How Michael E. Porter’s seminal model can help us plan for the future of work

Figurines standing on stack of coins
Figurines standing on stack of coins
Photo: baona/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Michael E. Porter’s Five Forces has been an influential framework to model business strategy since its original publication in 1979. Porter, an influential economist and Harvard Business School professor, developed the Five Forces as a tool through which to assess the competition within an industry. The premise is simple: business leaders can analyze their industry through five lenses — threat of new entrants, threat of substitutes, bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of buyers, and rivalry among competitors — to better understand the attractiveness of that industry and the restrictions on profitability for companies within it. …

A comparison of the minimum wage, annual leave, unionization, and corporate governance around the world

Photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash

In the 1930s, FDR and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins introduced sweeping reforms to American labor policy. The New Deal era is responsible for the invisible guardrails that feel like immutable features of work: a federal minimum wage, 40 hour work week, and the right to unionize. But besides small amendments and iterative regulations, the U.S. has not had comprehensive changes to labor policy in the last 90 years.

Comparing labor policies around the world can reveal both the possibilities and the downsides of alternative frameworks, giving us a sense of perspective on individual systems. …

And the problems with our classification systems

What occupations are considered “skilled”? Maybe it’s the jobs that require a college degree. Or the ones with the highest wages. Perhaps it’s the level of judgement required.

Although “skilled” and “unskilled” remain common terms used to describe and analyze the workforce, there isn’t a consistent way to classify work into those categories. Whether or not it’s productive to define skills in this way, it’s useful to understand when we started categorizing jobs by skill level, what are the prevailing measures we use today, and the consequences of those measures.

Early Use of Skill Level in American Labor Analysis

Back in 1938, a statistician named Alba Edwards published a…

A Brief Overview of the Current (And Potential) Regulatory Solutions To Address Income and Wealth Inequality in the United States

For months, governments around the world have been sorting through the economic devastation caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic, putting in measures in an attempt to spur a U-shaped recovery, and avoid what seems to be an inevitable K-shaped one. But there’s another, more sinister U that has been growing for decades, one that is not a sign of a healthy economy.

In the early 2000s, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez used a century’s worth of data to visualize income and wealth inequality over time. Their findings validated a sense of injustice what many had been experiencing: by 2013 the…

The History of Classifying Occupations and How It Affects Our Perception of Work

Photo by Tamara Menzi on Unsplash

To help match the unemployed with employment opportunities in the depths of the Great Depression, Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, worked to pass The Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933, creating Employment Service field offices across the country. After recognizing the value of the employment data collected in those offices, the field sites were later mobilized into the Occupational Analysis (OA) Program, a systematic effort to define every occupation in the United States. In 1939, they published their findings in the first edition of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).

The same way that every…

Lessons Learned From Industry Experts at the 2020 Jobs For the Future Horizons Conference

Virtual conference presented by JFF available at

Every job has been impacted by the pandemic. Millions have become unemployed and many others have seen the very nature of their work change dramatically. It has revealed social and economic vulnerabilities in the United States that have been persisting under the surface for far too long.

This means that we’re at an inflection point — a chance to rewrite the rules and reset the values that are imbued into our system. …

A Brief Overview of the Labor Landscape in this Dynamic Southeast Asian Country

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

It can be all too easy to visit a country and focus on the visible: how people dress, the price of food, the different social norms. But it’s what people do for a living, and the challenges that they face in earning that living, where you can really understand a country’s story.

Being a foreigner living in Malaysia for the last 8 months, it surprised me how little I actually knew about the workforce dynamics and labor history. …

What Our Failed Startup Can Teach Others About Organizational Distance

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

During the last few months of 2017 I was in a constant state of outrage. I woke up every morning terrified of the next inevitable crisis, exhausted from putting out fires. I was tired of wasting my breath shouting into a digital void, asking for recognition of the problems that were escalating every day.

The startup I was working at was a few months from shutting down, and at this point it was too late to turn things around. Looking back, I don’t think we would have made it in the long-term, but what I do believe with certainty is…

How thinking about the future puts constraints on the present

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

One of the most fascinating quirks of human psychology is our reluctance to change our course of action. We commit to jobs, relationships, investments and social activities with a limited set of information, and then go about the process of reconciling our expectations with our lived experience, often rationalizing any shortcomings along the way. We endure a painful job because that promotion is just around the corner. We hold onto a sinking stock because we would kick ourselves for selling it right before it turns around.

This tendency to prefer our current state is called the status quo bias. It…

The power of outside options in explaining wage discrepancies

Photo courtesy of Pexels

In an ideal world, the amount that you see on your paycheck is an accurate reflection of the value that your productive work creates for your employer. But wages aren’t set in a vacuum — the amount you earn is affected by everything from how long you’ve been with the company, to the degree you hold (or don’t hold), whether you’re represented by a union, among others. And of course, your ability to bargain.

Now, when I say bargain, I don’t actually mean how persuasive you can be in that prototypical salary negotiation conversation where you’re sitting across from your…

Amanda Silver

Obsessed with people & process; advocate for labor dignity, voice & ownership. Subscribe to Workable for monthly news on changing work:

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