Some Painful Truths About Jobs

English: Unemployment rate for Mecklenburg Cou...

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“Despite our high rate of unemployment, 300,000 jobs go unfilled largely because many of the unemployed lack the skills needed today as a result of technological progress.”

— Kim Campbell

Ms. Campbell was talking of her country (Canada), but the problem is the same in the United States writ larger.  There are a few simple truths that we Americans have yet to accept and until we do, the pattern of layoff followed by interview followed by rejection followed by more of the same will continue. 

Here is a list of some of those truths in no particular order…accept them now and act accordingly or have them imposed on you later.

  • Industrial Extinction — We are no longer an industrial society… For many years the United States built (made) things…now it is cheaper and more efficient to have them built elsewhere and shipped to their final destinations.  We now have an information/knowledge based economy…and the two are very different.
  • Job Export — The change in our economy has been going on for years…it was just stealthy. It started with low paying jobs being shipped overseas, but now “knowledge” work is being shipped off-shore as well.  Most recently, the shift was masked by a bubble real estate market that kept enormous numbers of people employed, well-compensated and feeling wealthy
  • The 80/20 Rule — The jobs “ain’t comin’ back”…When you find a better, cheaper and readily available  product do you stick with or return to the original?  Better put, when was the last time you AOLed or Yahooed something?  But I bet you’ve Googled something in the last 24 hours.  We’re all finding that we can do more with less.  And companies are also finding that that is more than just a theory.
  • Lean & Mean — Companies are like good meat…lean. Technological progress means a company can do more today than it could 10 years ago…and with 300 employees instead of 3,000.  Where a company has periodic high labor needs, the advent of the project/contract worker fills that need quite well, but doesn’t do much for the unemployment rate.  Finally, a significant portion of job growth has traditionally come from startups.  However, these days when a startup can actually get funding, they need far fewer workers than ever before.
  • Specialization Is Us — Companies no longer hire “athletes.” Many of the ESPN150 (top 150 college football recruits in the country) have ATH (athlete) as their listed position.  That’s because these players are so multi talented that schools recruit them on pure potential thinking they will just get them into the program THEN figure out how to best use their talents.  Companies used to do the same thing with college graduates and young professionals…get them into the organization, then figure out what to do with them.  That is no longer the case.  When was the last time you saw a desirable job listing that said no experience necessary or on the job training available?
  • Learned Workers — Our education systems are designed to educate employees, not employers… This made sense of course, given companies’ historically insatiable appetite for more workers… However, schools are now turning out enormous groups of worker bees to an economy that has no place for them to work.  Further, many of the help wanted ads can’t be filled by these graduates because they lack the skill set for particular positions…the so-called skills mismatch.

These are a few of MY observations.  You’re free to disagree with some or all, but you ignore them at your peril.

Case in point: The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday about the new GE.  For years the company has been the corporate training ground for general managers.  Moreover, GE has historically cited

General Electric Automatic Iron Box

General Electric Automatic Iron Box (Photo credit: Marion Doss)

their generalist approach as one of the primary drivers of their out performance all these years.  The article makes it clear that GE is moving away from the “broad internal experience” requirement to professionals with deeper experience, knowledge and relationships in specific areas.    This is a dramatic shift.  “The world is so complex,” Susan Peters, who leads executive development at GE, said in an interview. “We need people who are pretty deep.”

It’s not just GE going the “deeper is better than wider” route.  Check most job posting sites, classified ads and online job search engines and invariably 2 requirements pop up… a minimum number of years of specific experience and a “must be currently employed” requirement.  “If one requirement doesn’t get you, another one does,” says an underemployed friend of mine.  “It used to be that companies thought management skills were transferable,” she said.  “They don’t think that anymore.”

Companies will continue to need high quality employees of course.  They just need  fewer of them. 

Do you really want to worry constantly about your industry, company and/or position? 

Do yourself a favor… figure out what your primary talent is and where you fit in the broader scheme in your company/industry.  If your primary skill set is not a requirement in your job or industry (and sometimes, even if it is), you are expendable

Figure out how to become indispensable or figure out how to build a business of your own.  At a loss?  Take a look at my business.  Maybe it will fit you like a glove.

Whatever you do, don’t get caught with your head in the proverbial sand.

Yeah… I said it.