If you’re working in a cozy office, it’s easy to ignore the plight of Amazon warehouse workers and scroll right past their stories in your feed.
So I encourage you to watch this short clip from Frontline, not just so you understand what happens behind the scenes when you click on that purchase button. I want you to see how Amazon is shaping our workplaces.
This focus on data-driven management and efficiency over people won’t be limited to Amazon in the future. Amazon is a leader in everything they do. When they experiment with data-driven management and efficiency and it works, others will follow. From the video:
“Amazon is the cutting edge. Other warehouses are starting to adopt these technologies. Other companies are starting to do what Amazon is doing. Data collection can become the standard for all workers. You’re never good enough. You’re never able to keep up.”
Data-driven management mixed with workplace surveillance creates a brutal work environment. This shouldn’t be what we’re building for the future of work.
I don’t know what the solution is. Listen to these stories. Support unions. Don’t order Prime (or order it less). If you’re in tech, don’t use your talents to work for Amazon.
These workers don’t deserve this. This isn’t the future of work we deserve. We have the power to change it.
Just dropping this magnificent podcast episode off here.
Ifeoma Ajunwa, the author of the upcoming book, the Quantified Worker, goes pretty deep on automated hiring systems, and how humans encode bias into AI-powered hiring systems. She shares examples of how hiring platforms powered by AI are problematic and the impact on job seekers:
“A lot of hiring systems make use of machine learning algorithms. Algorithms are basically a step by step process for solving any known problem. What you have is a defined set of inputs and you’re hoping to get a defined set of outputs like hire, don’t hire, or in between. When you have machine learning algorithms, it kind of makes it murkier. You have a defined set of inputs, but the algorithm itself is learning. So the algorithm itself is actually creating new algorithms, which you are not defining. The algorithm is learning to how you react from the choices it gives you. It creates new algorithms from that. It can become murky in terms of discerning what attributes the algorithm is defining as important because it’s constantly changing.”
I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about how new technology reshapes job functions and industries. Specifically, I focus on automation tools, how they alter traditional roles, and how employees can adapt. So I’m always on the look out for new features and tools that automate something a human normally does.
This week, I noticed that LinkedIn offers a new feature: LinkedIn will write your summary for you.
My wife was on LinkedIn the other day, a place she rarely visits. She works in healthcare, isn’t job searching, and has zero reason to update her profile. As such, her profile is a barren place. But she checked in and saw this in place of her empty summary:
When she clicked to expand, she saw this:
Her first reaction was surprise followed by laughter. Though she doesn’t like writing a summary, she told me she’d never write something like that. It’s not her style.
The summary is slightly inaccurate and reads like an outdated objective statement from a resume in the 90’s. It sounds like a corporate website devoid of personality.
But that’s probably the point. A lot of professionally written LinkedIn profiles read like corporate websites. I used to work for an outplacement company that has an entire team dedicated to writing resumes (those resumes which always included an outdated objective statement, much to my disappointment (side note: objective statements are a polarizing topic in resume writing circles. I land firmly on the side of hating them with a passion)). No matter how the resume was written before the review process, they all sounded like the statement above after the resume team worked on it. Standardization is easier than personalization.
Corporate speak written by humans is very popular on LinkedIn and within the resume/LinkedIn writing community. Since this feature was likely trained on data from LinkedIn profiles, it’s not surprising to see this type of summary.
That’s not a bad thing either. Style aside, this feature is actually really helpful. If you can’t afford a professional LinkedIn writer to redo your profile, you’re in a rush, or you’re just not one for words, LinkedIn’s automated summary will most definitely do the trick for you. At the very least, it’ll get you started on writing a summary.
Writing LinkedIn summaries is hard. Writing them with flair and personality is harder. It takes practice and skill for a human to do it well. It’s impressive to see this coming from a machine yet still a good reminder machines still generally suck at creative flair and personality.
I’ve got a sweet spot for automation tools that are creeping into my former industry: career coaching. In my talks, I tell a story about how a machine came for my job when I was a global career coach at Yale School of Management. I use it to show audiences how automation tools aren’t limited to warehouses and accountants, and that we all need to adapt, even career coaches.
Career coaches do many things. They give direction. They review resumes, write cover letters and LinkedIn profiles. They listen to your stories and give you feedback. Career coaching at its heart is a people profession. It’s about relationships and communication.
“It’s insane to think that we should know what we want to do forever or that it’s somehow a better life or we’re a more successful person if we’ve done one thing. I mean, it’s really just outdated. It doesn’t make any sense. You know that’s not true.” – Alexandra, episode 5 of the 50 Conversations podcast for career changers
In my podcast for career changers, there’s a reoccurring theme when it comes to our careers: lifetime careers no longer exist. And while we all kind of know that, it’s so damn refreshing to hear people talk about it openly. It’s even better to hear how people have adapted to this new world of multiple career changes.
I’ve been slowly releasing episodes from my podcast for career changers over the past four months. The goal of the podcast is to both normalize career changes and show the many ways people make a career change.
In the podcast, I ask guests who have changed careers exactly how they did it. It’s a casual conversation, usually under 20 minutes, and perfect for a commute. We chat about the ups and downs of career changes, the many ways to learn new skills, the process of upskilling, and always end with outstanding advice for career changes.
My podcast for career changers is like having a career coach in your pocket; you’re sure to find something in these episodes that resonates with you. It’s better than taking a career assessment any day.
So I’m sharing a round up of episodes that shows you the many ways to change careers. Whether you’re the person who needs a career change but don’t know what to do or someone who just needs career change help these are the podcast episodes for you.
I left my last job in higher education because I saw no professional path forward. When I looked at my options for professional development I saw a future with no chance to upgrade my skills.
Despite loving my job, the students, and my talented colleagues, I left my job in pursuit of new challenges.
I hear from many talented people in higher education who are curious about leaving. They feel torn. They love the work but worry about their professional futures. They don’t see a path forward. They have ambivalent managers. They also don’t know how to leave.
I hear this from others outside the higher ed too. These are common complaints in my generation:
My job doesn’t offer any opportunity to learn anything new.
My job doesn’t challenge me.
My manager has no idea how to help me.
The data shows that higher education staff want to upskill
While I’ve been collecting anecdotes from higher education staff, the researchers at Academic Impressions have been collecting quantitative data. In the report, Beating Turnover in Higher Ed,Academic Impressions surveyed 2,577 higher education professionals.
Among their top findings: people in higher education leave because they’re not provided with professional development opportunities.
The numbers are rather shocking, even for someone who is used to hearing from people asking how to leave higher education:
We’ve all been raised and educated to think that tenure and experience will keep us employed and indemand as we grow in our career. It appears that is no longer the case, at least according to research from Gartner. More on that:
By 2028, the most high-value work will be cognitive in nature. Employees will have to apply creativity, critical thinking and constant digital upskilling to solve complex problems. “The demand for digital skills has grown by 60% over the past several years. In today’s digital economy, the demand for new ideas, new information and new business models that continually expand, combine and shift into new ventures and new businesses will increase,” says Griffin. “Employees must consistently refresh their digital dexterity to meet these needs.”
Predictions are never for sure but one thing that is for sure is that we’ve already seen tenure become less valued in the workplace. We saw it after the crash in 2008 when our friends and family were laid off without any regard for experience. We see it in older workers who struggle to get work despite having decades of experience in our industry. We see it in discussions about the future of work, as employers debate whether to train their existing workforce or hire new people with the digital and data fluency to thrive in digital transformation (the implication being that the old workforce will simple be laid off).
As I write in my book, skills are the currency in our new world of work.
We talk a lot about emerging jobs in the future of work. One job that has emerged in the last decade is content moderator. Content moderators work behind the scenes – invisible to most – to help keep horrific content out of our social feeds.
And they suffer greatly for it. A new report by The Verge, The Terror Queue, presents the horrible reality of content moderation. In the article, they share that moderators are often underpaid and subjected to horrific mental working conditions. This quote puts it into perspective:
“Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend.”
Imagine that were your job. Then imagine this is how management supported you:
Google content moderators in Austin are required to view five hours of gruesome video per day.
Managers for Accenture routinely force employees to work into their break time, deny them vacation time
Google offers one standard of medical care to full-time content moderators, another for contractors. Contractors get almost no paid medical leave. –
Workers at Google are often not informed about the potential mental health consequences of content moderation when they apply for jobs.
Content moderators, according to the article, make roughly $18/hr, or $37,000 a year. And not all of them have the same access to medical care, with contractors having little to no access.
In one example, moderators with rare language skills, are immigrants trying to become US citizens. They’re employed as contractors to review Middle Eastern content:
Peter, who has done this job for nearly two years, worries about the toll that the job is taking on his mental health. His family has repeatedly urged him to quit. But he worries that he will not be able to find another job that pays as well as this one does: $18.50 an hour, or about $37,000 a year.
Like many of his co-workers working in the VE queue in Austin, Peter is an immigrant. Accenture recruited dozens of Arabic speakers like him, many of whom grew up in the Middle East. The company depends on his language skills — he speaks seven — to accurately identify hate speech and terrorist propaganda and remove it from YouTube.
Several workers I spoke with are hoping to become citizens, a feat that has only grown more difficult under the Trump administration. They worry about speaking out — to a manager, to a journalist — for fear it will complicate their immigration efforts.
There’s a cruelty here that is hard to reconcile. I don’t know if the managers at Google and Accenture know what content moderators deal with, or if they’re happy to just ignore it.
In all honestly, I don’t even know what the answer is for this type of work. The article profiles other content moderators who are making more money, and even they are having breakdowns and PTSD.
The brutality of this type of work can’t be overstated. Yet it’s invisible to most of us as we carry along scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through our social feeds.
Last August, I spent the month teaching my audience how to upskill themselves. Upskilling is one of those words that’s still a little bit out of reach for most people. It hasn’t entered mainstream just yet.
While term upskilling isn’t at the top of most people’s minds, it’s about to go mainstream in people’s professional lives in 2020.
First, people love to kick off a new decade with big, bold moves. People are eager to build on ideas from the previous decade and start again, both in their professional and personal lives.
Second, the pace at which change is happening in our workplace is staggering. LinkedIn featured two posts this past week that highlighted the shifts we’re already seeing in the workplace. The first, “Where have all the secretaries gone?” covered the disappearance of administrative assistant jobs, often staffed by women without degrees. There was a quote in that article that really struck me:
The death of employee loyalty is just one of many changes happening in our workplace.
Traditional career paths are changing
The second article that LinkedIn highlighted was on the teacher shortage. More teachers are opting out of teaching because of low pay. While our lack of teachers is a national problem, it struck me because teaching used to be a sure fire fulfilling career path. It was the secure job that people often changed into when they wanted an escape or were burned out. Now days, not so much.
On top of that, we see more articles about the new types of jobs created by new technology. Articles like this one, which highlights architects working in video game design as a creative way to apply their skills. It’s yet another traditional career path that’s adapting to our new world of work.
It’s also enough to get any burnt out architect thinking, how do I get into that?!
It’s time to upskill yourself
The result is that a lot more people are starting to see the impact of new technology in their workplace. And they’re looking for ways to adapt.
Upskilling is adaptation. Though upskilling isn’t a household term just yet, it will be in 2020. Recent changes in the workplace are forcing us to look at our future job security.
Upskilling is a verb and a mindset. It’s the act of learning new skills to improve your professional life. It’s also a willingness to accept that things are changing. Upskilling is also the ability to take charge of your learning and development. The takeaway is that you can’t rely on employers to teach you the skills you need. You have to go after them yourself.
While the term upskilling is frequently thrown around in articles as if one can just upskill tomorrow, upskilling takes work. Every time I read an article in a big publication (looking at you HBR) by a corporate leader declaring that our collective workforce simply needs to upskill, I roll my eyes. Often the authors of these articles haven’t actually upskilled themselves.
In fact, upskilling is downright hard. I say this as someone who’s upskilling to learn data science. I also write that as someone who just wrote a book teaching people how to upskill. It’s hard because we haven’t been taught how to do it.
The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.
And if you’re really into it this year, I wrote a book that teaches you how to upskill yourself. My book, Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots, shows you exactly how to learn new skills and change paths.
Find it wherever books are sold online. Get a free chapter by signing up (at the top of this article!)
I’d love to write a more thorough post on this subject (and maybe soon I will) but for now I’m just going to drop some terrifying quotes from a recent Guardian article, Clear backpacks, monitored emails: life for US students under constant surveillance. The entire article should be a must-read for all parents in hopes that the more we understand, the better we’ll be about asking tough questions on surveillance in schools.
I’m dropping these quote nuggets for thoughtful discussion for you and your partner:
Tech companies are now offering a range of products that help schools track the websites kids are visiting and the searches they are making; that monitor everything students are writing in school emails, chats and shared documents; or that even attempt to track what students are posting on their public social media accounts.
Some parents said they were alarmed and frightened by schools’ new monitoring technologies. Others said they were conflicted, seeing some benefits to schools watching over what kids are doing online, but uncertain if their schools were striking the right balance with privacy concerns. Many said they were not even sure what kind of surveillance technology their schools might be using, and that the permission slips they had signed when their kids brought home school devices had told them almost nothing.
“It’s the school as panopticon, and the sweeping searchlight beams into homes, now, and to me, that’s just disastrous to intellectual risk-taking and creativity.”
As of 2018, at least 60 American school districts had also spent more than $1m on separate monitoring technology to track what their students were saying on public social media accounts, an amount that spiked sharply in the wake of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive advocacy group that compiled and analyzed school contracts with a subset of surveillance companies.
There are virtual learning platforms, platforms for coordinating with teachers, platforms that specialize in teaching kids math. “They are all mandatory, and the accounts have been created before we’ve even been consulted,” he said. Parents are given almost no information about how their children’s data is being used, or the business models of the companies involved.
Will the data generated by the accounts his kids use at school be factored into decisions about whether they get a job later in life, or how much they have to pay for insurance? “It’s not really a far future,” he said.
Parents, I encourage you to read the whole thing. Then start asking questions and hosting discussions with your community and school about the impact of surveillance in schools:
Who benefits from the surveillance of children?
Who suffers from the surveillance of children?
How much money is made off of the surveillance of children?
What are better ways to solve problems around safety in the classroom?