The Polarizing Effects Of Technology On America’s Workforce

Unemployment

The debate over the impact of new technology on job loss is nothing new or revolutionary. Discussions over whether new technology over time destroys more jobs than it creates, is an argument that has raged since the turn of the 20th century. During the great industrial revolution, much lament predicted doom for workers in traditionally low skilled, manual jobs. As mechanized earth movers replaced men with shovels, massive increases in productivity were realized with the advent of better machine tools. Predictions of the catastrophic demise of the American laborer proved to be largely unfounded. Increased productivity and an emerging world economy joined forces to produce many more, though significantly different, jobs than were lost to the new technology.

As we struggle to recover from the recent recession, increased anxiety, even hysteria, about the adverse effects of technological change on employment is raging once again.  It is still true that labor-saving technological advances will displace workers performing certain jobs, but over the long run it generates new products and services that result in higher incomes and increases the overall demand for labor.

This time around the U.S. Labor market is becoming increasingly polarized with the share of middle wage level workers, those performing routine tasks, are suffering disproportionately to those in the higher and lower wage categories. The loss of jobs that require routine, predefined tasks, has been accelerated because of the recession and a slowly recovering economy.

The mega decline in the cost of computing over the past several decades has created significant incentives for businesses to substitute inexpensive and more capable computers for expensive labor. The unprecedented gains in technology performance have reawakened fears that workers in jobs once thought to be beyond computerization, will be displaced by the new high-tech machinery. Today those machines are already learning to perform tasks that once were thought to be the sole purview of humans.

Henry E. Siu, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of a recent study that indicates those most affected this time around are younger, less educated and male, says, “Over the very long run, technological progress is good for everybody, but over shorter time horizons, it’s not that everybody’s a winner. Certain demographic groups like the young and less educated in another world would be doing fine, but in today’s world are not.”

The remedy for the jobless caught in the middle is founded in advanced education and retraining for occupations in healthcare, education, creative endeavors, the skilled trades and in professions that combine technical skills-sets with interpersonal skills. Flexibility and adaptability are the rules for surviving this evolution.

Why Cybercriminals Identify The Medical Sector As A Lucrative Target

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A recent article published in Data Breach Today reported that Canadian authorities are investigating whether an external hacker or healthcare insider used a physician’s credentials to gain unauthorized access to a British Columbia prescription information network. Doctors throughout British Columbia use the PharmaNet network to check the drug histories of patients; enter prescription information; and check for potential drug interactions before writing prescriptions. “While this privacy breach did not include banking information, enough information was accessed to be used for identity theft,” the ministry’s statement says. “The ministry encourages affected people to keep a close eye on their bank accounts, credit cards, and online identity and services.” About 1,600 patients are affected by the breach.

This most recent unauthorized intrusion into private individual patient information data is an example of how Internet attacks against information systems in the healthcare sector are on a dramatic rise. The healthcare sector including government sector systems handling health-related data were slow to recognize the alarming increase in cyberattacks and, according to many cybersecurity professionals, are still not adequately responding to protect against the increased threat. The FBI estimates that $80 billion of the $2.2 trillion a year spent on healthcare in the United States is associated with fraud and medical identification theft.

At first it may not be obvious to many why medical information systems are seen as a lucrative target by cybercriminals. But further investigation reveals that while a stolen Social Security number might sell for 25 cents and a credit card number might fetch $1.00, a comprehensive medical record may bring $1,000 or more on the Internet black market. The information can be used by a criminal to obtain medical treatment worth many thousands of dollars and having the procedures billed to an unsuspecting victim or their insurance carrier. With the high cost of healthcare services, the numbers can be staggering.

Systemwide attacks are most often initiated by sophisticated external hackers who prey on insufficiently protected data systems or by just plain carelessness of inside workers who mishandle vital laptop computers and system links. But in the healthcare sector, the weakest links in the security chain are found at the vendors that healthcare organizations do business with. The average hospital’’s data is accessible by hundreds to thousands of vendors who often utilize insufficient or outdated security practices.

With attacks on the rise, healthcare security leaders nationwide need to be better prepared to defend against sophisticated cybercriminals who seek critical medical data to commit fraud or turn a profit.

Baby Boomers Reaping The Benefits Of An Improving Job Market

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A newly released job market analysis conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI), and sponsored by CareerBuilder, is revealing that Baby Boomers are now holding a greater percentage share of the occupations in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leaving Millennials, those who are just beginning their careers, struggling to find their way onto their chosen career path. The study found that the number of jobs held by Baby Boomers (age 55-64) grew 9% from 2007 to 2013, a gain of 1.9 million. The Millennial workforce (age 22-34), however, has not recovered from the Recession nearly as fast. The Millennial generation is the largest in American history, and they’ve begun to enter the workforce. But more and more, these young workers are stuck in low-end, low-pay, and even part-time jobs while they await a more robust job market. In this economy, there are simply not enough good jobs to go around.

One overriding reason for the lack of open positions is that Baby Boomers, hit hard by the economic crisis, have deferred their early retirement plans due to losses in their savings and during the economic meltdown of 2008. The average retirement age is now 62, five years older than it was two decades ago. The result is that the reduction in turnover is preventing Millennials from finding the sort of good jobs that are so important at the start of their careers.

Some are suggesting that the issue is compounded by a younger generation of workers who have a much different view of the world order than their preceding generation, often unprepared and lacking the necessary work habits and ethics to compete in the new workforce environment. But every generation travels through the same learning curve; developing the habits that eventually make them good employees. The vast preponderance of the evidence suggests that the problem is not generational but rather one of coming of age in a very difficult economic period.

In June, employers added 288,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent, continuing a five consecutive month job rate of more than 200,000 new jobs. While the recent strong jobs report is encouraging, it is not strong enough to overcome the delayed exodus of Baby Boomers. It still leaves a surplus of Millennials looking for their chosen career opportunity.

In this era of uncertainty for many Millennials, one thing remains inevitable and certain.  In time all things change. Matt Ferguson, CareerBuilder CEO and co-author  “The Talent Equation” says, “Never in history have workers over the age of 55 had the concentration in the workforce they have today; however, employers will have to plan for vacancies when this group inevitably retires, which could quickly create new skills gaps in trade vocations and STEM fields.”

 

The Real Price of Breaching The Security Of Personal Medical Information

Technology Health

While we were all focused on the vast media coverage of recent data breaches at some of the nation’s largest retailers like Target, Michaels and P.F. Chang’s, it appears that droves of creative miscreants of malicious hacking  have been busy performing hundreds of diversionary attacks on our personal medical records. Privacy of patients’ medical records has been meticulously monitored by physicians and hospitals since 1996 when The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed into law. HIPAA Privacy Rules regulate the use and disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI) in hopes of ensuring that hundreds of millions of patient medical records and personal information didn’t fall into the hands of those who sought to maliciously use such information.  Violations of the rules could bring severe financial penalties for practitioners who handled their patients’ medical records carelessly.

Just this week, Montana state health department officials began notifying 1.3 million people that their personal information may have been hacked during a break-in of the department computer system. The server contained names, addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers and medical records related to health assessments, diagnoses, treatment, prescriptions and insurance. Among the victims were about 3,100 department employees and contractors whose bank account information was accessed. Montana Chief Information Officer Ron Baldwin said, “This type of unauthorized access is not unique to Montana, this is sort of the nature of the world we live in today.”

A Garden City-based radiology practice in Long Island, N.Y., passed the sad news on to 97,000 patients, by letter,  informing them that an employee had unauthorized access to their personal information. According to a spokesman for NRAD Medical Associates, “an employee radiologist accessed and acquired protected health information from NRAD’s billing system without authorization.” The breached information included names and addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and health insurance information, including diagnosis and procedure codes.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., St. Joseph Health of Sonoma County announced that a thumb drive containing x-ray records for more than 33,700 patients was stolen from the locker of an employee during a break-in of its facility. While it is not clear how thieves could easily profit from personal medical information, access to valid Social Security numbers, personal financial information and insurance documents could lead to a significant treasure for the crafty thieves.

Nearly 31.7 million individuals in the U.S. have had their medical records exposed through known and reported major data breaches by healthcare providers and their business associates, indicating a very poor record for an industry entrusted with important personal information. Once, not long ago, patient information was hand-written on paper forms, stored in endless rows of file cabinets and locked in the doctor’s office or hospital.  But in this advanced digital information age, patients’ records have been digitized and stored in a computer or in the virtual cloud where it can be more easily accessed by healthcare practitioners. Unfortunately it appears as though the information is also very easily accessed by savvy computer hackers.

Whether caused by careless handlers, misconduct by insiders or inadequate computer security measures, the increasingly large number of breaches promises to create havoc within the industry and significant loss of money and privacy for millions of patients. When consumer credit information goes astray, freezing the account and issuing new cards is relatively simple and quick. However, losing control of proprietary medical information including Social Security numbers and other vital financial data, is a far more complicated and elongated process to correct.

For medical professionals, who in the past spoke in whispers from coffered paper files, in out of the way corners of the office in order to ensure the privacy of patients’ information, the massive breaches of patient data must be daunting and infuriating.

New communication technologies are revolutionizing the medical industry and promise to bring about a much more efficient, convenient and better quality medical care delivery model. Failing to develop more secure systems to retain patient information threatens the realization of those promises and may in the end cost much more than just dollars and personal privacy.

Retaining The Best IT Professionals Is About More Than Economics

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With the ongoing demand for qualified technical professionals at an historic high, many companies are finding it particularly challenging to keep their current stable of IT workers in house.  Many IT professionals are being lured away from their current employers with lucrative offers of attractive compensation packages and increased monetary incentives. The challenge of retention would be difficult enough if the tech workers were just interested in monetary gains alone, but recent news indicates that most techies are looking for more than dollars from their employer. Crunching the numbers and throwing more money at them may not be enough to keep the best of them in-house and focused on the company’s goals, objectives and vision.

In a recent article in InfoWorld.com, Nicholas Colisto, senior vice president and CIO at Xylem said, “IT managers have had it relatively easy for the last few years as their staff members hunkered down to keep their jobs, let alone look for a new one and run the risk of ending up in a less desirable situation, with the job market returning, [IT] staff will likely get more aggressive with their job search.”

Here are a few areas tech employers can focus on to avoid losing their best tech employees:

  • Establish an environment where new ideas and creative solutions are welcome. Facilitate innovation by encouraging responsible risk taking and the testing of new ideas.
  • Foster a culture where teamwork and a consultative, coaching style of management is the norm. Critical differences of opinions are welcome and encouraged. But aggressive, bully-style management will often result in more polished resumes than motivated performances.
  • Provide your best tech employees a way out and up, on their way in. Savvy, motivated employees are not interested in putting down roots forever. Offering a menu of ways to advance out and up within the company will keep your brightest and best focused and motivated.
  • Offer advanced training and education opportunities at the company’s expense. The best employees will recognize the valueadded benefit to staying the course. It won’t keep all the talent from seeking other opportunities, but in combination with everything else it will have a prominent impact on overall retention and will ensure your tech team the most up-to-date set of skills.
  • Stay on the cutting edge of technology. People in technology careers want to work with the latest and greatest technology. Often very expensive and risky, the newest technology may exceed the company’s acceptable level of comfort, but finding safe areas for experimentation with the newest toys can provide opportunities to satisfy the cravings of the best tech workers and may result in positive dividends for the organization.

While much has changed in today’s workplace, people are still motivated by more than just economics. Developing a culture where bright, intelligent people are cultivated for their ideas, encouraged to grow and advance, and are rewarded for their efforts will produce IT professionals who remain focused on their tasks and committed to the company’s vision.