We Need to “Upgrade Our Jobs” with a “Good Jobs Strategy” – (Insight from Richard Florida and Zeynep Ton)

Richard Florida
Richard Florida

Between 2000 and 2008, just 2 percent of all American workers – those with a professional post-graduate degree such as doctors, lawyers, and MBA’s – saw gains in their “mean real money income.” Every other group, including college graduate and those with PhDs, saw their income decline.
Economic growth is increasingly powered not just by the places that have the most raw materials, the biggest ports, or even the best factories but by those with the richest clustering of people.
Richard Florida:  The Great Reset
How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity


I was lucky enough to catch an interview with Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class, and The Great Reset) on NPR’s Innovation Hub over the weekend.  He talked about the “superstar city” phenomenon, in which a handful of large cities pull in more and more creative people, which, in turn, continues the cycle of growth.  (Read more, and listen to the interview, here).

Good Jobs StrategyBut, as much as I liked his observations, it was the “problem” that he raised that got my attention.  Many of the “old” jobs are disappearing.  And, that reality is only going to get worse.  He referred to the work of Zeynep Ton, of the MIT Sloan School of Management, and her new book The Good Jobs Strategy:  How the Smartest Companies invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.

In the book, she describes how “In service industries, succeeding at the expense of employees and at the expense of customers often go together.”

In other words, you pay employees poorly, because you “can’t afford” to pay more.  Then, the customer service is…  terrible.  Then, the customers complain, but keep going back for more because of the low prices.  It is a societal low-pay, low service downward spiral…

Ms. Ton calls this the “bad jobs strategy.”  And she proposes, instead, a “good jobs strategy – jobs with decent pay, decent benefits, and stable work schedules.  But more than that, these companies design jobs so that their employees can perform well and find meaning and dignity in their work.”

And, she states:  “The good jobs strategy is not just a book title, it is a concrete strategy.”  It revolves around the basic core business idea that hiring the right talent matters, and treating those people well matters.

But it also addresses a bigger societal issue.  The fact is that we are going to have to “upgrade” jobs (Richard Florida’s phrase, from the interview).  We need some kind of new societal contract that provides a genuinely new approach to jobs for people in the “service industry” sector.

{Richard Florida interviewed Zeynep Ton for his Atlantic Cities site:  The Business Case for Paying Service Workers More.”    (worth reading).}

But, it is the “let’s think about this upgrading jobs challenge” that I think needs to inform our thinking, and become much more of a part of a national conversation.  It is part of what I keep asking, so often on this blog: “where will the jobs be?”


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