In “A Jobs Compact for America’s Future,” published in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review I argued that America is struggling with the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression with no clear path toward restoring the jobs lost in the Great Recession and no strategy for overcoming three decades of stagnating wages. Failure to address these twin dimensions of the jobs crisis will doom our children and grandchildren to a declining standard of living. Here I want to ask each of us: What are we going to do about this?
Unfortunately, just when action is most needed, government remains gridlocked. Politicians are choosing to focus on winning the next election rather than working together.
Should the rest of us should just sit idly by and await the outcome of the election or, as in past national emergencies, can we pull together and start addressing this crisis now? I believe we can do something about this but it will take leadership and coordination from three key groups—business schools, the business community, and labor.
Specifically, we need to come together at both a national level and in regions across the country and commit to a Jobs Compact—a concrete action plan for creating the 20 million good jobs America needs to return to full employment and broadly shared prosperity by the end of this decade. (see my HBR article for full details). The actions needed to achieve this goal by 2020 are well known—rebuild America’s decaying infrastructure; build the regional and industry specific “eco-systems” to support next generation firms, industries, and jobs; engage in creative labor management negotiations needed to bring back off-shored jobs that now can be performed competitively in the U.S., work together with community colleges and universities to expand training and education opportunities, and rebuild unions into the 21st century suppliers of skilled workers the economy needs and workers want.
Business schools have a special opportunity and responsibility to lead and facilitate the national and regional dialogues needed to achieve a Jobs Compact. Let’s put to work what we teach MBAs about how to frame, facilitate, and “get to yes” in complex, multi-party negotiations by helping national and regional business, labor, and education leaders translate these options into actions that create good jobs and competitive enterprises. And let’s put our advice to work by teaching all our MBAs and executives how to build sustainable organizations that work for investors, employees, and the economy. (see http://mitsloan.mit.edu/iwer/ to learn how we are teaching this at the Sloan School).
No individual firm can do this acting alone—power comes through strong industry and regional networks. Business leaders need to work together and with other industry and regional stakeholders to share knowledge, mobilize the resources and build the “eco-systems” they need to compete on the basis of innovation, high productivity, and good wages.
Labor unions can add value to this effort by bringing the voice of the full workforce—from high level professionals and technicians to entry level immigrants, minorities, and single parents—into these discussions, expanding their apprenticeship and other training programs, and working in partnership with employers to ensure the full workforce is well prepared and fully engaged in building a sustainable competitive economy that works for generations to come.
Let us know if this works for you and, if so, how you are prepared to support a Jobs Compact for America’s Future.