Las Vegas stakeholders emphasize the area’s “pioneering mentality,” which prizes individual responsibility and entrepreneurialism, in driving attitudes toward work, workforce development, and the future of work. Not unsurprisingly, this ethos is mirrored by political leaders and in public policy. But the consequence of this hands-off approach to the workforce has been neglect of education, training, and workforce development. This tension is exemplified by the erection of the state-of-the-art Las Vegas Raiders stadium: construction of the stadium will create 2,300 temporary jobs, but at a cost of more than $750 million in taxpayer money.
In keeping with this paradox, as the Las Vegas area vies to lay the groundwork for emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and blockchain, it still leans heavily on traditional incentives such as land and a low-tax, low-regulation environment to pick off opportunities from neighboring states such as California. Stakeholders point to the area’s “competitive advantages” of land, regulation, incentives, and taxes, while simultaneously sounding the alarm over a lack of focus on building a local mid and high-skill workforce.
However, there is tacit acknowledgement that the competitive “advantages” of today are not up to the challenges of driving tomorrow’s future of work. Luckily, the area’s pioneering mentality also brings openness to new technologies, which has in turn led to a buzz around their workforce implications. Las Vegas stakeholders recognize that the deck is being reshuffled, and that the time to rethink strategy is now.
In line with its entrepreneurial mindset, a core concern is how Las Vegas can position its workforce to benefit from advances in technology and automation. What types of economic activity will generate value? And how can workers in Las Vegas be equipped with the tools needed to capture a piece of the pie? There is widespread agreement that developing mid and high-skill opportunities hinges not only on creating or (or having access to) workers fluent in hard skills such as computer programming, but also in soft skills such as problem solving and foreign languages.
The other side of the chip, of course, is the area’s expanding pool of low-wage, low-skill workers, which poses long-term challenges. Stakeholders find themselves torn between making bold moves to attract next-generation opportunities, while struggling to devise inclusive policy solutions for the area’s stock of vulnerable service sector workers, who lack pathways to upgrade their skills and climb the career ladder.
The juxtaposition of present challenges and future aspirations sheds light on a wider set of policy challenges. Stakeholders disagreed vehemently when it came to prioritizing specific approaches and strategies. For example, should the focus be on upgrading the current workforce with soft skills and hard skills? Attracting industries and workers from other states? Creating jobs in sectors that will not be significantly vulnerable to automation?
Enter the political dynamics of the future of work. Las Vegas and the state of Nevada have a fluid political environment with relatively few bureaucratic hurdles, which means that the area could be fertile ground for bold approaches. But in order to double down, policymakers first need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to respond to and develop policy. Even if there is broad recognition that technology and automation will affect the workforce, sound public policy requires strategic planning and long-term thinking. But the strategic planning that is so crucial to devising future of work solutions conflicts with the prevailing short-term attitude among local politicians and policy makers.
The space exists in Las Vegas to test innovative future of work solutions, but it is hampered by a culture that reflexively favors the short-term bet over long-term investment. With the effects of technology and automation already being felt in the Las Vegas area, policymakers have a narrow window of opportunity in which to forge a bold pathway forward.