are plenty of different ways to approach this, and I support Senator Lesser’s idea to test these

In particular, portable benefits can provide a stronger safety net to workers who have been pushed towards independent contracting by “gig” technologies - and prevent gig-work startups from simply profiting from regulatory arbitrage, where they’re able to offer lower prices because they don’t have to pay their “contractors” benefits.

Plus, as the economy is changing and work continues to fragment (see more on this below), tying benefits to one’s employer no longer makes sense. Fewer people are working 40-hour weeks at the same employer; plus, tying workers down to their employers by taking away their healthcare benefits when they leave is a way to stifle innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking.

     Senator Lesser’s second proposal is the “lifelong learning and training fund” - which would match savings of $2,000 per year for people earning up to $75,000 annually, with these savings targeted towards continuing education.

As the cost of college continues to increase, a diverse array of online training courses pop up, and the changing economy increasingly values certain skills, it’s important to incent continuous training. Rather than the current college funding “solution” (whereby the government guarantees private loans to students), an option that incentivizes personal savings is likely to accomplish two things: First, it should keep the cost of these continuous training programs low. Second, it will incentivize service model innovation so that these programs can deliver low-cost, high-value trainings.

As an aside, there are increasingly options for “income-based repayment” for skill-building courses, which I find fascinating.

     Senator Lesser’s third proposal is for a “future of work commission” - a group of experts who consider jobs, benefits, and safety in the face of new technologies. Always a good idea.

More generally, here are my (brief) thoughts on technology and the future of work.

     Technology has the potential to fundamentally reshape work. In fact, technology has transformed the American economy multiple times - from a primarily agrarian society to today’s information technology-fueled services economy.

But technology is not deterministic. The same underlying technologies can make work fulfilling or destabilizing, just as social networking technologies can be used to foster connection or exploit division. Hourly workers in particular are in massive jeopardy - they have little say into the technologies coming out of Boston, New York, or Silicon Valley, yet they often bear the brunt of the choices made by technologists.

As an entrepreneur in the space, I feel a strong responsibility to design my company’s products to embrace the possibilities of technology without creating the kind of chronic instability that a truly “liquid labor market” might portend. Nothing in the business or technology world is inevitable - leaders make choices every day that shape others’ reality. And those of us solving problems in the hourly work world have a responsibility to make our choices understanding the deliberate tradeoffs in the lives of people we serve.

I’m looking forward to the panel, and hopefully seeing many of you there!

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