Monday, July 25, 2011

Can we still call it a job?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, work, futuristics

Three trends of twenty:
  • CEO's job description will include "avid blogger".
  • Lifelong learning will be a requirement to get and keep a job.
  • You will elect your leader(s).
Five generations of workers:
  • Traditionalists: Those old enough to be a WW2 veteran.
  • Boomers: Their children.
  • X Generation: Those who came of age after Woodstock.
  • Millennials: Graduated high school in 2000 or after.
  • 2020 Generation: That's when they'll be entering the work force.
By the year 2020, there will still be a few Traditionalists at work; they'll be age 75 or older. My father finally retired at age 75, so people like him who stay healthy into advanced age, and enjoy their work, will have little desire to enter the rocking-chair brigades.

Every day, about 10,000 Boomers reach age 65. This number will grow. Every day, about 7,000 Boomers retire. This number may not grow much. The gap between these numbers shows that some Boomers will work even longer than their elders.

Generation X is in mid-career now: settled enough to be putting kids through college or trade school, lots of them own homes. They are becoming "in charge" as Boomers retire.

Millennials have hit the job market like a ton of bricks. Their preferences drive companies like Google and W.L. Gore. The job market needs to absorb tens of millions of them in the next decade.

The youngest generation, 2020, is composed of those in Middle School (Jr Hi) or younger. Those that take up a trade will begin working in 5-8 years, and those who attend college will begin graduating in large numbers by 2018.

The message of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow's Employees Today, by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, brings all these ingredients together to advise companies large and small about the kinds of people they'll have working for them by the end of the decade, and what they'll need to do to stay competitive, both as a company and as an employer.

A few trends are evident:
  • The younger the worker, the more he or she lives amidst technology, but the smaller physical footprint that technology takes up. For many of the very young, a smart phone may be the only device they feel a need for.
  • Older workers tend to be more loyal to a company, a particular manager, or a brand. Each successive generation is more likely to job shop and hop.
  • Younger workers are more likely to "put their money where their mouth is" about the integrity and morality of the company they work for, and pass up lucrative "Enron" opportunities for lower-paying but more sustainably-based enterprises.
The book uses a definition of the five generations listed above based on Bureau of Labor Statistics publications, but to me they are fatally flawed. Cutoffs of 1945, 1964, 1976, and 1997 produce three middle "generations" that cover 19, 12, and 21 years. That produces a skewed view of the Millennials, which it seems to me, ought to cover more than twelve years. I prefer cutoffs of 1945, 1964, 1982, and 2000, for generations of 19, 18, and 18 years. This accords better with the population pyramid, such that the X Generation is smaller than both the Boomers and the Millennials; the 2020 Generation started with a few years of lower numbers, but promises to outnumber the Millennials.

It is not only our under-30 set that is highly tech-savvy or ├╝ber-connected. The lady in the next office has a father like mine: both men are about 90, both love using Skype to video chat with their offspring and friends both near and far, both read a few blogs and news feeds, both use lots of e-mail and know how to manage their Spam filters, and at least my father has asked me to show him how to start a blog. They aren't on FaceBook, but I am, as is my manager and his manager. I am 63, and the managers are late 40s, on the cusp between Boomer and Gen X. We are also all three on LinkedIn.

What is the fastest-growing tool for recruiting new employees? Second Life, closely followed by Twitter. My son got his most recent job from Craigslist. I'm on the search committee for a nonprofit looking for a new director; I've put out a call for suggestions on FaceBook and LinkedIn. I don't Tweet, 'cause I haven't the time. All my cousins do, though, plus their children and a grandchild or two.

One trend discussed by the authors that really resonated with me is that "reputation capital" will become increasingly important, and a big facet of that will be the quality, more than the quantity, of one's FaceBook Friend list.

But now it is wet-blanket time. Much small retailing, skilled and semi-skilled trades, and factory floors seem to be exempt from all this. Yeah, when my plumber shows up, he (or she) prints the estimate or receipt from a laptop, only getting out a pen for my signature. But recruiting for the job continues as it has since the apprentice-journeyman system was set up about the time piping was invented. One of my good friends works in a steel-making plant. He has about as much need for a smart phone in his workplace as the average giraffe. The only concession to 2010-era technology is that the plant recruits via a web site (last updated in 2006) when "putting out the word" among the workers fails to scare up any job seekers.

Not everyone goes to college. In my son's high school class, 65% of freshmen went on to graduate, about 60% of the graduates started college, and about 40% of those graduated. That is just over 15%, or less than 60 out of 380+ who started with him. The advice in 2020 Workplace is directed an those 60 and the companies that will seek to employ them. What do we do for the rest? How will they make a living? My brother in California informed me that the state has closed all the public vocational schools. They simply dropped support for programs that helped more than half their young people qualify for non-college jobs.

When my son graduated from Rutgers a few months ago, we heard Toni Morrison, the keynote speaker, say, "100 years from now … will people ask, 'Is it true that you had to pay your own way through the process of becoming a skilled, useful citizen?'?" She asked when people would realize that an educated populace is a productive populace, and that supporting education at every level ensures the prosperity of society. Of course, for that to happen, we'll have to end the practice of paying a "tenured" professor a quarter million dollars a year to teach one class per semester. If you want to know why college tuition is growing at five times the inflation rate, look no further, but that's grist for another rant.

The central theme of the book is clear, however: the expectations of the generation now growing up are going to drive the way companies do business, recruit workers, and care for their careers throughout their working life. When continuous education becomes the requirement for keeping a job, it will soon become "company supported life-long learning", for workers will flock to the companies that first adopt this as a perk. By 2020 this may be no perk, but an expected benefit, even if company-paid health care has been given over to a Federal program.

My generation and the next need to keep our wits about us! The Millennials and their children are coming!! The slogan of the 80's was Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way. Retro!

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