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Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
What do green ports, family interventions, and professional sports have to do with each other—and the future of the nonprofit sector?
In an influential Foreign Affairs article last year, former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder argued that the impending offshoring of tens of millions of jobs is a “Third Industrial Revolution.” It will spread beyond manufacturing jobs to high-skill professional services that were previously insulated, such as accounting, law, and virtually any kind of data analysis. (X-rays, for example, can now be read by specialists in India.) Although this disruption will be massive, it can be managed, according to Blinder, so long as we recognize that the critical divide is no longer between “skilled” and “unskilled” labor, but between work that can be done at a distance (“impersonal services”) and work that must be done interpersonally (“personal services”).
Here in Los Angeles, we haven’t adapted quickly enough to globalization, but there are signs that our leaders are increasingly acting as Blinder’s theory would predict. Labor unions are prioritizing industries that are not subject to offshoring, such as home health care, hotel, and restaurant workers. Similarly, government and civic leaders are placing great stock in the economic potential of ports, airports, and the entire logistics industry, as well as green technology.
Blinder thinks the key may be thinking differently about education. Our current system is geared to push the lucky and talented into college—which may no longer result in a stable professional career—and provide a basic education that was adequate for the manufacturing jobs of the past but is woefully short on the verbal and tech skills required for blue collar jobs of the present. (Have you seen the electronic gear your UPS delivery person lugs around?)
In the nonprofit sector, thoughtful leaders are acting in accord with Blinder’s theory. For example, the Kellogg Foundation’s New Options Initiative aims to create a credential alternative to high school diplomas and associate degrees that will land youth in good careers. The James Irvine Foundation’s emphasis on technical education and academies in which young people can learn real world skills is helping young people better prepare for the global job market.
Against this backdrop, the social sector’s developing emphasis on family interventions—a recurrent theme in the interviews my colleagues and I have been conducting with civic leaders and public officials this summer—may foretell a trend. We aren’t doing nearly enough to help parents ready their kids for these new realities. We have all known this for decades, of course. The preschool and child care movements are longstanding, and fairly successful—but not enough. To hear leaders from business, government, labor, academia, and politics all hit the same note on this subject is striking.
The impacts of globalization may make nonprofit work even more central to our society. Alhough nonprofits are not immune to offshoring, most of the services they provide, such as teaching, health services, counseling, and advocacy, cannot be delivered over a wire. Furthermore, these services are precisely the areas that will require greater investment to make American workers competitive, meaning that the sector is likely to grow.
Now, what could professional sports possibly have to do with all this? We’re all familiar with the extraordinary measures college and professional teams will take to find top talent. Scouts begin tracking basketball players when they are in the third grade. What if we took a similar approach to finding other talents in young people? We should be looking in those same neighborhoods for kids who might grow into good programmers, mathematicians, analysts, social workers, and peacemakers.
Google is one company that goes hunting for talent (a friend once told me about a co-worker who had been invited to work for them four separate times), but if Google and its competitors could just start earlier, and if we could just provide better early childhood environments, we’d really be on to something.
The irony of global competition is that the pressures for quarterly profits push us to recruit from overseas. For the same amount of effort and expense it takes to get highly educated workers H-1B visas, couldn’t we develop two or three times as many capable young people in this country? The problem is that no company wants to wait 12 to15 years when they need someone today. That leaves us with a workforce that is somewhat like major league baseball before Jackie Robinson: There’s a world of talent out there that’s not being realized.