IBM is finding itself squarely in the thick of things of the US labor market—whether helping disgruntled employees or, in CEO Ginni Rometty’s words, stepping up to “advance a national agenda in a time of profound change.”
Rometty this week wrote a letter to US President-elect Donald Trump about using technology to help unite America. With IBM being the largest tech employer in the US, Rometty articulated the need for “new collar” (vs. blue collar) IT jobs that require relevant skills, more than a college degree.
“I know that you are committed to help America’s economy grow in ways that are good for all of its people,” Rometty wrote, as reported by CNBC. “I am writing to offer ideas that I believe will help achieve the aspiration you articulated and that can advance a national agenda in a time of profound change.”
The IBM chief said “new collar” IT job training could start in a hybrid high school-to-college curriculum, and that there’s a need for more vocational classes with a focus on mentoring and real-world experience.
While agreeing with Trump’s ideas on tax reform and spending on infrastructure, she added a crucial tech caveat. “The country should focus on infrastructure investments that incorporate Internet of Things technology and artificial intelligence to improve performance,” she noted.
— CNBC (@CNBC) November 15, 2016
IBM is already helping one group of workers looking to get ahead in the new economy—employees at America’s largest retail employer. IBM Watson technology is being used by OUR Walmart, a group of current and former Walmart employees, who are tapping its AI platform to power WorkIt, an Android chat app that connects workers and answers questions about Walmart’s policies and workplace rights.
OUR Walmart, the employee and labor activist group formed to push for higher wages and working conditions, developed the app, which rolled out Monday. Now in beta and available on Android (with iOS coming soon), WorkIt can answer 200 questions using Watson’s artificial intelligence—but if the super-computer is stumped, volunteer peer experts are available.
“It’s a strangely promising time for labor organizers,” noted Bloomberg. “Unions are in decline; OUR Walmart’s membership seems to have peaked at about 5,000, in part because of the company’s opposition to the group.”
OUR Walmart says it has a network of some 100,000 employees who’ve participated in 1 million conversations on Facebook about workplace issues since 2012, and expects about 14,000 current employees to download the app by the end of 2017.
Walmart has a contentious relationship with the organization. Its labor relations team sent a warning memo about OUR Walmart, as noted by Bloomberg. “We just wanted to give you a heads up that if someone tries to get you to download an OUR Walmart work-related app on your mobile device, you may unknowingly be giving away valuable personal information like your location and personal contact information that the union can use however it wants.”