The Opportunity Project opens up new dialogue about the future of work

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has outlined a strategy to rethink the social contract and restore the American Dream.

There’s a deep and growing concern about opportunity in America and doubt as to whether “the American Dream is more than just a dream”, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Jason Tyszko. Photo – U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“The world has changed. The economy has changed.” Jason Tyszko is the Executive Director of the Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce. “You started to see folks talking about the impact of technology and automation on the workforce. We realized we’re gonna keep blaming one boogeyman or another boogeyman.”

It is within that framework that the Foundation released “The Opportunity Project”, a white paper calling for a “new social contract” in which workers, businesses, and government “share in the opportunity and the risk of the new economy.” The paper doesn’t lay out what that contract, or solution, would look like exactly. Instead, it offers up some ideas and calls for a comprehensive, national dialogue on the future of work in America.

“What we need to have is a more holistic conversation about what’s happening in the economy, and what its overall impact is, both on business and on workers,” Tyszko, one of the paper’s co-authors, told me this week. “We point out what are some of those big trends that are occurring —whether it’s trade, automation, economic industrial restructuring, the changing geography of opportunity, increasing pessimism towards both government and financial institutions. All of these things are happening at once. They’re converging.”

Business needs to be leading the conversation about the reality of the new economy, and how the approach to it needs to change, according to Tyszko. “The free enterprise system has been, and always will be, the single greatest creator of opportunity in this country. What we’re trying to say is, we’re not gonna be able to compete like we did in the past 50 to 100 years. We need to look to lessons learned from risk-management and risk-sharing to understand what the new playbook needs to look like.”

Simply put, we cannot continue with business as usual. The white paper outlined the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s six priorities: 1) talent development, 2) earnings risk, 3) workplace regulatory reform, 4) the safety net, 5) regional innovation and risk-sharing, 6) the new public-private data infrastructure.

“The first thing we try to emphasize is the business community can’t be on the sidelines. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to make sure that we don’t throw American-style capitalism away but understand that it’s going to need to evolve in some very important ways,” Tyszko explained.

He added that business can’t go it alone in the quest for sustainable solutions to the evolving dynamics in the workplace. “Because change is going to come more often, and the risks we’re going to manage are different than what we’ve managed in the past, we need new tools in order to both support workers who are trying to navigate this new labor market and also business which is competing in a very different way. [The] government is going to need to reinvent its safety net and its entire education workforce system, to accommodate for this new environment,” said Tyszko.

Risk-sharing between the public and private sectors is a big theme in the paper. “We need to make sure we’re working hand-in-hand with public policy leaders to understand that the new toolkit isn’t about coming up with a new government program for every ill that might befall us, but it’s asking, “What’s the right mix of public and private sector solutions that are going to be able to give us the new risk-management instruments and resources we need to all be successful in this new economy?,” Tyszko said.

One of the greatest challenges to all the stakeholders in the new economy is preventing the middle class from slipping into poverty and not being able to get out, according to the Foundation. The Opportunity Project white paper offers some ideas to get the conversation started.

“One of the best risk-sharing public policies out there today is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), but it’s kind of outdated, outmoded, and is really in need for reform,” explained Tyszko. “We mention things like income-based repayment, as opposed to the traditional loan, for higher ed. We need to look at the next generation of insurance products in which employees are going be able to better hedge their bets about being dislocated. We think it’s a mix. It’s not about trying to come up with what’s the new government program that’s going to make this go away.”

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Tyszko outlined a three-pillar approach to moving the bigger-picture idea forward. “First, we need to get more businesses plugged into the discussion, and make sure we’re talking with workers, with unions, with mayors, with everyone to get them on the same page.”

“We propose what some of that might look like, but we want to create a space where folks from the left, the center, and right can come together and say – If you want to look through that risk-management lens and propose an idea, come to the Chamber to do that.”

Tyszko said the Foundation wants to make sure it’s sharing those ideas, publishing them, and highlighting the best of them. The Foundation plans to convene working groups, roundtables, and town halls around the country to get everyone talking together.

The second step is to come up with a thought leadership series. “That’s more the think tank part of it,” according to Tyszko. “We don’t pretend to have all the answers. We have a lens. And if you look at it as a risk-management problem that needs to be solved, you get different answers.”

The third pillar is to act as an incubator. “It’s not just about having a conversation and putting ideas out there, we need to take the best ideas and make them a reality,” Tyszko said. “So, through the incubator function, we want to actually go and create advocacy for the best public policy solutions, but then also look to where there’s private sector innovation, and new products and services, that can be created and actually work with companies to start testing those products.”

The Opportunity Project is, in Tyszko’s words, “looking at where we are as a country. Where are we going? And before we throw American-style capitalism out, let’s rethink and be intentional about how all of these dynamic forces are working. They’re not going away. They’re here to stay.”

“You can’t hide from the world. You can’t hide from the change that’s here and that’s here to stay. We need a new playbook and we need a new social contract,” said Tyszko. “That shouldn’t be a scary conversation; that should be an exciting one because we think there’s a lot of opportunity to be shared in this new economy, but we have to do it in the right way and we can’t keep sniping at each other.”

The Opportunity Project is a big philosophical, and political, undertaking—creating a new social employment contract, creating new risk-sharing instruments, keeping businesses thriving, keeping people working, and keeping the middle class from disappearing.

WorkingNation will follow its progress.

Image – U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Download The Opportunity Project white paper PDF by clicking here.

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