Making Service Jobs Creative?

I found this post intriguing…  here’s the challenge posed:

We are generating millions upon millions of low-skilled jobs in the service economy. We need to turn them into good jobs.

It amazes me that no one can see this. Not in the US. Not anywhere else. The right says the market will fix it. The left wants to rebuild manufacturing.

Can someplace, somewhere out there pay attention to this and organize the world’s first service economy summit devoted to turning service economy jobs into better paying, more fulfilling, longer-term, career-track creative jobs.

It seems overly optimistic to think that it will be simple to make such a transition.  I think that the U.S. was able to create a well-paid middle class in large part due to its position after WWII, when the rest of the developed world was at a disadvantage.  Unions fought for higher wages, and industry could afford it because the U.S. dominated markets.

But nowadays there’s a lot of competition.  In general to be well-paid you need to provide lots of value in your work.  Many service jobs are low-paid because almost anyone can perform the jobs.  To make these jobs creative means that the standardization level needs to be decreased.   On the one hand I do believe that most people can master some skill or service and become really great at it; but whether they can all find a way to market that skill effectively is another story.

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  • Jim  On October 18, 2007 at 8:42 am

    The market will fix it! That’s what markets do. Please keep the government and study groups out. They will just screw things up.

    This is a long discussion and I will have more to say later.

  • Jim  On October 19, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Comment #2:

    I’ll bet that 150 years ago farmers knew that there progeny leaving the farm for those darn manufacturing jobs, with no real security, were making the worst mistakes of their lives.

    But the market has fixed that problem. We now fret about manufacturing jobs changing to service jobs. The change to service jobs is simply another development that the market will take care of.

  • Curt  On November 3, 2007 at 5:13 am

    I think there are a number of interesting points here.

    1. I agree that we don’t need the government to try to ‘fix’ this issue. I have no problem with academics thinking about it, as long as they are willing to put their theories to a market test first rather than pushing for some big untested program.

    2. The changing nature of the economy and markets is at once a bit scary and the source of opportunity. As you say, the change from farming to manufacturing was a huge shift that surely was seen as risky and uncertain at the time. And initially many of those jobs may not have been too “good” (whether thinking about pay, conditions, hours, etc); over time companies and markets evolved, and unions fought for and won certain improvements. In the US at least, we were in a dominant worldwide position after world war II, and that meant that our manufacturing profits were high, and a good portion of that flowed to workers.

    3. With the change to service jobs, we’ve yet to see how things will evolve. I would submit that if a service job worker does not provide exceptional value, the pay level will never be all that high (relatively). It’s an interesting question of what it will take for a service worker to provide exceptional value; in manufacturing the use of better equipment and technology raises the productivity of each worker, but I’m not sure if the same type of thing can happen in the service sector. So far at least the results over the last thirty years seem to indicate that the pay levels for the middle class and below are pretty stuck (adjusting for inflation).

  • Jim  On November 3, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Your #3 sounds like a quote from a farmer in 1880! Just substitute the word “manufacturing” for “service” and “farming” for “manufacturing”.

    Free Markets are miraculous! Just give them time!

  • Curt  On November 4, 2007 at 2:51 am

    I could just agree with you, and then we could rest easy knowing that all will work out for the best… but that’s just too easy!

    A few points:
    1. Unlike the farmer, I am not discouraging anyone from trying any path they like. I would simply encourage people to work hard at being the very best at what they choose to do, because the competition is now worldwide. For all I know the future billionaires of tomorrow are all busy playing video games all day long and dropping out of college, and who am I to tell them to do anything different… but there is a risk to that path.

    2. I agree that markets are pretty miraculous, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t winners and losers at times (and those times can stretch out painfully long). Markets raise the economic averages over time, with some up and some down. My argument is that America enjoyed a special period (approx. 1947 – 1973) where the ‘average Joe’ was a winner. With a single income one could get a house (not a fancy, big house, but a house), raise a family, get the kids an education. Nowadays it takes two incomes, families are smaller yet seemingly in more debt with little savings, education is quite expensive. Maybe that will all turn around in time, but my feeling is that other parts of the world are on an upswing and the US is basically holding steady at best.

    3. I note that in most of the rest of the world, free market advocates are generally called ‘Liberal’ – in part, I think, because markets cause a lot of change and disruption along with the economic gains. It’s interesting to me that in the US the conservative position tends to be more pro-market than the liberal position. I think there is some tension there between wanting to uphold certain ‘traditional’ values while simultaneously advocating market solutions.

  • Jim  On November 6, 2007 at 8:55 am

    1. Could not agree more! Note that most billionaires today do not have college degrees and probably played video games or the equivalent during their development.

    2. There ARE winners and losers! And the left – yes I am going to continue using that term – doesn’t want to allow the losers! You must allow them to lose and then support the market in taking care of them – private charities and churches.
    Why do we need two incomes today? Because we want everything immediately – immediate gratification which is the root of most of the discussions we have – so that is not a change in the worldwide ecomonic picture, but a change in our society which we should work on reversing. This subject is another lengthy discussion.

    3. Conservatives of today are the Liberals of the past – think John F. Kennedy. The lefts positions have moved further to the left as have the rights positions, therefore this anomaly. To me the best illustration of this is the lefts insistence on referring to themselves as “Progressives”. With a little knowledge of recent history, they would discover the Communists of the late 40’s and early 50″s referred to themselves as “Progressives”.
    I am not saying the left of today is Communist, but it is interesting to me that they have adopted their self-description.

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