Why Tech Needs to Own Its Roles in Shaping the Future of Work

The inauguration of Governor Gavin Newsom comes at a time of great challenges and opportunities for both California and the country. As…

Why Tech Needs to Own Its Roles in Shaping the Future of Work

The inauguration of Governor Gavin Newsom comes at a time of great challenges and opportunities for both California and the country. As economic concerns swirl with looming advances in automation and artificial intelligence, our state is uniquely placed to lead a reinvention of the relationship between workers and employers. The Governor has an opportunity to shape this dialogue by convening thought-leaders from government, business, labor and academia to help define this future, and this week’s State of the State of address underscores exactly why.

Gig platforms sit at an inflection point in our economic climate. Half of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency expense, and many have subprime credit. While workers can smooth uncertain incomes through jobs with a low barrier to entry, these same workers need a bridge to opportunity. And while it is easy to point fingers at systemic challenges, like the struggle for universal health care coverage or the shrinking middle class, tech must own its responsibility in these debates.

As a driver of the innovation economy, California can bring together stakeholders across the spectrum to discuss these burgeoning issues, with an eye toward collaboration and ensuring that no Californian is left behind. Workers feel greater uncertainty than ever. We have a responsibility to build a 21st century safety net that provides opportunities to smooth incomes, invest in long term savings vehicles, and obtain robust health care.

Moving beyond the polarization that characterizes too much of civic debate today, we can reaffirm the sense of cooperation and shared responsibility that built the thriving California economy and has been a driver of our spectacular successes over the years.

Work has evolved. Increased job mobility and flexibility require us to rethink how we reimagine employee benefits from the historic single employer model. We must also do more to understand the dynamics of the on-demand economy. Our insights suffer from a lack of intelligence — from government surveys of workplace arrangements to greater transparency and understanding of worker needs and desires.

Health coverage, retirement, paid family leave and unemployment insurance, among other benefits, need to reflect our economic realities. Laws and regulations also need to keep pace and provide greater empowerment and protection for mobile workers, narrowing the gap in compensation.

At the same time, we need to examine how advances like automation, artificial intelligence and big data are redefining how companies approach their business and their workforce. While there are significant and distinct advantages, we must also invest in education, training and privacy.

Of late, coverage of the gig-economy has focused on legal challenges confronted in the state of California. But this is bigger than just one court case. During his campaign, Governor Newsom called out both the promise and peril of these cutting-edge tools and their importance in charting a path that is both pro-growth and pro-innovation. It is a distinctly American value that if we work hard and do our fair share, everyone should be able to get ahead. Work is more than just a source of income, providing a sense of community, purpose and dignity.

Platforms such as my company, Postmates, give workers the ability to supplement their income and address times of economic volatility. And we are taking steps to engage with key partners such as labor unions, legislators and community leaders to build solutions that are both pro-worker and pro-technology. We are instituting new programs in areas like workforce development and apprenticeships, while tailoring payments and health savings benefits to the individual needs of our workers. Transparency and dialogue with our fleet has made these initiatives possible and we support efforts to do more.

California is pursuing a number of initiatives that coincide with these shared goals, with bills expanding STEM education, opportunities in our schools, and the Governor’s ongoing championing of computer science through the CSforCA program.

The time for collaboration is now. A Future of Work commission is an important initiative that can bring together vital constituencies to build consensus on issues such as the skills gap, gender/race bias, a safety net for independent workers, lifelong learning, benefits accounts and the intersection of technology and the workforce. Gathering the best minds from business, labor, government and academia can foster an environment that helps power our economy forward while ensuring that we provide new opportunities for Californians and leave no one behind.