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‘Not all machines are evil,’ and other thoughts on California’s changing economy

The Influencer Series
The Influencer Series

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The California Influencers Series

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Even with unemployment low, our readers have worries about the future of California's economy. We asked the California Influencers how the state can prepare for an economic future in which so many of our jobs will be lost to technology.

Antonia Hernandez, President and CEO of California Community Foundation

“Invest more in community colleges, reform outdated regulatory impediments, address housing cost issues.”

Mike Madrid, Principal of Grassroots Lab

“Technological advances have always threatened the job base of the existing economic order. The answer for a successful transition remains the same -- create an economic environment conducive to more technological advancement and change the nature of work and the type of jobs rather than try to protect existing ones.”

Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California

“I’m not so sure the job loss will be as dramatic as some predict. Every time we undergo a major shift in technology new jobs that haven’t yet been imagined are created. We need to educate the next generation with an eye towards this unpredictable future and retrain older workers for new types of work.”

Eric Bauman, Chair of the California Democratic Party

“As we build and grow our tech, telecom, health care/biotech, entertainment and education sectors, we must be constantly creating new fields and opportunities for Californians. Additionally, we must invest and create access to career and technical education/training in fields ranging from computer technology, to automotive tech to the building trades, all of which offer a good future. And our K-12 schools must prepare students with a robust S.T.E.A.M curriculum.”

Daniel Zingale, Senior Vice President of The California Endowment

“Invest more in educating and training for the jobs of today and the future. Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is a good start. But California's low ranking among states in K-12 spending is not preparing us to meet the challenges of a changing economy and workforce. Invest in K-12 and in community colleges as a gateway of opportunity for youth and for our state’s future success.”

Angie Wei, Chief of Staff of California Labor Federation

“It's not a foregone conclusion that technology is bad for workers. We need to harness tech to make work easier for workers, use it to create good jobs. To do so, workers must have a voice in reimagining work. How do farmworkers use new tools to test for food safety while machines do the backbreaking picking of our food? How do caregivers use tech to lift patients while they get trained to become health providers? It’s time for workers, tech companies, venture capitalists, policymakers, employers to come together and forge a path to reimagine work and use tech to create good jobs, not eliminate them.”

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Jim Boren, Executive Director of the Fresno State Institute for Media and Public Trust; and Former Executive Editor of The Fresno Bee

“We must emphasize the long-term importance of educating our students in the sciences, technology, engineering and math to bridge the technology skills gap, especially in our poorest communities. More and more technology jobs will become available, but many who are not trained in these areas will be missing these employment opportunities. We should consider creating technology-based charter schools that are accessible to every neighborhood in California. We know tech-based charter schools work. Why aren't there more of them?”

Tom Campbell, Professor of Law and Professor of Economics at Chapman University

“The expansion of technology in our economy is an opportunity, not an obstacle, to employing Californians. High tech has brought new kinds of jobs that did not exist 10 years ago. The best way to train Californians for the new kind of jobs is in partnership with companies offering those jobs. Training workers is a deductible business expense. The state ought to make those costs doubly deductible -- essentially investing in the exact retraining for which there are jobs. “

Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator, 1993-2017

“There is an overused expression that every problem presents an opportunity.Without a doubt one of the biggest economic challenges we face involves the jobs that are lost through advances in technology.

“California is positioned to step up to this challenge and make it a friend not a foe. First, with our network of universities and high-tech centers we should be the ones creating the new technologies and advancing these not only in America but throughout the world.

“Second, California should become the absolute leader in climate change adaptation techniques. Washington has given up its leadership so instead of China filling the void we can do it here. “Fighting climate change is a win /win for us. Not only thousands of jobs from the clean energy transition but cleaner air as well. It is clearly time for an infrastructure program worthy of our state to ensure that our roads, bridges and highways as well as our water systems keep pace. New sources of water from recycling, recharging and desalination will allow us to withstand predicted droughts. And these technologies will be needed in the world.

“California should consider selling climate bonds to move this initiative forward for a future filled with pride, hope and opportunity.”

Ron George, Former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court

“To help ensure economic growth and the creation of jobs in our nation, California students must be given the type of education that will enable them to secure employment involving the development and application of innovations in technology. But this must not be done at the expense of providing them with a basic background in the liberal arts and sciences, and in their rights and responsibilities as Californians.”

Harmeet Dhillon, Republican National Committee, California, and Partner in Dhillon Law Group

“California must cut its barriers to innovation and growth — high taxes, excessive regulation, high cost of living — to encourage businesses to stay or to be founded here.”

Aziza Hasan, Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership For Change

“Focus on education and investing in the creativity and emotional intelligence of our students so that they may adapt more easily to a fast paced and evolving technology.”

Rob Stutzman, Founder & President of Stutzman Public Affairs

“Prepare to be fully flexible to allow new employment sectors to emerge. Restrictions on the innovative flow of labor and employment development should be loosened not tightened. This Legislature keeps tightening regs, which inhibits our ability to have an adaptive economy.”

Manuel Pastor, Director of Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California

“We do have to have a little less pessimism about the aggregate effects: jobs will be lost but others created. In that transition, there will be pain and we can ease the journey with portable benefits, basic income supports, and investments in community college and workforce institutions than can help workers retool.

“We also need to prepare for jobs that will grow, including caring for an aging population, a task that will call for better training and better wages for care workers. And we have to own up to the fact that all of this will be expensive — and will require that our high-tech sector driving the employment displacement step up with both revenues and civic leadership.”

Madeleine Brand, Radio host with KCRW Los Angeles

“We must make higher education more affordable. A better educated workforce will attract new companies that could offset the job losses. One big reason why Silicon Valley exists is because of the excellent universities nearby. But increasingly they are out of reach for most Californians.

“We also have to figure out a way to provide a minimum wage and standard of living for people in this new economy. And we need to come up with some kind of incentive plan for companies that commit to retaining and/or retraining their workforce. Or — they could pay into a retraining fund for the workers they lay off when they decide to use robots instead of people.

Timothy White, Chancellor of the California State University

“We know that Californians with a college degree are better equipped to handle the global shifts in technology, automation and other factors making some industries and jobs obsolete. This is in part a testament to the CSU’s world-class educators, who impart our students with the critical thinking skills to embrace new ideas and evolving technology.

“Indeed, California’s economic future requires visionary leaders to fuel the upward trajectory and growth of the Golden State. I have every confidence that CSU alumni will continue to be those leaders.”

Bonnie Castillo, Executive Director of California Nurses Association

“Health care security, through a single payer/Medicare for all approach, as in SB 562, would substantially lessen the economic burden on individuals, families and communities. It would allow businesses to reduce their enormous health care costs curbing the incentive some cite to eliminate jobs through technology. For RNs and other health professionals, assuring technology enhances their professional clinical judgment rather than displace them, has the added benefit of protecting patients. Further, we need legislation, as has been proposed federally by Sen. Bernie Sanders, to guarantee jobs for everyone. Finally, shorter work weeks with living wages would secure more job opportunities.”

Ashley Swearengin, President & CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation

“Planning for a future in which jobs are dominated by artificial intelligence and stabilizing the state’s budget both come down to this: how are we preparing our students for economic opportunity? From early childhood through college and beyond, California operates the largest public education system in the U.S., making it the single greatest pipeline of human talent in the nation. It is the backbone of our economy — always has been and always should be. Meaningful reform and investment in public education that supports the highest chances of success for our kids is the ‘main and the plain thing’ for California’s future — both its economy and its budget.”

Eloy Oakley, Chancellor of California Community Colleges

“Education and reskilling are to key to preparing our workforce for the disruptions that automation and AI are having on the economy. Supporting adult learners and the labor organizations that represent them is vital to our economic future. I am confident that the California Community Colleges will respond to this challenge.”

Rosalind Hudnell, Former Vice President of Human Resources at Intel Corp and Former Chair & President of Intel Foundation

“Progress from the first industrial revolution which brought the steam engine, 2nd which delivered the telephone and electricity, 3rd driven deeply by California given the digital innovation which provided personal computing, to the one we are entering now, the 4th Industrial Revolution, jobs went away and new businesses were created requiring new skills which created new jobs. The time we are in now will be no different. It’s not as much about what’s going away but how can we ensure that during this period of innovation more Californians can benefit and participate in the new digital economy.

There will continue to be new business models and as a result, new jobs. Yes, artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous driving, internet of things and more will require even deeper STEM skills. Jobs which can be replaced with automation likely will continue to be. Our state is driving the innovation. Our residents need better training, education and opportunity to engage in it. It’s a fundamental gap that our state educational system has not kept up with the innovation our business community is driving. As we look at priorities of funding, it’s time to make this a priority including adult education and more relevant job training including entrepreneurship.”

David Townsend, Founder of TCT Public Affairs

“We must face up to the fact that not everyone is suited to a four year college education and degree. We must expand technical education in high schools and community colleges. The elimination of early tracking into training and vocational programs has been a disaster. This should be treated as an economic issue not a social issue. We have done an entire generation of kids a major disservice.”

Kim Yamasaki, Executive Director of Center for Asians United for Self Empowerment

“While technology will inevitably eliminate many existing professions, it will also create opportunities for Californians to take on a variety of new jobs. We will need to re-evaluate our education system and curriculums in order to ensure that our students are prepared for the jobs of the future. Meanwhile, further investment in workforce development and job training programs will allow workers in shrinking industries to better transition into jobs in the growth industries.”

Curt Pringle, Former Assembly Speaker, and Founder of Curt Pringle & Associates public relations

"Boom and bust cycles in California dramatically impact state revenues and state services. This fluctuation is directly tied to California's reliance on personal income tax paid by high income earners. Even though progressive policies might want to tax high income earners, when a state like California is generating over 68% of its entire budget from personal income tax and the overwhelming majority of that tax revenue is from the top 10% of income earners, our entire state's budget is built on sand, and every incoming recession washes away funding for state services. There are many ways to build a firmer foundation for the state.

"In 2009, the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy, of which I was a member, presented many ideas on how to reshuffle our state's tax structure. Those ideas included reducing the personal income tax rates and developing a "business net receipts tax". This BNRT would replace the state's general sales tax and would extend a tax more broadly than the current sales tax. Any structural tax change will affect people and businesses differently, and thus any change will generate opposition. But tackling this issue today, when revenues are strong, is the right thing to do."

Laboni Hoq, Litigation Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice

“While it is inevitable that technology gains will cause short term job losses in certain sectors, new jobs are being created in industries that require new and higher skills. We must see this as opportunity — or really an imperative — to invest in our workforce so that they can be competitive in securing these new jobs. We can do so by directing resources to increased and subsidized access to higher education and hi tech skills training.

"We should also focus on job growth in certain key services industries where technology and automation will not have as big an impact, such as the care-giving industry, where demand is ballooning as our population rapidly ages. We need to make those living wage jobs, possibly through subsidies or more affordable long-term care insurance. We should also keep wages rising and maintain and improve the social safety net so those who may not be able to transition to new jobs can still contribute to the economy and live in dignity.”

Michele Siqueiros, President of Campaign for College Opportunity

“California should set an ambitious goal to ensure 60 percent of adults earn a college degree or credential by 2030 and put in place the funding and policy directives to achieve it. Without an education or training, it is difficult to earn a living wage, buy a home or send your own children to college.”

Kim Belshé, Executive Director of First 5 LA

“This question assumes that new jobs won’t be created by technology. There aren’t less jobs because of the Industrial Revolution, rather existing jobs were eliminated but new ones were created for a net positive gain. The same is happening now. How we prepare for that is by supporting kids’ development of foundational skills that can be applied in the future.”

Jon Coupal, President of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

“California policy leaders should be more concerned with losing jobs to other states than it is with losing jobs to technology. Until we restrain the enormous political strength of the monolithic education establishment and adopt some elements of school choice, our schools will continue to churn out students ill-prepared to fill the jobs that a modern, technology-based economy needs. This also requires that lawmakers consider the cumulative effect of each new law or policy that raises the cost of hiring people, and of doing business in California generally.”

Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce

“The evidence shows that technology has not been a barrier to job growth in California. While there have been enormous advances in technology in the last 10 years, unemployment is at an all-time low. It is critical that we continue to focus on improving education at all levels so we develop a workforce that is prepared to respond to future challenges.”

“Volatility is due to an overreliance on income taxes on the high-wage earners and that could only be changed by a constitutional amendment reducing taxes on the wealthy and broadening the base to increase taxes on others. Because that is unlikely to happen, the rainy day reserve is crucial to withstanding an inevitable decline in revenues.”

Kristin Olsen, Former minority leader in the California Assembly, and Stanislaus County Supervisor

“As technology advances, more and more jobs are being replaced with robots and software — which is both exciting and frightening, filled with opportunities and challenges. First, we must acknowledge that the definition of work is changing; for many it is becoming more about income generation than traditional employment. We must revise the Labor Code to accommodate these changes and allow people to earn a good living in new and creative ways.

"We also must update our education systems so they can be flexible to changing workplace demands, to teach entrepreneurship, coding, robotics, etc…, and to teach people the importance of lifelong learning that will allow them to reinvent themselves and their skill sets as the needs of the workplace continue to change. In this technological age, there are often more questions than answers, but we must start addressing them head on before too many people get left behind.”

Dorothy Rothrock, President of California Manufacturers & Technology Association

“There is nothing new about new technology increasing labor productivity and the economy requiring fewer workers for the same output. Education and workforce development curriculums need to be modernized to teach the skills that will keep workers fully employed.”

Linda Ackerman, President of Marian Bergeson Excellence in Public Service Series

“Technology drives innovation by enhancing efficiency and by controlling and adapting to the current economic environment. It leads successful enterprises to form new goals and solutions to existing financial problems.

“Unfortunately, California, acting instead as a partner to innovators, has burdened the business climate with laws, taxes and regulations, driving businesses to relocate to other states.

“On top of this bureaucratic nightmare the educational system is failing to produce ‘skilled workers’ that are able to easily function in this technological world. Technology should not be feared, but acknowledged as offering viable solutions to society's problems.”

Chet Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation

“I don’t know of any individual or institution who has good answer to this question, but I’d argue that we should be working harder than we currently are to know enough to develop one. To start, California’s public and private sectors should be more formally brought together to identify job sectors most likely to be disrupted by automation over the next two decades and what the impact is likely to be on California’s labor market.

"One form this could take would be the establishment of a Blue Ribbon commission on the future of work in California. Its goal would be to provide a better understanding of how technology is likely to change business practices and what needs to be done in preparation to promote employment. It’s hard to think about thoughtful preparation — both new opportunities and coming challenges — without a better informed understanding of how next-wave technology is going to impact the state’s employment rates in the years ahead.”

Donna Lucas, CEO and President of Lucas Public Affairs

“We need to make sure all Californians have access to high-speed internet and can continue their education and training for jobs of the future.”

John A. Pérez, Former Speaker of the California Assembly

“There have always been shifts in technology that have transformed labor markets. When we have faced this challenge in the past we focused on retraining the workforce to adapt to the new landscape. To help aid in this endeavor we should be looking at strong worker protections to ensure that folks have the security they need to be able to handle disruptive transitions in the workforce.”

Jonathan Keller, President of California Family Council

“Automation and the internet will make many current jobs (and even entire industries) obsolete. But there California can take simple steps to guard against rising unemployment while safeguarding lower-income workers.

“While California’s CSU and UC systems feature some of the best universities in the country, not everyone is a good fit for college. Students who graduate high school must be given the tools to succeed in a changing economy. STEM education and computer training are valuable. But so is vocational training. Students should be given the opportunity to study both high tech as well as voc-tech.

“Many traditionally ‘blue collar jobs’ are still decades away from automation. Some of these industries may not have the same cultural appeal of working at Facebook, Apple or Google, but they remain vital to a thriving economy.

“Fields like carpentry, masonry, plumbing and woodworking will be needed to meet California’s housing crisis. Growing communities will require skilled nurses and emergency responders. California is not known as an industrial powerhouse, but machining and welding are still indispensable in many sectors. And as a resident of California’s great San Joaquin Valley, skilled agricultural leaders training will be in demand for years to come.

“For years, we’ve told Californians about the value of working with their minds. We need to remind them there is no shame in working with their hands.

Catherine Lew, Principal and Co-Founder of The Lew Edwards Group

“High quality, affordable education and career technical training to prepare Californians of all ages and backgrounds — whether they are young people, military veterans or re-entry students — is essential to preparing our state’s workforce for high demand jobs in new sectors and a global economy. With tuition costs continuing to rise, we must continue to invest in our local community colleges and other state educational systems to increase opportunities for our workforce to earn college credits, certifications and job skills at a reasonable price. Expanding access to new workforce training programs for all Californians in future job sectors — and recognizing the connection between a strong educational system and a vibrant economy — is essential for our economic future moving forward. And on the heels of this week’s Janus decision, it must be acknowledged that unions and the collective bargaining process have played a critical role in our country’s economic health. Unless we are prepared to protect the American worker, we will only continue to see an erosion of our middle class and along with it, our economic vitality.”

Maria Mejia, Los Angeles Director, Gen Next

“Not all machines are evil, and while job loss is expected, history reminds us that workplace revolutions also come with unique opportunities for job creation, the growth of new industries, improvements in the delivery and experience of new products and services — and sometimes enhance quality of life.

“In other words, rather than fear the change, we should embrace it. In fact, it is already here.

“At the same time, California’s transition to a tech-driven economy must be intentional. The extent to which these technologies will displace workers (and how quickly) will depend on how well government and corporations in California can align around industry-specific transition plans. Does machine automation make sense for all industries? No. Therefore, it is important that we prioritize the overall health of our economies, think about our pace of adoption and the tradeoff between business growth and employments needs.

“More importantly, the rise of machine automation means the value of an employee’s cognitive, emotional and problem-solving skills also rise, and with that, a critical need for California to improve education levels across every strata of the labor market, and particularly among our lowest wage earners given their level of vulnerability in this new era of tech.”

Pete Wilson, Governor of California, 1991-1999

“California has been driving jobs out of the state for decades as we lose the competition and the jobs to states that tax employers less and do not cause them the costs of our regulatory excess. That was true before the prosperity of Silicon Valley, but even technology companies will be attracted to jurisdictions and foreign competitors in which they can operate with far less costs. They are already doing so. We must always adapt to educating and training our young for the present jobs and jobs of the future. But there will always be competition and we will lose to the states and foreign competitors who permit employers to operate at far less cost than in California.”

Gray Davis, Governor of California, 1999-2003

“Robots are replacing workers in factories. Soon driverless cars will eliminate Uber, Lyft, taxi and limo drivers. The next to go will be Truck and bus drivers. What will all these people do? The answer is real time retraining. For example, every tech company needs their network remaining up and running. The people who manage that network are paid $80,000-$120,000 per year and do not need a college degree. All that is required is completing 8-10 hours of training provided online by the prospective employer. Then there is an in-person interview. If that goes well the displaced worker has a new job. That means a better paying job and rising skill sets for America. My mother told me that whoever invented the concept of a job should get a Nobel prize — because at the end of the day all you want to do is go to bed. The last thing you want to do is rebel against the government.”

Matt Baretto, Professor of Chicano Studies at UCLA and Co-founder of Latino Decisions

“The state needs to invest equally in all schools in STEM training, so that every child graduating from a California high school has the same opportunity to attend college and enter the STEM workforce of the future. Children in wealthy private schools or affluent public schools should not get a head start and advantage in the new economy because their school has more money. The state must address this issue head on with increased funding dedicated to STEM in all schools statewide. A majority of California students are attending underfunded public schools and that is bad news for all of us. Our entire economy depends on a better educated and better trained workforce. California will be more successful when its great diversity, both racial and gender, is reflected proportionately in all industries, especially those in STEM, software and technology.”

Bill Burton, Managing Director of SKDKnickerbocker in Los Angeles

“We have to prepare for the fact that the gig economy has its limitations and creates a class of workers more vulnerable to technological advances than any that has ever existed. Silicon Valley has been masterful at recreating our economic future but we have to make sure that it is attending to the Californians it is making even more vulnerable.”

Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of Bay Area Council

“Keep innovating. Keep evolving. From the Industrial Revolution to today, new technologies have always changed the way we work. We need investment in robust education and skills training programs that can help workers transition to the next generation of jobs. And we need to build much stronger connections between employers and educational institutions to deepen their understanding of what the jobs of the future will be and what colleges and universities need to do to provide the education, skills and training for those jobs.”