The elephant in the truck

Retraining low-skilled workers

Systems for continuous reskilling threaten to buttress inequality
Jan 14th 2017

英文中有句谚语叫做an elephant in the room,意思是there is an obvious
problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk
buttress: to support or give strength to sb/sth

图片 1


  1. IMAGINE YOU ARE a 45-year-old long-distance lorry driver. You never
    enjoyed school and left as soon as you could, with a smattering
    qualifications and no great love of learning. The job is tiring
    and solitary, but it does at least seem to offer decent job
    security: driver shortages are a perennial complaint in the
    industry, and the average age of the workforce is high (48 in
    Britain), so the shortfalls are likely to get worse. America’s
    Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) says there were 1.8m truckers in
    2014 and expects a 5% rise in their number by 2024. “As the economy
    grows, the demand for goods will increase and more truck drivers
    will be needed to keep supply chains moving,” predicts the BLS
    website, chirpily.

  2. But the future might unfold very differently. For all the
    excitement over self-driving passenger cars, the freight industry is
    likely to adopt autonomous vehicles even faster. And according to a
    report in 2014 by Morgan Stanley, a bank, full automation might
    reduce the pool of American truck drivers by two-thirds. Those
    projections came hedged with caveats, and rightly so. The
    pace of adoption may be slowed by regulation. Drivers may still be
    needed to deal with unforeseen problems; if such jobs require more
    technical knowledge, they may even pay better. Employment in other
    sectors may grow as freight costs come down. But there is a chance
    that in the not too distant future a very large number of
    truckers will find themselves redundant. The implications are

  3. Knowing when to jump is one problem. For people with decades of
    working life still ahead of them, it is too early to quit but it is
    also risky to assume that nothing will change. Matthew Robb of
    Parthenon-EY, a consultancy, thinks that governments should be
    talking to industry bodies about the potential for mass redundancies
    and identifying trigger points, such as the installation of sensors
    on motorways, that might prompt retraining. “This is a boiling-frog
    problem,” he says. “It is not thought about.”
    “那是一个温水煮青蛙的题材,”他说。 “还平昔不人想到。”

  4. For lower-skilled workers of this sort the world of MOOCs, General
    Assembly and LinkedIn is a million miles away. Around 80% of
    Coursera’s learners have university degrees. The costs of
    reskilling, in terms of time and money, are easiest to bear for
    people who have savings, can control their working hours or work for
    companies that are committed to upgrading their workforce. And
    motivation is an issue: the tremendous learning opportunities
    offered by the internet simply do not appeal to everyone.

Whosoever hath not

  1. The rewards of retraining are highest for computing skills, but
    there is no natural pathway from trucker to coder. And even if there
    were, many of those already in the workforce lack both the
    confidence and the capability to make the switch. In its
    Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies,
    the OECD presents a bleak picture of skills levels in 33 member
    countries (see chart). One in five adults, on average, has poor
    reading and numeracy skills. One in four has little or no experience
    of computers. On a measure of problem-solving ability using
    technology, most adults are at or below the lowest level of

  2. Moreover, learning is most effective when people are able to
    practise their new skills. Yet many jobs, including lorry-driving,
    afford little such opportunity, and some of them are being deskilled
    further. Research by Tom Higgins of Cardiff University suggests that
    the numeracy requirements for retail assistants and care-home
    workers in Britain went down between 1997 and 2012. The head of one
    of the world’s biggest banks worries that a back-office operation in
    India has disaggregated its work into separate tasks so
    effectively that employees are no longer able to understand the
    processes as a whole, let alone make useful suggestions for
    improving them.

  3. So the truckers’ dilemma will be very hard to solve. “It’s difficult
    when you don’t have a good answer even in an ideal world,” says
    Jesper Roine, an economist who sat on a Swedish commission to
    examine the future of work. But as a thought experiment it
    highlights some of the problems involved in upgrading the stock
    low-skilled and mid-skilled workers. Any decent answer will
    need a co-ordinated effort to bring together individuals, employers
    and providers of education. That suggests a role for two entities in

  4. One is trade unions. They have an industry-wide view of trends that
    may not be available to smaller employers. They can also accompany
    people throughout their working lives, which may become increasingly
    important in a world of rising self-employment. Denmark’s
    tripartite system, for example, binds together employers,
    government and unions. Firms and unions get together to identify
    skills needs; collective-bargaining agreements enshrine rights
    paid leave for training. The country’s famed “flexicurity”
    system offers unemployed workers a list of 258 vocational-training

  5. In Britain a well-regarded programme called UnionLearn uses union
    representatives both to inform workers about training options and to
    liaise with employers on workers’ requests for training. Employees
    seem more likely to discuss shortfalls in basic skills with union
    representatives than with managers. An analysis by academics at
    Leeds University Business School shows that between 2001 and 2013
    union members in Britain were a third more likely to have received
    training than non-unionised workers.

  6. The second entity is government. There is much talk about lifelong
    learning, though few countries are doing much about it. The Nordics
    fall into this less populated camp. But it is Singapore that can
    lay claim to the most joined-up approach with its
    SkillsFuture initiative. Employers in the city-state are asked to
    spell out the changes, industry by industry, that they expect to
    happen over the next three to five years, and to identify the skills
    they will need. Their answers are used to create “industry
    transformation maps” designed to guide individuals on where to

lay claim to: If you lay claim to something you do not have, you
say that it belongs to you.
joined-up : Journalists sometimes use joined-up to describe plans,
ideas, or organizations which seem sensible, sophisticated, and
mature, especially when they think that they have been unsophisticated
or immature in the past.
spell out: If you spell something out, you explain it in detail or
in a very clear way.

  1. Since January 2016 every Singaporean above the age of 25 has been
    given a S$500 ($345) credit that can be freely used to pay for any
    training courses provided by 500 approved providers, including
    universities and MOOCs. Generous subsidies, of up to 90% for
    Singaporeans aged 40 and over, are available on top of this
    credit. The programme currently has a budget of S$600m a year, which
    is due to rise to S$1 billion within three years. According to Ng
    Cher Pong, SkillsFuture’s chief executive, the returns on that
    spending matter less than changing the mindset around continuous

on top of: in addition to

  1. Some programmes cater to the needs of those who lack basic
    skills. Tripartite agreements between unions, employers and
    government lay out career and skills ladders for those who are
    trapped in low-wage occupations. Professional-conversion programmes
    offer subsidised training to people switching to new careers in
    areas such as health care.

  2. Given Singapore’s size and political system, this approach is not
    easily replicated in many other countries, but lessons can still be
    drawn. It makes sense for employers, particularly smaller ones, to
    club together to signal their skills needs to the workforce at
    . Individual learning accounts have a somewhat chequered
    history—fraudulent training providers helped scupper a British
    experiment in the early 2000s—but if well designed, they can offer
    workers educational opportunities without being overly

club together: If people club together to do something, they all
give money towards the cost of it. e.g. For my thirtieth birthday, my
friends clubbed together and bought me a watch.
chequered: If a person or organization has had a chequered career
or history, they have had a varied past with both good and bad

Any fool can know

  1. In June 2016, this newspaper surveyed the realm of artificial
    intelligence and the adjustments it would require workers to make as
    jobs changed. “That will mean making education and training flexible
    enough to teach new skills quickly and efficiently,” we concluded.
    “It will require a greater emphasis on lifelong learning and
    on-the-job training, and wider use of online learning and
    video-game-style simulation.”

  2. The uncertainties around the pace and extent of technological change
    are enormous. Some fear a future of mass unemployment. Others are
    sanguine that people will have time to adapt. Companies have to
    want to adopt new technologies, after all, and regulators may
    impede their take-up. What is not in doubt is the need for
    new and more efficient ways to develop and add workplace skills.

  3. The faint outlines of a new ecosystem for connecting employment and
    education are becoming discernible. Employers are putting
    greater emphasis on adaptability, curiosity and learning as
    desirable attributes for employees. They are working with
    universities and alternative providers to create and improve their
    own supply of talent. Shorter courses, lower costs and online
    delivery are making it easier for people to combine work and
    training. New credentials are being created to signal skills.

  4. At the same time, new technologies should make learning more
    effective as well as more necessary. Virtual and augmented reality
    could radically improve professional training. Big data offer the
    chance for more personalised education. Platforms make it easier to
    connect people of differing levels of knowledge, allowing
    peer-to-peer teaching and mentoring. “Education is becoming
    flexible, modular, accessible and affordable,” says Simon Nelson,
    the boss of FutureLearn, the Open University MOOC.

  5. But for now this nascent ecosystem is disproportionately likely
    to benefit those who least need help. It concentrates on advanced
    technological skills, which offer the clearest returns and are
    relatively easy to measure. And it assumes that people have the
    money, time, motivation and basic skills to retrain.

  6. Thanks to examples like Singapore’s, it is possible to imagine ways
    in which continuous education can be made more accessible and
    affordable for the mass of citizens. But it is as easy—indeed,
    easier—to imagine a future in which the emerging infrastructure of
    lifelong learning reinforces existing advantages. Far from
    alleviating the impact of technological upheaval, that would risk
    exacerbating inequality and the social and economic tensions it
    brings in its wake.
    This article appeared in the Special report section of the print
    edition under the headline “The elephant in the truck”





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