JAWS OF THE - Kelly Services


JAWS OF THE - Kelly Services

into the

jaws of the


Why work has

changed forever

– and what to do

about it

Rolf E. Kleiner


03 The other side of the debt crisis

04 Seeing inside the jaws

07 Wages stalled as inequality rose

10 The robots are coming

11 Is it a manufacturing renaissance?

13 Why education and skills must adapt

16 The uncertainty problem

18 Changing the game

21 Conclusion

22 References

The other side of

the debt crisis

It has dominated our greatest business and political minds for the best part

of four years. The mainstream media have detailed every blip and dip on the

financial radar as results and forecasts have swung from dire to upbeat, and

then back again.

Just when we think we’ve stepped back from the cliff and overcome the slide

in confidence, a new wave of uncertainty descends. So, it’s no wonder small

business—the powerhouse of job growth—is reluctant to hire staff and bank on

sustained recovery.

Rolf E. Kleiner

The perils of the great recession/debt crisis are real and we should be informed

about them, but they have also obscured an equally pressing and important

shift in our global economy.

The fact is, the foundations of our employment market have fundamentally

shifted—and are not going back. This shift began well before the financial crisis

took hold, and has only picked up speed because of it.

The economist Jared Bernstein called this shift, which began over a decade

ago, “the jaws of the snake”, and they’re opening wider than ever.

Once upon a time, productivity increased alongside job growth. Not so

any longer. For the past decade, a critical decoupling of job creation from

productivity has occurred, and this has major repercussions for workforces the

world over and the economies they’re built on.

Now, we need to learn to live (and work) within this gap. Even if and when the

debt crisis is overcome, the need to respond to higher productivity and slower

jobs growth will persist.

Here’s what’s in store for job seekers and employers in 2013—the year of

the snake—and beyond.


Seeing inside

the jaws

The all-consuming financial crisis, and the frustrating politics

that have ensued, is usually seen as the cause of labor market

issues in economies such as the US and the Eurozone.

However, when we begin to look more closely at the data, we see that job

growth was beginning to flatten well before the debt crisis peaked in 2009.

In fact, the lack of jobs, particularly for the youngest and least educated in

developed economies, would be a persistent and growing issue even if the

debt crisis had never occurred. Yes, the debt crisis has exacerbated the fall in

employment opportunities, but it hasn’t been the main reason behind it.

Rather, if we were to focus specifically on the US market, the main factor

that has been the driving force in declining job openings—particularly in

low-skilled jobs in primary industry—is productivity growth. US productivity

has been on a steady upward trend since the 1950s. While things slowed in

the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, productivity picked up again in the ‘90s and has

remained strong ever since.

This chart below shows the average growth in productivity over various

periods throughout the past 65 years. Greenspan was right to call it the

“Productivity Miracle”.

average growth in productivity





Average annual % change

















Seeing inside the jaws

But what’s really interesting is the different paths that productivity and

employment took from the end of the last century. For 50 years, the two grew

in tandem. Then, as this graph by Jared Bernstein shows, in the late ‘90s

productivity growth and employment growth became decoupled. He calls this

“the jaws of the snake”, and there are many reasons why they will be unlikely

to close.

It’s important to note that this measure of US productivity is impacted by what

has been a diminishing work-week over time, as well as the offshoring of work.

Yet the reality is that we have been creating jobs fairly steadily for the past 50

years, but in the first decade of this century the amount of jobs created slowed

significantly while productivity at the fastest rate ever.

productivity and employment, 1947–2010: what happened?
































Source: BLS


Seeing inside the jaws

What this boils down to is that we’re still creating jobs, but not enough of

them. The percentage of working-age people that are participating in paid

employment dropped more than five points during the Great Recession,

and it hasn’t made those gains back. What’s even more troubling is that the

labor participation rate has been falling since the end of the last century. The

aggregate ratio for the US was 64.4% in 2000 and had fallen to 63% by 2007.

Thanks to the recession it had slipped back to a mere 58.2% by December 2009

and is now at 58.6% (as at June 2012).

Yes, it’s clear that the recession has had a significant impact on the job market,

but the decline in employment growth was already underway anyway, albeit at a

slower rate.


Wages stalled as

inequality rose

One of the major knock-on effects of productivity growth alongside

declining employment opportunities has been slower wage growth except

among the top 1% of earners. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, the

average US household now has a lower income than it did in 1997.

Wages as a share of GDP are now at an all-time low, even as corporate profits

and CEO earnings are at an all-time high. It’s not that everyone has earned

less, but that the distribution of wealth has become narrower. Fewer and fewer

people have earned much, much more at the expense of the rest.

Estimates by Business Week and the Institute of Policy Studies show that the

ratio of executive pay to the average worker is 10 times what it was in 1980.

Their research shows a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 42:1 in 1980, 107:1 in 1990

and 325:1 in 2010.

The implicit notion that workers receive a share of productivity gains (i.e. the

harder they work, the more value they create, the more money they earn) has

unraveled. Employees no longer gain their share of productivity improvements

and they are not necessarily paid more for the higher-value work they are doing.

“In 1970 the upper 1 percent

received 8 percent of national

income; in 2007 they received

18 percent. Most of this

increase went to the top

0.1 percent of income

recipients. In 1970 this group

had 2.7 percent of national

income and incomes 27 times

the mean income; in 2007

they have 12.3 percent of

national income and incomes

123 times the mean.”

Richard B. Freeman, 2011

As a 2011 lecture entitled “Optimal Inequality for Economic Growth, Stability

and Shared Prosperity” by Richard B. Freeman points out that the earnings

associated with increased productivity have gone virtually entirely to the highest

income earners across the US since the 1970s.

How and why this has occurred requires deep economic and social policy

analysis. Yes, there have been restructures to financial markets and legislative

frameworks that have exacerbated this trend, but there are other factors too,

including globalization and offshoring. However, the question explored in this

paper is not whether these changes and trends are right or wrong. The issue is

that they have culminated in the great decoupling of job volumes and wages

from the rest of the “train of economic progress”.


wages stalled as inequality rose

And if Freeman’s work is right, this is likely to have (if it’s not already having) a

big effect on productivity, innovation and growth going forward. Why? Because

incentives are needed to keep employees motivated to succeed.

The other fascinating aspect of the work contained in Freeman’s lecture is

the impact that reward seems to have on our ability to innovate and create. It

seems, according to a study completed by Freeman and Alex Gelber in 2010,

that unless financial reward is spread more equally, workers tend to give up and

stop giving it their all.

By testing various groups on their ability to solve the highest number of mazes,

it became clear to Freeman and Gelber that those groups that were incentivized

based on their output (the amount of mazes they solved), did far better than

those groups where only the highest performer was rewarded, or those in which

everyone was rewarded regardless of output.

Although most of our corporate structures are built on the idea that a select

few at the top should be paid vastly more than the rest—and that this somehow

reflects their output or value—the study’s conclusion is that this is not the

incentive structure optimal for growth, innovation and creativity.

reported number of mazes solved in

maze experiment at given incentives






equal pay

all incentives

top wins all






Source: Freeman & Gelber (2010)


wages stalled as inequality rose

If we take this example and think about the broader implications for business

incentive structures, we can see that reward must be both attainable and reflect

actual contribution. Workers want to know that their input is going to be worth

the effort—and organizations must demonstrate this in tangible ways that reflect

the overall benefit to the organization and the economy.

It seems that if we’re going to break through the uncertainty crisis and spur

genuine growth in new industries and ideas, employees need to have a greater

share in creating it. And they’ll need to be adequately incentivized to do so.

While addressing inequality and incentives may help organizations get

significantly more out of their human capital, there’s yet another major change

that’s gathering pace inside the workplace. That is, of course, the role

of technology.


The robots

are coming

Even as lower-skilled jobs were sent to cheaper labor pools in various

parts of the world, technological progress was further accelerating

the decoupling of wages and jobs from economic growth.

As the digital evolution takes us into a new era of work, the way we think

about work and jobs is going to change dramatically.

Moore’s Law is the proposition that the number of transistors on a

semiconductor can be inexpensively doubled about every two years. This means

that productivity gains continue to grow exponentially over time—and this is

precisely what we’ve seen already in the workplace.

Robots and computers can do more and more of the work that people used to

do. They can do more sophisticated tasks and are even moving into creative

fields—something we once thought impossible. In short, digital labor is

becoming a better substitute for human labor in an ever-expanding number of

ways and industries.

This happens first with more routine tasks, which is a big part of the reason why

less-educated workers have seen their wages fall the most as we move deeper

into the computer age.

As we forge ahead, the Great Decoupling will only accelerate for these

two reasons:

1. Computers will keep getting cheaper over time: they will continue to

do more for less and be applied to more industries and roles, and they will

become more affordable.

2. This will apply in both rich countries and poor: digital labor will become

cheaper than human labor not only in the US and other rich countries, but

also in places like China and India. Offshoring is only a way station on the

road to automation.

This probably sounds rather frightening. Clearly, some of these changes are

already occurring in our employment landscape. They will undoubtedly create

new opportunities for people with the right skills, however, so long they have

access to the training required to fill those roles.


Is it a Manufacturing


At the dawn of the nineteenth century, farm workers

comprised somewhere between 75% and 80% of the entire

labor force. That number was still over 50% in 1860.

It was not just the Industrial Revolution that increased the number of

manufacturing workers in the US; it was an agricultural productivity revolution

that allowed more food to be produced by fewer people. Even so, productivity

growth was not all that exceptional in the first 60 years of the nineteenth century.

But that was then and this is now.

Today, the percentage of the labor force employed in agriculture is less than

2%. Agricultural productivity is up some 16 times greater since 1880, but we

barely have more than two million people working on the farm, which is about

the same number we had working in agriculture in 1820. Take a look at the

charts below:

employment level—agriculture and related industries

(Thousands of Persons)










1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020

Shaded areas indicate US recesions.

2012 research.stlouisfed.org

Source: US Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Is it a manufacturing renaissance?

Aggregate Agricultural output and input quantity trends, 1880–2004

Index (1880 = 100)













1880 1895 1910 1925 1940 1955 1970 1985 2000

The Industrial Revolution and the shift to a manufacturing economy was clearly

disruptive to employment. Yet who would advocate going back even 40 years

to when the farm labor force was three times the size it is today, especially if you

had to be the farm labor?

Just as agricultural output per worker has increased dramatically over time,

in the next 40 to 50 years we will see massive gains in manufacturing output

without an accompanying increase in manufacturing jobs.

Companies are beginning to bring manufacturing back to the US because

automation and robotics, as well as wage inflation in emerging economies, has

made it cheaper to re-start manufacturing in the US than to use labor in other


As a consequence, even those markets that have offered cheap labor are now

turning to robotics to remain competitive. When China’s largest employer

outside the military, Foxconn, is turning to robots rather than cheap labor, you

know there is a revolution in the process. In official statements about their

intentions to automate aspects of their production line, Foxconn itself talked

about the desire to move employees “higher up the value chain”. But what

does this really mean?

What jobs will be left in manufacturing, in agriculture or any other sector for

that matter? What will they look like and who will have them? And most

importantly, what skills and experience will our school leavers and college grads

need to get them?


Why education and

skills must adapt

The “great decoupling” and the increasing pervasiveness

of technology in the workplace will mean major changes

to education and the definition of employability.

In fact, the biggest effect of decoupling has already been (and will continue

to be) on uneducated youth. Let’s look at a few facts put forth by the Young

Entrepreneur Council:

• 1 out of 2 college grads—about 1.5 million students, or about 53.6% of

Bachelor’s degree holders aged 25 or younger—were unemployed or

underemployed in 2011

• For high school grads (age 17-20), the unemployment rate was 31.1% from

April 2011-March 2012; underemployment was 54%

• According to some researchers, up to 95% of positions lost occurred in lowtech,

middle-income jobs like bank tellers. Gains in jobs are going to workers

at the top or the bottom, not in the middle

• More college graduates are getting low-level jobs. US Bachelor’s degree

holders are more likely to wait tables, tend bar or become food-service

helpers than to be employed as engineers, physicists, chemists or

mathematicians combined: 100,000 versus 90,000.

The big problem with these points—apart from the obvious - is that we need

educated and skilled workers to drive innovation and economic recovery, yet

getting the education to achieve this is becoming increasingly unaffordable. And,

students don’t always end up with the right skills to find a job at the end of it.

The data still shows that there is a clear advantage to having a college degree,

but some of the most in-demand jobs actually won’t require a college degree

as we know it. They will require specialist skills, often in the STEM (science,

technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, but a college degree may

not be the cheapest and most efficient way of gaining these skills for the jobs on

offer—and certainly for the wages they currently pay.


why education and skills must adapt

Tom Friedman, writing earlier in the New York Times, highlights the problem

of education and jobs. He quotes Traci Tapani, who with her sister runs a sheet

metal company in Wyoming with 55 employees.

“About 2009,” she explained, “when the economy was collapsing and

there was a lot of unemployment, we were working with a company that

got a contract to armor Humvees,” so her 55-person company “had to

hire a lot of people. I was in the market looking for 10 welders. I had lots

and lots of applicants, but they did not have enough skill to meet the

standard for armoring Humvees.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not

understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and

how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be


...“Unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot

of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings.

So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design

drawings in a single day.” Welding “is a $20-an-hour job with health care,

paid vacations and full benefits,” said Tapani, “but you have to have

science and math. I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication

company where math is not important.”

This story is typical of the change that’s occurring across many traditionally lowskilled,

lower-paid roles in many parts of the US and Western Europe. Somehow,

welding became a STEM job and it’s not alone in making that transition despite

the lack of educational infrastructure to train these “new” primary industry


America and many parts of the western world have a serious skill-to-opportunity

gap. America has three million open jobs at the same time as around 8%

unemployment. The very idea of the middle class was built on being able to

earn a middle-class wage in a semi-skilled job, but this no longer holds. Instead,

these economies are paying less and requiring higher-level skills.


why education and skills must adapt

Many lower-skilled manufacturing jobs in developed economies have gone

offshore to Asia and eastern Europe, but even the ones that are left will require

serious skills and technical know-how, but knowledge that is different from the

typical college degree. The questions is, “Where will our middle-class kids attain

this know-how in order to get the job?”

Clearly, greater investment in technical training is needed. America is not alone

in needing to address this. However, the US is already at the extreme end of the

scale on a number of employment, training and debt fronts—not least of which

is its growing issue of student debt.

In the wake of the 2008 recession, more than one-third of college-age

Americans went back to school because of the economy. While they did so

with the best of intentions, their actions have contributed significantly to the

$1 trillion in student loans already held by the US government.

People are clearly going back to school and taking out loans as a way to make

ends meet. The average college graduate has $25,000 in debt. Default rates

are up 31% in the past two years. In many ways, student loans are a little like

the NINJA subprime mortgage loans available toward the end of the housing

bubble—they’re easy to get and you don’t need an income, a job, or assets to

secure them.

Seeing this trend, Congress recently passed new bankruptcy laws, and unlike

housing loans, student loans cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. The law of

compound interest means that borrowers, mostly young, will be paying back

this debt for many, many years.

Again, this is exacerbating rather than solving the employment gap that has

already emerged and is set to deepen. Instead of requiring expensive, general

Bachelor degrees, students need access to shorter, employment-linked training

opportunities that will provide them a job at the end.

Universities continue to produce heavily indebted graduates, ill-equipped

to meet the needs of a rapidly developing marketplace. The dislocations

we experience now are not new. The same challenges were encountered in

the first (steam) and second (electricity) industrial revolutions. This third, or

computer/networks revolution is simply moving at a speed extremely difficult for

the workforce (and the training institutions they rely upon) to keep up with.


The uncertainty


If all of these converging trends were not enough to contend with, the

ongoing credit and business confidence crises are exacerbating their least

desirable aspects—both across the U.S and much of the Eurozone.

Human beings and organizations, and even governments, are capable

of adjusting to new models of education, supporting new industries and

remodeling their corporate structures. However, they’re not always good at

doing so quickly. And it’s the pace of these changes, coupled with long-term

economic uncertainty that makes it a major challenge.

Bill Dunkelberg is the chief economist for the National Federation of

Independent Businesses. He’s been doing regular surveys since at least 1974.

His latest monthly survey shows that businesses are not terribly optimistic in

terms of their plans to increase employment, which should be no surprise. The

number one problem? Uncertainty.

uncertainty: business conditions in 6 months






(% of Firms)



2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

% uncertain as to ‘better’ or ‘worse’


The uncertainty problem

Businesses, quite understandably, are unsure whether to invest or to wait

until conditions improve and risk is reduced. The trouble is, uncertainty

about risk creates a vicious cycle: as more investment is staved off, business

confidence fails to rebound, which causes hiring intentions to remain low and

limits the likelihood of further investment. In a nutshell, uncertainty creates

more uncertainty.

We need a circuit breaker in this cycle. We talk a lot about innovation, diversity

and disruption now in senior leadership circles, but we haven’t really even

begun to make it truly flourish. We understand the problems. Now, it’s time to

think about solutions and act on them.



the game

Three major changes are occurring that are effecting our employment market:

1. Automation is taking old jobs and creating demand for new ones:

Technologically driven change is outrunning our ability to keep up with it, and

jobs that were once outsourced to other countries are now being outsourced

to computers/robots. This means human beings must now have different skills

to move up the value chain.

2. We’ve stopped creating enough of the old jobs: The decoupling of jobs

growth from productivity growth means we are on a permanent trajectory

of creating fewer jobs (for human beings at least) than we have working-age

people. We have jobs we can’t fill, but not the educational framework to

support them.

3. Workers are no longer incentivized to study, innovate and invest:

Inequality in wage growth means the path to a good job isn’t what it used

to be, and it doesn’t necessarily make economic sense to obtain a college

degree. It is also becoming too risky for many to start or expand small

businesses, which have traditionally been the engines of jobs growth.

In order to respond effectively to these changes, we need to employ technology

itself by improving the rate and quality of organizational innovation, and by

developing human capital. This is the way to ensure the workforce has the skills

it needs for both the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Organizations must do these three things in response to these challenges:

1. Get flexible, fast

Leveraging emerging technologies to change business processes, operating

models and organizational structure is the primary focus of our own innovation

efforts—and we’ve seen this approach work.


Changing the game

But above all, employers and employees need to have a greater dialogue about

the long-term structural move away from permanent full-time jobs. Instead, the

dialogue needs to focus on creating work in the form of projects, assignments

and deliverables that will improve output, develop employees’ skills and build

long-term career prospects.

“Flexibility” means many things, but above all it’s about matching the work to

the resources. Flexibility cannot be code for “insecure” or even “temporary”, it

must accurately match skill with opportunity. It’s not about creating a “job”, it’s

about ensuring that the tasks that need to be done can be done in a way that is

genuinely beneficial to both employee and employer. And this is what the idea

economy is all about—efficiency, innovation, productivity and mutual benefit.

Instead of measuring ourselves on the hours we work, our job titles or where we

complete our tasks, we need to move to measuring ourselves based on value

and productivity.

2. Provide greater access and higher accountability

The single greatest game-changer for the way we access our “work”, share

knowledge, collaborate and create value is already here. The trouble is, too few

organizations have fully embraced it.

Despite huge advances in technology that is available for us all to collaborate

and do our work, few organizations have adequately balanced the risk and

reward of allowing their employees full access to it. Nor have they provided

employees with the accountability to properly manage their own risks and

responsibilities in using it.

In fact, things have become so dire in most mid-size to large organizations that

many individuals now have access to better, more reliable technology in their

own home than they do at work. Part of this is thanks to declining investment

and rapid change that organizations haven’t always understood or seen coming,

but it also has to do with the way organizations manage and assess risk.

Too often, to their own detriment, organizations focus on restraining and

limiting technology, reducing productivity as a result. Notwithstanding the

need to manage legislative and commercial responsibilities, there’s a great

deal of change that organizations need to embrace to unleash to the power of


Changing the game

technology to their workforce—and to show employees what’s expected and

how to adequately manage risk in return for greater access.

We need a greater focus on finding ways to make things happen, to open the

lines of communication, to increase knowledge sharing and less focus on all the

reasons why it can’t or shouldn’t happen.

3. Educate, educate and educate more

With respect to human capital, this same focus on structure and business model

innovation will be required of the educational establishment to properly address

rapidly changing conditions in the workplace and the ensuing gaps those

changes create.

Businesses will need to be proactive to build mutually beneficial relationships

with educational institutions. They will need to achieve better alignment

between what students learn and the skills that businesses need. But to do

this, businesses must offer real opportunity that is worth both institutions’ and

individuals’ investment. They must think about pay structures more deeply and

how they reflect the cost of attaining the skills workers need. And, they must

think about how to offer experience alongside knowledge, so that graduates

pay their way and contribute to business bottom lines and overall economic

regeneration more quickly.

The static “four years and out” mindset will need to give way to one with

a broader array of educational opportunities, including those offered by

vocational schools, trade technical colleges and the like. Continuous education

throughout students’ and employees’ careers is key—because the need to

innovate and adapt isn’t going away.

The stagnation of the middle, and the continued polarization of job growth

at the low and high end of the skills spectrum are creating opportunities for

creative entrepreneurs to leverage technology and develop the operating

models of the future. This applies both inside corporate enterprises, as well as

within the educational fraternity.



The collision of four powerful forces has seen a permanent and fundamental

shift in our employment landscape. While the financial crisis has undeniably

accelerated some of the impacts of these shifts, it has not been the root cause

of them. In fact, these employment obstacles we now face would likely have

occurred (albeit at a slower rate) with or without the Great Recession.

Rapid technological change, growing inequality and declining employment

incentives, coupled with educational and training inflexibility, has seen a steady

decrease in jobs growth in the US and other developed economies. These three

issues have now intersected with what Greenspan termed the “productivity

miracle” to create an employment “perfect storm”, which we simply cannot


The state of the global economy is now dependent upon major change—

change that will require shifts in our approach to work and education.

This change can, at least in part, be driven by organizations that see,

understand and have the ability to adjust their approach. Huge opportunities

for new kinds of jobs, for new ways of working, and for new solutions to the

world’s biggest challenges are there for the taking.

Just how quickly and how effectively we respond is up to us.



John Mauldin’s Nov 19th, 2012 weekly newsletter, “Thoughts from the Frontline”

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s “Race Against the Machine”, Jan 23 2012

Jared Berstein’s “On the Economy” blog: http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/the-challenge-oflong-term-job-growth-two-big-hints/


The US Employment–Population Reversal in the 2000s: Facts and Explanations by Robert

Moffitt, Johns Hopkins University, September 2012: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/









Richard B. Freeman’s “Optimal Growth for Economic Growth, Stability and Shared Prosperity:

the Economics Behind the Wall Street Occupiers Protest”, Insights, April 2012


About the Author

ROLF E. KLEINER is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Innovation Officer of

Kelly Services. In this role he is responsible for fostering disruptive innovation

efforts, innovation strategy, innovation culture development and idea

management at a corporate wide level.

About Kelly Services ®

Kelly Services, Inc. (NASDAQ: KELYA, KELYB) is a leader in providing workforce solutions.

Kelly ® offers a comprehensive array of outsourcing and consulting services as well as world-class

staffing on a temporary, temporary-to-hire, and direct-hire basis. Serving clients around the

globe, Kelly provides employment to more than 560,000 employees annually. Revenue in 2012

was $5.5 billion. Visit kellyservices.com and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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