My `Back to school’ article talked about a survey of McMaster Computing & Software students that showed that while few stayed in Hamilton to work in industry after graduation, over 90% of the students would be open to staying in Hamilton given job opportunities competitive with those in other cities. Rick Calder wrote a `Hamilton deserves better’ article talking about bringing higher-paying technology jobs to Hamilton – the type of jobs that could retain these students. One of the comments on that article was fairly pessimistic about the prospects for technology jobs in Hamilton, citing healthcare and materials research as what the government has “positioned” for Hamilton, and claiming that cities like Hamilton have to focus on specific sectors.
I disagree with the point made and the thinking behind it, but it’s a thoughtful point of view that I think others may share. Why do technology jobs even matter for Hamilton? Why can’t we just rely on the government to choose what our economy is going to look like by putting money into a few specific sectors?
First off, yes, these jobs are great to have. But they won’t be enough to fill the jobs gap. Right now about 50% of Hamiltonians are employed in precarious employment situations. Part-time or full-time work with no job security or benefits, or temporary, contract or casual work. These McJobs aren’t healthy for individual household stress levels or the community as a whole (e.g. participation in volunteer work drops). As the manufacturing sector has declined, the amount of precarious employment in the region has increased by 50 per cent in the past 20 years. We’ve got 90,000 below the poverty line and Code Red neighbourhoods. It’s great for us to have 450 jobs at the downtown health campus or the 50-90 jobs at CAMNET (apparently, not sure about the source). But what about the rest of the city?
I’ll say it again just to be clear: these jobs really are great to have. I’m not meaning to criticize them. But they only put a nice dent in the overall problem. How do we fill the rest of the void?
Technology jobs must be a big part of any solution. Technology jobs should no longer be thought of as a distinct and individual “sector”. Technology is now the driving force behind the job growth of many, many sectors. That’s because software is eating the world, as discussed by Marc Andreesen,
â€śMy own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy. More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online servicesâ€”from movies to agriculture to national defense.â€ť
In fact, 71% of STEM jobs created between now and 2018 are projected to be in computing. How can Hamilton expect to fix the jobs problem without utilizing the most pertinent solution?
Former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy gave a talk at SuperCrawl about the revitalization of his city, and in The Spectator article covering the talk the importance of technology jobs is mentioned:
“Sixty per cent of its population once worked in manufacturing. That is now 10 per cent, while 40 per cent work in technology.”
I don’t think anyone would suggest that it’s somehow a bad thing to invest in sectors like health care, education, advanced manufacturing and/or materials research. Pittsburg’s Universities and hospitals are also cited as being pivotal to its recovery. But the fact that technology has become the new manufacturing is not something we have any control over. It’s a massive trend that’s reshaping employment in cities much like ours.
Hamilton can only choose whether to swim with the economic currents, or against them.