Labor Day 2012 marks a change in workforce trends
During the 1800s, manufacturing displaced agriculture as the prominent industry in the U.S. This change gave rise to unions, as well as some unrest, as workers demanded changes in their dangerous work environments. In response, Congress established Labor Day in 1884 as an official U.S. holiday to show its appreciation for the workforce as a crucial part of the country’s economic engine.
Celebrating Labor Day yesterday reminded me that we’re again seeing a change in how the standard workforce operates. U.S. News and World Report recently reported a major increase in temporary labor over the past few years. While the use of temporary labor typically increases at the beginning and end of recessions, this article states something different: that temporary labor is becoming much more of a trend.
Seventeen years ago when I started with Yoh, we were headquartered in Philadelphia, and the majority of our management was local. We had remote offices, but they were run by Philadelphia-based personnel as well. But in recent years, thanks to social media and online recruiting capabilities, our ability to hire outside of the immediate area has expanded. So too has employees’ capacity to work remotely. The result is high-quality and geographically diverse management teams. It’s a much different workforce than we had a generation ago, not to mention the one that established the first Labor Day.
We’re not alone in noticing this shift. This past spring, Thomas Fisher of the University of Minnesota made some noteworthy observations about today’s workforce. He noted that, just as it was necessary to build an infrastructure of roads and highways to respond to the expanding manufacturing economy, today we need to bolster our capacity to handle the requirements of the virtual workforce. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it appears that our public policy needs to take this new type of workforce into consideration.
Fortunately, our celebration of Labor Day hasn’t changed all that much over time. It’s become the unofficial end of summer and a last chance to enjoy a more relaxed speed of living before the fall brings us back to work in full force.