Job Training for Workers in the Gig Economy Era

New Orleans    An interesting question came from the audience after watching “The Organizer” in Santa Fe.  A gentleman asked what ACORN was doing and what was our thinking about job training programs these days.  I basically answered that federal monies were being cutback in job training, but for the most part there seemed to be a sense that job training programs were lost and ineffective, out of tune with both the modern economy and with the decreased mobility of workers in post-Great Recession period.  I threw something back that was glibber than well thought out bringing the question back to the problem of what exactly constitutes job training in the gig-economy and the coming age of mass scale automation.

The question clearly deserves a better answer than I offered, but it also got me thinking about exactly what kind of job training is appropriate in the second decade of the 21st century?  How does one train workers in the gig economy?  And, to what degree do many of these workers need job training at all, compared to support and assistance in running what amounts to a small business in self-employment?

One of the core characteristics of gig workers is the mobility and adaptability of their job skills and employment assets.  Whether they are employees of companies like Uber or independent contractors, under either definition at the heart of the business model for companies like Uber, AirBnb and so many other app-based employers are their hope and prayer that workers do not fully understand their self-interest and that they can pass off the normal costs of  business to the workers themselves.  There are no employment costs and workers are ill-trained to evaluate everything from house and car depreciation, insurance of all kinds including health, auto, home, and workman’s compensation, taxes and social security, and the list goes on.  It may not be a job training program in the way my questioner imagined, but to protect and advance gig economy workers, there should be government sponsored training programs that assist workers in how to navigate these shoals.

We all know men and women in these potentially exploitative situations.  The number of Uber and Lyft drivers who are barely making minimum wage for their hours worked is legion, and the number that realize that when they first enroll in the program is minuscule.  The number of short term rental people who are unprepared for making the decisions in handling city licensing and personal tax planning is also astronomical.

Perhaps if the government – and others – stepped up to this issue and offered the kind of financial education and support needed, these employers would have to get right with their workers, whatever they are called.  Perhaps if the government – and others – did that they should and also start to understand the long term social and individual impacts that will accrue for payment later, like social security and health care payments, they will step up to the task as well.

All of these questions need better answers.

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