Bullock encourages nation’s governors to embrace digital economy’s disruption

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock addresses the nation’s 55 state and territorial governors at the National Governors Association summer meeting this week. As chair of the NGA, Bullock spent the last year formulating his “Good Jobs for All Americans” initiative, which he shared with his peers in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Leia Larsen/Montana Free Press)

(Montana Free Press) SALT LAKE CITY — As Gov. Steve Bullock’s final term comes to a close and his campaign for the presidency continues, he’s urging other governors to address a rapidly changing economy.

Bullock capped his yearlong chairmanship of the National Governors Association this week by releasing “A Governor’s Action Guide to Achieving Good Jobs for All Americans.” He shared highlights of its findings with the nation’s 55 state and territorial governors during the NGA’s annual summer meeting and discussed how states can help their workforces adapt to digital disruption.

“In our conversations with states, we’ve heard loud and clear that the challenge facing our economy isn’t a lack of jobs, but a lack of good jobs that can grow and sustain the middle class,” Bullock said.

As automation software continues to gobble up well-paying middle-class jobs, Bullock’s report stresses that state policymakers will need to partner with private industry and educational institutions to help workers survive. Globally, as much as 30 percent of current labor hours could be replaced by automation by 2030, according to a 2017 study by McKinsey & Company.

“Artificial intelligence is the great story of our time, but it’s a story that generates lots of mixed emotions,” said Malcolm Frank, president of Cognizant Digital Business, who discussed the future of work alongside Bullock at the NGA meeting.

Frank remains mostly optimistic about what he called the latest “industrial revolution,” driven this time by digital platforms instead of steam engines and assembly lines. His company’s research estimates 88% of jobs U.S. jobs will be enhanced or created by technology in the next 10 years.

But, “in our estimation, 12 percent of jobs will be lost over the next decade. This is quite significant, that’s millions of jobs,” Frank said. “If you do nothing … you will be victimized by this.”

That’s where education and training could play an important role. As an example, Bullock and Frank pointed to a partnership between Cognizant and the University of Montana that’s training students in tech consulting and opening the door for high-paying jobs at the company’s new office in Missoula.

Bullock’s “Good Jobs” guide encourages state policymakers to address the coming economic shake-up with three areas of focus: aligning education with future work demands, helping mid-career workers transition to new industries, and investing in rural communities.

Helping the rural workforce presents a formidable challenge in Montana, where 72 percent of jobs are clustered in urban centers.

Bullock’s “Good Jobs” report promotes the revitalization of rural areas through investment in digital infrastructure like broadband. The report also encourages governors to take an active role in promoting rural businesses, educating municipal leaders about successes achieved by similar communities, and connecting rural communities with job-creating anchor institutions like schools and health-care facilities.

As a success story, the report points to HealthCARE Montana, a partnership including 15 colleges, rural hospitals, and the state Department of Labor and Industry that created a health-care worker apprenticeship program.

To assist mid-career professionals in keeping pace with an ever-changing workplace, the “Good Jobs” guide suggests setting aside state funds to assist in continuing education or offering tax incentives to businesses that provide employee training. The report also advises governors to remove barriers for people looking to take jobs in other states, such as variable licensing requirements and non-compete clauses.

“It has been an incredible honor to serve as chair over the past year and engage in discussions on how we, as governors, can prepare our workers and businesses for the changing world of work and support the promise of a vibrant economy and future opportunity,” Bullock said later, in a press release. “The conversation around good jobs for all Americans has just begun, and I look forward to states turning ideas into result-oriented actions that will have a long-term impact.”

NGA chairs are elected by the nation’s governors. Past chairs have also tackled new- technology and workforce challenges, including a 2013-2014 initiative by Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma that focused on “Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

Bullock passed the gavel to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan of Maryland on Friday. The incoming NGA chair will focus on an initiative addressing infrastructure during his 2019-2020 term.

Leia Larsen is an award-winning journalist who has covered the environment and public policy in Colorado, Utah, and Montana. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder.