What Does Trump's Victory Mean For The Labour Market... And For Us?


It is a surreal day today. Despite 9000 miles of separation between our home in Australia and the action in the U.S., it’s hard to not feel the energy of what has been a shocking turn of events over the past 24 hours.

Political history has been made. All of the pollers and journalists and pundits got it wrong, and we are now faced with the reality that Donald Trump is America’s president-elect. 

It is hard to fathom that millions of people have openly stood behind a man who has mocked and denigrated women, racial minorities and people with disabilities. This is a man whose empire was built upon the labour of the very people he plans to marginalise and an economic system that guaranteed his success in life from the moment he was born. He is a man who was elected not due to his experience or understanding of complex political issues, nor his temperament, but rather because he spoke into the quiet xenophobia, bigotry and a disillusionment with modern politics and government that has been rising up within too many for too long. It is the same force that saw Brexit pass and Tony Abbott's election as prime minister in 2013.

That is not what I want to talk about today, and other people have expressed their thoughts far more eloquently than I have above. It is also not the purpose of this blog.

Still, I know that so many of my readers are ambitious and talented young women who likely feel shocked and saddened by today's news.  I want you to know that you are not alone. Able-Minded has and will always be a place for people just like you, a place where we will continue to talk about how we can do what is right and fair, in the service of helping our clients find meaning and purpose through gainful work - work that they may not have been able to participate in if it were not for our support. 

On days like today, where it is easy to feel powerless and diminished, never forget the capacity that you have, right now, to change another person’s life for the better. Helping a person return to work is like opening a door to their financial security, physical and mental wellbeing and a connection to community that all humans need and deserve. On a day like today where it feels difficult to go to work and return to your busy inbox, missed phone calls and reports that need writing, remember this. Remember that today you can use your skills and talents to counteract what feels like a century of social and cultural progress undone, all in a single election.

You can continue to be the voice for people who are told they are damaged goods, both in subtle and overt ways; to help them find their place in a constantly shifting, sometimes volatile labor market. It is an act that can change people’s lives, and the lives of their families, for the better. 

And so we turn our attention to one of the many sentiments that helped bring Trump to power: 

Trump’s unapologetic nationalism struck a chord with many working-class Americans affected by under- and unemployment. He spoke directly into their fears of their jobs being moved offshore or taken away by immigrants willing to do the work for less:

“They’re stealing our jobs; they’re beating us in everything; they’re winning, we’re losing.”

Trump's promises to improve infrastructure and create millions of onshore jobs in the process have resonated, despite evidence suggesting that manufacturing employment in the U.S. continues to grow and offshore jobs are in decline

But if Trump is wrong about the threat of overseas workers, why are so many people in blue-collar jobs struggling to find work, or find enough of it? Not just in the U.S., but here in Australia as well? 

It’s not because of offshoring or immigration. 

The real cause of the jobs crisis among blue-collar workers? It's Automation:

“The American manufacturing resurgence hasn’t helped many of the country’s blue-collar workers who were let go in the past two decades... in part because the modern factory environment is driven by high-tech equipment, robotics, flexible scheduling, and lean techniques. These factories depend on workers who are adept at programming and overseeing high-tech equipment; able to handle multiple jobs throughout the factory as product demand shifts, rather than a single station on an assembly line; and proficient enough with manufacturing concepts that they can recommend plant improvements, large and small, on their own.
— Jeffrey Rothfeder, The New Yorker

The simple truth is that technology and automation are not going away. 

The Foundation for Young Australians has revealed that as many as 70 percent of the courses people under 25 are enrolled in today are for jobs that will not exist in the future.

Unskilled and entry level roles are dying. This is a trend that will continue over the next 10-15 years. Income disparity is likely to remain an issue as demand increases for skilled workers. And with increased job flexibility, we will see less job security as more temporary, part-time or contract roles emerge.

And this is why we are so needed. 

As Rehabilitation Consultants we are going to be working with more and more clients who have been left behind by a labour market that requires more from them than ever before. We are the ones who will be tasked with helping them retrain and up-skill in order to remain competitive candidates for employment. Creating more jobs will not solve this issue because it is a problem that lies at the very heart of how modern work is evolving - rapidly so. 

The notion of a stable life-long career was left behind in the 20th century and it continues to disintegrate today. With technology advancements along with greater workplace freedom and flexibility comes a great deal of uncertainty, particularly for our manual labourers.

The notion of a stable life-long career was left behind in the 20th century and it continues to disintegrate today. With technology advancements along with greater workplace freedom and flexibility comes a great deal of uncertainty, particularly for our manual labourers.

Moving jobs back onshore is not going to solve the employment crisis that low-skilled workers are facing. In cases where automation and new technology has not replaced them, manual workers and labourers often find themselves in crisis after an injury or illness that prohibits them from performing their job. 

I have seen too many injured or unwell clients who were deemed totally and permanently disabled - and therefore unemployable - as a result of being offered simple retraining either too late or not at all. In occupational rehab, there is a strong push to prioritise a return to pre-injury role above all else, which means that we often miss out on a crucial window of opportunity to help people retrain and up-skill before their disability becomes entrenched. Alas, It is often the case that we find ourselves chasing a rapid outcome over a sustainable one. 

I don’t mean to demonise insurers and our compensation systems in saying this, because at the same time I have worked with many clients who did not believe they should have to up-skill or retrain to find a new role. The situation we find ourselves in is no-one’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility. 

Although he may have been wrong about the cause and the remedy, Trump was right about something: low-skilled jobs are at risk. 

As Rehabilitation Counsellors we have an important role to play in helping our clients and other stakeholders understand that the skills that kept people employed in the past are not good enough anymore, regardless of whether we can return someone to their pre-injury capacity.

Medical management is not enough, and Rehabilitation Counsellors, with our understanding of the labour market, vocational decision-making and retraining must form part of the solution to the blue-collar jobs crisis. It isn't going to get any better. 

We must become educators as much as we are advocates. The nature of work itself is changing. An artificial boost in job openings will not solve this issue. Do you feel ready to have this conversation with your clients? 


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