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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Despite the threat of recession, the U.S. economy continues to run at a high clip, and companies — desperate for workers — are lowering the qualifications they've previously demanded of new employees. But even so, they are finding that much of the pool of long-term jobless Americans first require training and help in the very basics: being on time, organizing reliable transportation, paying for a place to live and funding any required uniform.
What's happening: Cities across the U.S. are stepping in with "life and employment skills" classes and assistance for Americans who for years and decades have been entirely left out of the economy — former convicts, ex-drug addicts and others at the fringes.
The big picture: One of the major factors animating the last two or three years of political turbulence in the U.S. has been the economic sidelining of millions of Americans as jobs have moved overseas or been automated away.
But this narrative leaves out an invisible swath of the country that is absent from the primary Labor Department statistics entirely — tens of millions of long-term unemployed, who have been jobless for a year or more. For years, company executives and government officials have routinely described these people as largely beyond help — typically, economists have said they are too old to be retrained for new work, too drug-addled to pass blood tests or disqualified because of a prison record.
In Denver, John Locke, a program manager for Kiewit, a major construction company, tells Axios that the firm is looking to hire up to 600 people by next summer to rebuild a 10-mile section of Interstate 70.
About a year and a half ago, the city and state launched a program called WorkNow, an association that organizes all of these services. It can help find money to pay emergency rent, provide a pair of boots, set up shuttles to a construction site so workers can be on time, and find child care.
Mara Picazo, an apprentice for a contractor on the Interstate 70 project, is a 29-year-old mother of two young children who was earning just $9.25 an hour as a flagger when managers suggested she apply to be an apprentice for a regular job. Three years later, she is earning $22 an hour and is about to graduate. When she does, she will receive a raise to $30 an hour.
In Washington, D.C., Henry Schultz tells a similar story. He is an adviser to the Excel Automotive Institute, which teaches auto mechanics largely to ex-convicts.
But before any get started, they have to take a 48-hour "life and employment skills" course carried out by an agency called Thrive, which is similar to the Denver program and teaches how to be on time, carry oneself, write a resume and so on.
A business meeting in 1964. Photo: McKeown/Daily Express/Hulton/Getty
Some experts warn of an impending automation-fueled upending of work, and they argue that non-technical skills will become increasingly valuable as rote tasks are handed over to computers and robots.
Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports: Automation is roiling jobs, but in a way that is redefining the skills in demand. The top five skills companies now seek, according to a LinkedIn analysis, are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management.
Why it matters: These are skills on which humans still have a monopoly — they're far beyond the reach of even the most advanced AI systems. (Granted, they'd be useful even if robots weren't on the horizon.)
Trawling its vast database of profiles and job postings, LinkedIn says these skills are in high demand relative to supply. People who list them on their profiles go on to be hired into a wide variety of jobs, LinkedIn tells Axios:
Hard skills, however, have not gone out of style.
"Soft skills are in hot demand because talents such as creativity and collaboration are vital for the digital economy," says Darrell West, director of Brookings' Center for Technology Innovation. One example, says West:
"Software designers need people who can translate their work and make devices easy to use by non-specialists. That means teams of technical and non-technical people who can work well together. One without the other will mean devices that are too complicated to use."
A robo-dinosaur concierge at a Japanese hotel. Photo: Trevor Williams/WireImage
More than 100 hospitality robots have been handed pink slips in Japan after being deemed more trouble than they're worth, WSJ reports.
Kaveh writes: Bots staff a buzzy Japanese chain called Henn-na — or "Strange" — write Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki. They appear at the concierge desk, the bellhop stand and the bar, and perform a welcome dance in the lobby.
The chain's robot woes are a reminder of the still-primitive state of robotics and — with a few exceptions — voice assistants.
This funny anecdote, which opens the WSJ article, is a master class in bad robots:
"Yoshihisa Ishikawa’s one-night stay at a robot-staffed hotel in western Japan wasn’t relaxing. He was roused every few hours during the night by the doll-shaped assistant in his room asking: 'Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?' By 6 a.m., he realized the problem: His heavy snoring was triggering the robot."
Western edge of iceberg A68, 2017. Photo: NASA/Nathan Kurtz
Order up! Image: Carlo Ratti Associati
We've gotten used to ride-hailing. Tap into an app on your phone, and a few minutes later, your car rolls up.
Axios' Erica Pandey reports: Now, the new thing is booze-hailing: an autonomous bar-on-wheels that you can summon at the click of a button to get your drink on.
What's happening: Carlo Ratti, a professor at MIT and the head of an Italian urban design firm, is out with a prototype called GUIDO. The bar on wheels can find its way to you and serve you up any number of cocktails — and the entire process requires zero humans. The bar drives itself and the bartender is a robot, too.