After a series of strikes last week, the influential German union IG Metall sealed a deal with employers in which its members gained both an increase in pay and the right to a substantially shorter workweek, the Local reported on Tuesday:
Both the union and employers said in overnight statements they had reached a “tolerable compromise” with some “painful elements” covering 900,000 workers in key industrial state Baden-Wuerttemberg, which could be extended to the 3.9 million workers in the sector across the country. The key concession is the right for more senior employees to cut their working week to 28 hours for a limited period of six to 24 months.
The union had pushed for staff to have a right to more flexible working conditions around key life moments such as the birth of a child, looking after a relative or ill health — with the right to return to full-time hours afterwards. But bosses rejected unions’ demand that they continue paying full-time salaries to some of those who choose a limited period of reduced working hours. Meanwhile, employers also gained more flexibility, to increase willing workers’ weeks to 40 hours from the standard 35.
The agreement will also see the metalworkers’ pay increase by 4.3 percent, in addition to some one-off payments, in a compromise from their original demand of a 6 percent raise. Stefan Wolf, head of regional employers’ federation Südwestmetall, said that the compromise was “reasonably balanced” but said the deal would be “difficult to bear” for some firms.
In another sign of the US labor market’s robustness, the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims fell last week to its lowest level in over 44 years, Reuters reported on Thursday:
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended Oct. 14, the lowest level since March 1973, the Labor Department said. … Claims are declining as the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma washes out of the data. The hurricanes, which lashed Texas, Florida and the Virgin Islands, boosted claims to an almost three-year high of 298,000 at the start of September.
A Labor Department official said claims for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continued to be impacted by Irma and Hurricane Maria, which destroyed infrastructure. As a result the Labor Department was estimating claims for the islands.
The week’s massive decrease in claims was likely inflated by the Columbus Day holiday, but other data in the Labor Department’s report also indicate a very healthy labor market: The number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 16,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended October 7, which was the lowest level since December 1973, and the four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 22,750 to 1.91 million, the lowest since January 1974.
Reuters also highlighted a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia indicating strong employment in the manufacturing sector in the mid-Atlantic region this month, with the bank’s measure of factory employment rising 24 points to a record high of 30.6. That report’s average workweek index also increased, while no firms reported decreases in unemployment in October.
Although the candy company Mars owns some of the world’s most famous brands (who hasn’t heard of M&Ms?), its employer brand is much less well known, Quartz’s Oliver Staley observes. Staley takes a close look at the company’s ongoing efforts to become more attractive to talent as it plans to expand its workforce by 70,000 employees over the next decade. Like other big players in the confectionery industry, Mars has historically been very serious about guarding its trade secrets, but its notoriously secretive culture had the downside effect of limiting the number of people outside the organization who knew what it was like to work there.
The company now faces the challenge of attracting talent from a generation of young people who grew up enjoying Mars products, but may never have thought of it as a place to pursue a career:
To get its message out, Mars is doubling the staff dedicated to luring college students, deploying social media, and honing its sales pitch to woo potential candidates. That often means showering them with M&Ms, and handing out gift boxes stuffed with candy bars and snacks. In making its pitch to MBAs and recent college graduates, Mars also stresses the variety of opportunities it can offer new hires because of its many business lines, and recruiters talk a lot about the company’s corporate culture, which historically combines egalitarianism with eccentricity—sometimes with surprisingly forward-thinking results.
That culture has in some ways been ahead of its time—Staley notes that Mars was ahead of most American corporations in adopting ideas like open offices, flat management, and bonuses based on company performance. The company scores high on lists of great places to work and people who work there tend to stick around. Indeed, that’s one possible reason behind the company’s current recruiting challenge:
Google Glass, originally developed from a passion project of company cofounder Sergey Brin, was supposed to unlock the next frontier in digital connectivity. While the smartphone has made technology and information omnipresent in our lives, Glass promised to remove the cumbersome barrier of a handheld device and allow for hands-free computing using voice and optical commands. Apps would seamlessly integrate with reality and life would never be the same. But that grandiose vision fell infamously short, as Glass failed to take off as a mass consumer product and the company stopped offering the product in 2015. Development went on in semi-secret, however, and the product has now found a second life as a business solution, which Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is calling Glass Enterprise Edition. In a fascinating profile of the surprisingly resurgent product, Wired‘s Steven Levy catches us up on recent events:
For about two years, Glass EE has been quietly in use in dozens of workplaces, slipping under the radar of gadget bloggers, analysts, and self-appointed futurists. Yes, the population of those using the vaunted consumer version of Glass has dwindled, tired of being driven out of lounges by cocktail-fork-wielding patrons fearing unwelcome YouTube cameos. Meanwhile, Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations.
The new version has also undergone design advancements and now has more processing power, networking capability, and battery life, but that’s the least interesting part of the product’s evolution.
In the coming decades, automation is expected to displace vast numbers of employees performing routine tasks in a variety of industries, including Asian factory workers and low-wage jobs in the US manufacturing, logistics, and service sectors. One study posits that half of the world’s work can already be automated using current technologies, though in many cases it is not yet economically efficient to do so. The jobs most ripe for automation are those involving routine, repetitive, manual tasks that robots can perform more rapidly and precisely than humans without experiencing boredom, injury, or fatigue.
Nonetheless, many of the people who have held these jobs up until now possess knowledge that may still be valuable to their employers even after they are replaced by machines. In that light, Quartz’s Sarah Kessler considers what automation will mean for training and knowledge retention as fewer and fewer employees remain who remember how to do the robots’ jobs:
As GE has automated its factories, its executives say they still value experience like [assembler Bill] Knight’s, if only because it helps them catch machine errors and, in some cases, better understand how to program machines. “If there’s something wrong in the calibration of this equipment, I need to know that,” says Denice Biocca, GE’s head of HR for supply chain and services. “I need to have some sort of understanding of what [the process] should be in order to know, ‘the machine says it’s tight, but I know it’s not.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook (Laura Hutton/Shutterstock.com)
In an interview on CNBC’s “Mad Money” program on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that his company was starting a $1 billion fund to promote the development of advanced manufacturing jobs in the US:
“We’re announcing it today. So you’re the first person I’m telling,” Cook told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer on Wednesday. “Well, not the first person because we’ve talked to a company that we’re going to invest in already,” he said, adding that Apple will announce the first investment later in May.
The fund comes as President Donald Trump has made bringing back manufacturing jobs a big part of his agenda, and it fits into Apple’s larger effort to create jobs across its spectrum, from its own employees to app developers to its suppliers. As advanced manufacturing jobs are in high demand in the U.S., the sector was already high on Apple’s list of priorities, and Cook hopes the investment will spur even more job creation.
Wired writer Issie Lapowsky considers the potential economic impact of this investment, which could be significant:
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, for every $1 invested in manufacturing, $1.81 is injected back into the economy. “When you talk about why this matters, not only is it the billion investment, but the multiplier effect around it,” says Brian Raymond, director of innovation policy at NAM. …
In an interview with Axios’s Mike Allen on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was unconcerned about the possibility of machines replacing significant numbers of human workers in the near future, saying it was “not even on [the Trump administration’s] radar screen” and insisting that displacement would not be an issue for another 50-100 years. “In fact I’m optimistic,” he told Allen.
While there’s a healthy ongoing debate over just what impact automation will have on the workforce, Mnuchin’s assertion that it is not a matter of any particular urgency raised some eyebrows. “Just about anyone who works on or studies machine learning would beg to differ,” the Atlantic’s Gillian B. White responds:
To be sure, most experts agree that the impact of advancing artificial intelligence won’t be felt equally. It’s less likely that machines will suddenly be able to replace the entirety of a human’s workload, but instead, that machines will become able to perform more and more individual tasks—and eventually to solve more complex problems. But without planning and intervention, such as retraining efforts, this could create an even more stratified workforce, where only the most educated, highly skilled, senior workers have stable work. And that would have disastrous implications for an already troublesome economic inequality gap.
Writing at Slate, Daniel Gross also takes issue with Mnuchin’s analysis, considering that we are already seeing automation in fields as diverse as manufacturing, fast food, finance, insurance, and even law. Manufacturing is one sector for which Gross finds Mnuchin’s lack of concern particularly troubling: