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Replacing Underemployment and Work with Input

2016 is ending and one of the strongest news themes in every news cycle is that technology is threatening more of our jobs based on new research. In the United States, The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) hosts a great Youtube video titled what is productivity? In the video a business owner is profiled along with how she maximizes her business processes to increase the productivity of the goods and services she sells. The BLS helps its audience to explore the meaning of productivity to learn how productivity growth can lead to improvements in our professional lives and the well-being of our nation.

Per the BLS an input is “any resource used to create goods and services”. Further, it is necessary to understand that goods are things that we can touch and that services and things that we cannot touch. They both create value and both have respective inputs and process. The supply-chain of inputs will always have a starting point with an individual contributor. By individual, I mean a person. When thinking of most supply-chains of most companies, it is necessary to consider people in their most basic form as contributors. They are contributing an idea, or labor, or even personal data to create a good or service.

Having spent the past 15 years working as a process engineer, my earliest days were with the former auto manufacturer DaimlerChrysler. All of my professional time has been focused on itemizing the many inputs that make up our enterprise creations. Inputs have always included human’s labor as a measurement of time and that is how the BLS measures productivity vs earnings. As time progressed beyond the 2000’s I noticed that the consulting firms I’ve worked with were including everything from emails to mapping employee’s daily routines as a business process of valuable inputs.

When trying to understand the data released from the BLS databases on productivity versus hourly wages during the course of my lifetime, it’s easy to be confronted with analysis from every progressive moderate and conservative think tank that interprets economic data. The Economic Policy Institute’s regular publication of The Productivity-Pay Gap is no exception when citing BLS numbers to show that the 35 year wage inequality is rising beyond 2015. As a 35 year old Millennial, who started his career as a contractor to a nearly bankrupt auto industry in a soon to be bankrupt Detroit, I’m disappointed with wages for work. I’m also disappointed with the ideal of work. I’m hopeful that after decades of documenting people as inputs that we are not just quantifying the inputs of work and productivity, but people’s portable value. That stated, our woes of economic inclusion can be subdued by better allocating ownership of inputs so that both current and former workers are reaping the benefits of productivity not just their time.

One of my research clients at the Keith Institute during 2016 was the large cable set-top-box provider Time Warner Cable, as they were being acquired by the smaller Charter Cable. My work was adjacent to the acquisition but it was involved in evaluating the process of using company employees to test new hardware and software product releases. Most of the employees who participated were also customers of the company, and were incentivized separately from their wage for participation. As they gave feedback on the goods and services, they noticed that a regular incentive to participate was taken away. The normal gift card was retracted as the acquisition established budget uncertainty in the Change Management Department. Still participation was communicated to employees through regional directors as an unwritten part of their job description. While a gift card or other incentive for input may seem nominal, it should be noted that people’s inputs are a part of all development of goods and services. The BLS measures productivity as “change in output divided by change in input”. As employers, policy makers, consumers, and workers consider our value; we should all start asking ourselves if individual participants are properly indemnified for being a part of our productivity.

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