Proposal for Universal Guaranteed Work

One far out idea that I am still working on is what I call Universal Guaranteed Work (UGW), which is my response to proposals for Universal Basic Income (UBI.) This short, informal proposal is only intended to give a flavor of the concept.

The basic idea is that anybody who cannot find normal work could go to a neighborhood work center where they would be paid to engage in training and education of their choice, primarily through online courses.

In recognition of their ongoing training and education efforts they would then receive a paycheck comparable to an above-average minimum wage job, say $10–15 per hour.

Participants could also receive a bonus rate for helping others at the work center.

The pay may seem to exceed local minimum wage jobs, the intensity of the training will tend to preclude crowding out local minimum wage jobs. Some people do appreciate a less-taxing work environment.

While waiting to find a normal job, participants would be encouraged to spend some number of hours at the same rate doing volunteer work or working for a local government agency. In other words, they would be helping to fill unmet social needs. The goal would be a balance between valuable training and valuable social work.

A database of completed training and experience could then be mined by normal employers to recruit and hire these individuals.

There would be no limit to how many hours, days, weeks, or even years an individual could participate in UGW, but the theory is that with enough training and guidance, they would eventually become very attractive job candidates for normal jobs. Nonetheless, it would be an explicit goal that UGW is guaranteed if the participant is unable to find normal work that they find acceptable by their own definition.

Counseling and career planning services would also be available. Free meals would make sense as well, reducing the pay needed. Daycare and healthcare facilities would make a lot of sense as well, further reducing the need for pay to cover those expenses.

The online courses would also support skills assessment. Helping to build a database of who has measurable skills in every area, helping organizations to find workers who fit their needs.

Intelligent AI agents could detect learning patterns that need remediation as well as opportunities for growth, guiding participants to their true potential.

Real-live counselors could be pulled in when automated techniques recognize that a participant needs that level of assistance, but as a general rule, the expectation is that the online assistance would handle the vast bulk of average daily interactions.

Group projects among participants would also be arranged through the automated system, in large part to assure that participants develop and maintain the level of human social skills needed in many to today’s workplaces.

Whenever possible, projects would also involve staff from local companies and organizations to enhance the quality of group projects to help participants gain a stronger sense of work in normal companies and organizations, as well as to give companies and organizations exposure to potential future employees.

Local companies and organizations could also utilize the work centers for a modest fee to provide training and career development for their staff. This will benefit both the companies and organizations and the work center. It will also help the non-staff work center participants by exposing them to staff from the companies and organizations.

In-person counselors and career assistants would also be available to help participants bridge the gap to real employment or to at least keep them engaged in the process and active in the training process, which is the basis for their pay.

The goal in all of this is to transition people to productive work when possible, but also to train and provide income for potential workers in the interim, assuring that they do not lose skills or opportunities to learn new skills.

In some cases or even in many or most cases it would make sense to combine these work centers with traditional community college facilities. Maybe these facilities would be satellite facilities for community and even state-level colleges and universities.

Work centers could also be collocated at larger employers or larger office buildings which have a combination of available space and commercial or nonprofit tenants who have an interest in enhancing their staffing with UGW participants. The more that participants are around normal workplaces, the better.

Work centers could also be collocated with shared workspace companies, although that would require a significant evolution of the shared workspace business model. Still, the potential is there

Premium pay could be offered for courses aligned with the needs of particular organizations, subsidized by those organizations.

Traditional organizations could also rent space at these work centers to outsource work to trainees and also to have traditional workers come and work side by side with trainees, both to perform actual work tasks and to provide more hands-on support for what originally was purely online training.

How would UGW be funded? I’ll take the easy way out and say it’s beyond the scope of this informal paper. Dovetailing with community colleges and subsidies and fees from organizations benefiting from the program would be a major component. Sure, a hefty chunk of funding would come from some form of taxation, but probably an equally hefty chunk from organizations who see themselves gaining significant benefits from participants in UGW work/training programs.

UGW would also provide an excellent approach to continuing education and lifelong learning. Everybody would be encouraged to drop into a neighborhood work center or take online training at home or the coffee shop of their choosing. They could choose training based on their personal interests, or defer to an intelligent agent to suggest training to advance their career or to suggest detours into related or alternative careers based on a combination of their background, experience, interests, and available jobs.

The structure and content of online training envisioned here is rather more sophisticated and integrated than your average online course today. This will require significant development, both software and course content. Back in the 1990’s I worked with a small startup focused on high-value corporate training, such as safety and regulatory compliance, so I know it’s feasible, although it does take a lot of dedication, resources, and attention to detail.

Although participants are certainly free to pace themselves, a key goal is that the intelligent software would automate sequencing and pacing and combine presentation with continuous evaluation (e.g., quizzes) and automated remediation to assure that participants don’t get lost or discouraged.

Training could include anything and everything, from basic skills to advanced skills, including:

  • Basic technology skills
  • Social skills
  • Language skills
  • Writing skills, at all levels
  • Anger management
  • Supervisory skills
  • Management skills
  • Project management
  • Negotiations
  • Marketing
  • STEM, at all levels
  • Software development
  • Product training, particularly advanced software products
  • Law, at all levels, from paralegal on up to graduate law degrees
  • Medicine and health care, from health aides and technicians to advanced medicine
  • Law enforcement
  • Security, at all levels, from buildings to borders and beyond
  • International relations
  • Social policy
  • Social services
  • Financial planning
  • Community engagement
  • Managing nonprofit organizations
  • Community college courses
  • Undergraduate courses
  • Graduate courses
  • Career development
  • Counseling
  • UGW course development

That list is not meant to be exhaustive or focused, but simply to highlight the breadth and depth of training covered by the UGW concept.

Is UGW likely to come into existence anytime soon? Nope. But one can dream, right? Hey, I’m just trying to offer a productive contribution to the discussion rather than simply venting and whining.

Again, this is a work in progress, but at least it’s a start.