Labor Day 2003. . . .

I got this note a while back after I spoke about the increasing outsourcing of technical jobs to places like India.

I have been displaced from the oilfield business, the defense industry, now I am waiting for my tech job to go away…..

You can’t blame just one person, this started back in the 80’s or so I hear.

If you have never been there, you will have a hard time imagining what you are supposed to do next. It does not matter how well you and your coworkers did their jobs.

Not many companies want a 50+ year old coming in even if it’s another career change. I used to really care about my work, pride, job satisfaction and all that, but I now realize my grandfathers’ values don’t apply in this day and age.

So what do Americans do when all the jobs are gone? Good question. I dont blame “W”.

I blame it on Congress, the House and Senate letting the corporations that let the companies use outsourcing and offsite help in other countries. I blame it on corporate greed.

It’s really a hard question to answer, because there’s more factors than you might think, and some pretty unlikely villains.

One villain is often the consumer. In many cases, the KMart shopper is as much or more to blame than some mythical corporate greedmaster. If price is all people go by, and somebody can make underwear cheaper in China, or answer a Windows question cheaper in India, if you’re keep doing it in the U.S.A., you eventually stop doing anything because your competitors underprice you, and your fellow Americans vote with their wallets.

Historically, those industries that stream to low-wage environments have tended not to be very profitable industries as a whole, and more dependent than most on a lot of relatively low-skill labor. The clothing industry in the U.S. went from the immigrant-laden Northeast to the South to abroad over the course of time.

In other cases, that corporate greedmaster isn’t mythical at all. All too often, you have folks who do the “let me cut a thousand jobs, save the company forty million, collect a million for doing it, and I’m out of here before the consequences hit.” Sometimes that’s a good idea, sometimes that isn’t.

Even when they are right, it’s hard to accept biting the bullet when the shooters reward themselves more and more lavishly for pulling the trigger.

However, the two aren’t usually directly related. This is not to say that overpriced executives are good; it is to say that it is foolish to think that one CEO’s salary cut = many more regular jobs. Overpaid execs are a problem, but solving it doesn’t solve your problem.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of short-sighted shallow stupidity. Too often, those who hire say, “You cost this, I can get a youngster for less. Bye.”

Again, it’s a matter of price, not value, and those deciding can be very, very shallow in their decisions.

I could go on and on about this, but most of it would deal with subjects you can do little to nothing about. What makes more sense is to work on the one area you can do a great deal about, and that’s you.

Most of those who visit this site are young, often very young, still in school.

In the twenty-first century world you’ll be living in, it is impossible to say what particular skills will ensure you a steady, reasonably prosperous life. The best bet is to say that none will, that there are no magic skills you can learn now that will hold you for life.

Let’s take computer hardware skills for an example. Ten, twenty years from now, most computers will probably be like radios, use them until you break them, then buy a new one. What value will today’s skills have then?

The writer was right in saying that the values of his grandfathers no longer apply. What he didn’t say or know was that many of those values laid on the foundations of a world where Americans and Europeans (and maybe a few Japanese) were the only ones who knew how to do the advanced, or even not-so-advanced stuff. You could work on an assembly line and make pretty good money largely because there wasn’t much competition elsewhere.

That world is already gone, forever, and neither you, nor Congress nor the President can bring that world back. Even more important, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Outside of major catastrophe, most of you will live your lives during times where much if not most of the world will largely or entirely catch up with the Americans and Europeans and Japanese. There will be plenty of people in plenty of places able and willing to compete for your job. (Then again, there will be a lot more work, too.)

It will be an economic tidal wave, and no one will be able to do a whole lot about that. They may stop welcoming the tidal wave, or slow it down a little, but in the long-run, they can’t stop it.

On the whole, the world will be better off, but there will be losers, too, and the biggest losers will be those less-skilled and less-flexible in the more advanced parts of the world.

Unfortunately, what I often see are people today living and acting as if they lived in their grandfather’s world. They put on blinders and call it a virtue. They want to do this and nothing else. Who needs speaking or spelling or writing, I can do this well. Tbey want the easy certainties of their grandfather’s world, and it’s gone.

What happens when the world doesn’t need this anymore? What happens if somebody somewhere can do this as well as you for less? What happens when you need to convince someone who often knows nothing about the job that you can do that if you can’t speak or spell or write well? The person looking can’t judge your real abilities in ten minutes, but they can find a raft of misspelled words in ten seconds. Bye.

The person working in America this next century will have to be able to learn a lot, be able to tread new paths, and be able to communicate all this well to others.

What is critical is not what you learn now, but to learn how to learn, enjoy doing it, and be able to let others know about it.

It’s no guarantee for success, but while you may be damned if you do, you’ll almost certainly be damned if you don’t.

Don’t cripple yourself at the start of your race.

Ed

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