Let’s Just Pretend This is Normal

cocoa #22, by nao-cha
cocoa #22.  Courtesy of nao-cha

It’s important for employers to watch labor market trends because it gives us a glimpse into the workplace culture of the near-future.  Between the rows of statistics we see an emerging screwball comedy which could play out in selection interviews and corporate back-offices.  Following the plot is important for our own careers, but it’s also important for keeping amused.

There are forecasts that the second quarter of 2017 will see a jump in new hires in the US.  This interesting article by Scott Scanlon of Hunt Scanlon Media notes that employers had been waiting-out the hype of a change of US President, and are now choosing to hire more staff.  It’s partially a result of a few quarters of employers standing pat through the election period.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Trump’s policies you have to admit that he is provoking activity.  Whether it’s the sporadic cancellation of plans to relocate plants outside of the US, or the increased activity at law-enforcement agencies, or the growing likelihood a wall will be constructed on the border with Mexico, lots of people are running around doing more work.  Whether the changes are good or sustainable is not relevant to the fact that increased activity creates jobs.  And job growth has a knock-on effect on consumer confidence and housing starts.

Employers anticipate an emerging talent shortage.  However, the employers themselves are partly to blame.  Hiring managers expect to hire the very best people when they open a posting.  Can you think of any solutions?  I have an idea; how about we get rid of perfectionism amongst hiring managers?  After several decades of employers always having the upper hand, organizations might have developed a management culture that is incompatible with job-seekers calling the shots.

Also, employers have been reluctant to hire candidates to grow into a role, or to invest in developing talent.  What ever shall we do?  Change gears by hiring candidates who can grow into a role, and then invest in their talents?  It seems like such a strange thing to do!

There are “job seekers looking for 20-plus [percentage] increases in salary to make up for the lack of raises and increases over the past few years…”  Employers are responding by shifting to an on-demand workforce, referred to elsewhere as the Gig Economy.  But people taking gigs will often charge double or triple the rate of a salaried employee.

Employers can’t handle the humiliation of acknowledging that union representatives and millennials have had totally reasonable expectations all along.  We’re obliging people to triple their wage, come up with a company name for their services, and then skip HR and just talk to supply management about their vendor contract.  Business leaders aren’t in this for the money anymore; they have to maintain composure.

All that’s missing is an economy where all of these contractors collect receipts to reduce the taxes on their business.  So… who’s going to pay for that wall?

Oh Boy, Here Comes the Future

Dungeness Beach, by Gareth Williams
Dungeness Beach.  Courtesy of Gareth Williams.

This emerging trends review by Josh Bersin from December 2016 provides some forecasts about work in the future. You’ll have to click past a pop-up screen from Forbes.com to get into it (be nice, that’s how they pay for it).

Bersin notes that business models are changing to adapt to new threats like Airbnb and Uber.  Meanwhile software companies are shifting to fee-for-service models, where you don’t buy Microsoft Office, you rent it.  A lot more things are touch-and-go.  Seventy percent of CEOs think that their core business model is under attack.  They are concerned they don’t have the right leaders or technology to adapt.

Bersin goes on to say that the company of the future, the “digital organization,” will need to reverse the pecking order of investor, customer, and employee.  The engaged and fully performing employee creates satisfied and returning customers.  Customers drive cash-flow and set up investors with success.  It is not really the investors who drive the business.  It’s the front-line staff causing business success or not.

To make this work, employees may need to develop hybrid skills.  They will need their current core skill fused to one other skill.  An example could be sales skill plus the ability to interpret the client’s business model, two abilities not always found together.  I have always thought that all of the cool stuff happens at the boundary between categories.  If you’re great at five random and un-related skills, that moment when you bring two strengths together can truly make you special.  If one such skill is your ability to take advantage of a new gadget or app, that’s in the mix also.

There is also a shift from “jobs” to “work.”  With jobs, there would usually be a job slot into which you place a person with a skill-set to conduct duties that are clearly defined.  Those of us who have worked with a lot of formal job descriptions know that they are just frameworks.  Job descriptions have a wooden walk, like intoxicated teenagers trying to sneak past their parents.  Yet real work involves a flurry of micro-skills, attitudes, connections, and organizational knowledge.  “Work,” by which we mean the actual work performed, is shifting more quickly as products and services change.  It is far more important to staff the business with general skills, capabilities, cultural fit, and the potential to get new work done in an environment of change.  And don’t forget those hybrid skills.

These shifts are dawning on CEOs as having a massive impact on how they will conduct business in the future.  And all eyes are on the human resources team.  In order to ensure individuals adapt to changes in skills, technology, and work definition, Human Resources teams have to be able to make it all work on the larger scale.  The way we design jobs, pay for them, ensure performance, develop skills, and adapt to new tools and models, will become critical for organizations that want to get ahead of the pack.

At least that’s what I thought he said.

Barbie Provokes Equality (By Accident)

Teen Talk Barbie 1991, Attributed to Freddycat1
Teen Talk Barbie 1991.  Courtesy of Freddycat1.

It’s important in the modern workplace to know that there used to be a pervasive stereotype that women were bad at math.  It’s relevant to all of us trying to advance math in human resources.  We have the dual obstacle of getting good math across to clients, while also getting past unfair judgments directed at women who have perfectly good numbers in their hands.

This is a brief inter-generational memo which will be perceived differently depending on when you were born.  In 1992, Mattel produced the toy Teen Talk Barbie.  Amongst the 270 possible phrases the dolls would utter, 1.5% of dolls would say the phrase “Math class is tough.”

The doll was decried by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for discouraging women from studying math and science.  It was also referenced when the American Association of University Women criticized the relatively poor education that women were getting in math.  Mattel apologized for the mistake and announced that new dolls would not utter the phrase, and anyone who owned such a doll would be offered an exchange.

I don’t know the full history of women in math, but I do know enough to assert that Teen Talk Barbie was a critical incident.  Mattel did us all a favor by screwing up in exactly the right way, obliging many people to snap out of it, encouraging more women to become great at math, and doubling our talent pool of qualified applicants for math-intensive positions.

What fascinates me the most about this incident, is that people born after 1980 show no outward assumptions that women are bad at math.  For those of us who grew up with this assumption, we were repeatedly corrected that the stereotype was wrong, often by living-out an experience where women excelled.  The younger half of the workforce appears to be advancing their careers in blissful ignorance of this archaic stereotype.

The historic stereotype is important within human resources.  Human resources has historically been bad at math and is also a field with a large representation of women.  Quantitative work is becoming increasingly important within human resources, and human resources is obliged to influence business peers who take math very seriously.  As human resources becomes more sophisticated and makes its way to the big-kids table of decision makers, women who are good at math will speak their minds… as did Teen Talk Barbie.  Shortly after the debacle, the Barbie Liberation Organization swapped voice boxes between the Barbies and talking G.I. Joe action figures.  The liberated Barbies had access to the phrases “Eat lead, Cobra!” and “Vengeance is mine!”

Buckets of Badly Stereotyped Millennials

Buckets.  By Randy Heinitz.

There has been a lot of discussion about the increased importance of Millennials, and their impact on the multi-generational workplace. One of the more influential sources is a book called The 2020 Workplace by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd, published in 2010.  There’s a generous “look inside” option on their Amazon.com page right here.  It’s a good book, and it’s true that there are a lot of generations in the workforce right now, expressing their perspectives in different ways.

However, I need to express some respectful disagreement.  I think the notion of a multi-generational workforce in 2020 is an anomaly in terms of how labels have an outsized impact on how we treat people.  This is important because labels such as “millennial” could be nonsense to begin with.  Also, we need a sober sense of what current topics are only temporary.  Predicting the future often involves the reading of known short-term trends and envisioning a future where the trend goes to extremes.  I think this will not be the case with the multi-generational workplace.  So, don’t worry about it.

To put things in perspective, I need to provide a clear definition of Millennial.  In my opinion, Baby Boomers are those born from 1946-1964, Generation X (Gen X) are those born from 1965-1974, and Millennials are those born from 1976-1995.  There’s some disagreement about the definitions and that’s your first clue that externally-imposed labels might be a problem.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

A key detail is that Gen X is a 10-year cohort, whereas Baby Boomers and Millennials are 20-year cohorts.  Gen X was born at a time when Baby Boomers were in their child-bearing years but chose to postpone having kids, for about one decade.  Then beginning in 1976 Millennials, who were the children of Baby Boomers, started to arrive.  In all discussions of what matters on a generational basis, the math suggests that Gen X would always be halved in their importance, because of their 10-year cohort.  Also, Gen X is a generation Baby Boomers don’t think about as much because there’s no parent-child dynamic.

A key detail about the labour force is that overwhelmingly it is made up of people age 25-65.  Yes, there are people working before the age of 25.  However, many of them are busy with postsecondary education, travelling, struggling to get their first job, and, in some cases, raising children.  By age 25 people are largely working, with the occasional maternity leave or brief spell of unemployment.  Those over 65 may work as well, however, it’s not a universal experience.

Whenever we talk about humanity as “the workforce” we’re actually choosing a 40-year age bracket (aged 25-65) of people who would normally live for 80 years.  The workforce is about half the population.

When we drop a generational definition into the middle of this 40-year age range of “the workforce”, it can be hit-and-miss.  It is possible to fit an entire 20-year cohort into the workforce, such as in 1995, when Baby Boomers were aged 30-50.  Indeed, Baby Boomers were very important at that time.  Today Baby Boomers today are age 51-71.  A lot have retired already, and a few more retire every year.  They contribute strongly as individuals but their club isn’t so impactful.  Gen X would feel their pain, if they had it in them.

The reverse dynamic is happening with Millennials.  In 2005, Millennials were age 10-30, fewer than half of them truly in the labour force.  They were not a small population, it’s just that the 40-year age bracket called “the workforce” ignored the youngest half of this crowd.  Fast forward to today and they’re age 22-42, largely working, making up the largest fraction of the workforce.  They are ambitious and they say what they want.  They are the second-most-entitled population to ever walk the face of the earth.  Gen X is strangely calm working with Millennials.  It’s hard to explain.

The fuss about the multi-generational workforce is just an experimental perspective in which we have split categories in half and caused some numbers to pop more than others.   In a few years the population born after 1995, Generation Z, will start finishing their master’s degrees or get their full credentials in the trades.  For a brief moment, in 2020, there will be four generations in the workforce.  Then the Baby Boomers will fully retire, leaving us with three generations in the workforce.  Then, ten years after that, Generation X will retire.  In 2040 there will be two generations in the workforce because we’re back to two, twenty-year cohorts straddling the 25-65 age range.

It is not how big these generations are that makes them important.  It is whether they are in a 10-year or 20-year cohort, and whether the generation is fully or partially in the labour force.

Is it just me, or does this sound like we’re figuring out what colour of metal ear-tags to put onto our cattle?  I think it would be far easier to talk to everyone as individual people, with their own perspectives and unique hopes and dreams.  Isn’t that what the human rights legislation tells us?  Isn’t that what compassionate leadership is all about?

Isn’t that what we have all learned from one another as colleagues and friends?

Unscrambling the Egg of Brexit

Abandoned Factory, by Dimi - Copy (2)
Abandoned Factory.  Courtesy of Dimi.

In the past year it has becoming abundantly clear that workforce trends are entwined with immigration, trade, and politics.  In the bold new world of globalization and technological change, older employees without degrees have been struggling with dis-employment and government neglect.  As voters, those same people have told us what they really think of the last two decades of leadership.  Employers are now stuck in a circular loop of unanticipated consequences.

The Brexit vote is causing labor shortages in Britain, according to this un-nerving and fascinating article from the Guardian.  After BRritain voted to EXIT (i.e. BREXIT) the European Union on June 23, 2016 some troubles have emerged.

As might be expected, foreigners working in Britain are nervous about being spoken down to and they are simply moving home.  Meanwhile those from European Union member states have somewhat stopped seeking jobs in Britain.  It is one thing for people born in Britain to vote that they don’t want foreigners taking their jobs.  It is quite another thing when the foreigners vote with their feet.

A recruitment drive to bring in nurses from Portugal saw half of nurses withdraw their applications right after the vote.  One large construction firm saw 4,000 staff not return to work after the recent Christmas break.  And the food services industry says it can’t recruit foreign chefs.

Some employers are hiring buses and renting housing to make transit and housing easier for their immigrant workforce.  But Britain already has a housing shortage, and turning things around could be difficult because 8% of the construction workforce is from abroad.  At least one major rail link project is dependent on foreign workers.  Individual employers are attempting to make housing and transit easier, but on the larger scale housing and transit could become worse.  It’s a vicious circle.

However, the main problem is the impact of the British currency.  In the year and a half prior to the Brexit vote the British pound had a value of about 1.3 to 1.4 Pounds per Euro.  The pound is now hovering at five-year lows, about 1.1 to 1.2 Pounds per Euro.  Immigrants send a lot of money back to their home country.  If the money they send home is worth 20% less, it defeats the purpose of working in the UK in the first place.

To top it all off, immigrants have a shorter commute if they simply choose to work in Germany.  People in Greece and Eastern Europe can get to Germany in a couple of hours and the trip is cheaper.

It’s a cautionary tale with many lessons.  Yes, other people should be more welcoming of people from all cultures, and be grateful for their contribution to the economy.  But what about us, as employers and business analysts and human resource leaders?  Have we been paying attention to who has been at the receiving-end of our reorganizations?  When we choose the very best candidate for a job, do we even talk to those we dropped from the first cut?  We weren’t thinking about these people a year ago.  But they have our attention now, don’t they?

Sorry About Your Jobs (Pass the Chardonnay)

Cheers! by Jan Smith.

Last year, I was curious about the emerging opinions coming out of the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Trump in the US.  I was intrigued because these votes reflected a visceral rejection of the status-quo.  In the background of the racism and the sexism were some sophisticated critiques about what is happening to jobs in remote areas, and who has done well by comparison.  I felt obliged to dig deeper and learn more.

I have produced two tables based on a simple download from the Statistics Canada website.  The data provides the total number of people employed across Canada, broken into forty broad categories described by National Occupational Classification codes or NOC codes.  NOC codes are helpful because they give you a general and simple explanation of the job.  I pulled 10 years of data for all employees age 15+ for both sexes.  I simplified this data to show the 10-year growth by number of jobs, the percentage growth, and the rank, with #1 being the fastest-growing career area and #40 being the fastest-declining.

Top-10 Occupations for Job Growth in Canada, 2007-2016

National Occupational Classification (NOC) New Jobs, 2007-2016 % Growth Rank
Professionals in law and social, community and government svcs      129,200 44% 1
Paraprofessionals in legal, social, community and education services      116,700 44% 2
Professional occupations in health (except nursing)        47,200 43% 3
Professional occupations in business and finance      166,700 40% 4
Admin and financial supervisors and administrative occupations      255,200 38% 5
Assisting occupations in support of health services        86,400 36% 6
Professional occupations in nursing        79,400 30% 7
Technical occupations in health        66,800 27% 8
Retail sales supervisors and specialized sales occupations        94,700 26% 9
Professional occupations in natural and applied sciences      126,800 23% 10
Total   1,169,100 34%  n.a.

The top five areas for job growth are professionals and supervisors in a variety of fields such as health, finance, or law.  These professions saw a 38-44% increase over the decade (about 4% growth per year).  This kind of growth implies the running of modern society demands more skill, decisions require professional specialization, and we need more educated how-to leadership overall.Classifications in rank 6-8 were themselves in the health sector.  In this second batch, an entire sector has benefited from growth.  Health care is an expensive and in-demand part of our economy, and there are raging battles about whether we should spend a lot more or slightly more.  What is notable is that it includes the professionals, the technicians, and also the assisting occupations.  That is, the doctors, nurses, X-ray technologists, and those who change beds and deliver food.  All along for the ride for this 27-36% increase in employment over ten years, or 3% per year.

For the top-ten NOC codes employment has increased from 3.4 million to 4.6 million, a subtotal of 1.2 million new jobs.  This is 34% growth overall, largely in the professions or in a single sector, health care.  These 1.2 million new jobs mean that a very large number of people entered good-job fields for the very first time.  These individuals might perceive that there are plenty of new opportunities ahead of them.  If they are new university graduates and/or millennials, they are probably also more likely to be women, ethnically diverse, sexually diverse, and possibly born abroad.  These are the winners in the modern labour market.

By contrast, the bottom-ten NOC codes are disproportionately in the non-degree-educated jobs in areas that move their hands or break a sweat to get work done.  These are jobs in manufacturing, utilities, natural resources, distribution, and working the land.  There are several office support and management positions rounding-out the bottom.  However, we know that those white-collar job losses are more than offset by job growth amongst those with professional credentials, shown in the top-ten list above.  Largely, the worst-off jobs are blue collar.

Ten Worst Occupations for Job Loss in Canada, 2007-2016

National Occupational Classification (NOC) Job Losses, 2007-2016 % Growth Rank
Service reps and other customer and personal services -48,800 -6% 31
Workers in natural resources, agriculture and related production -8,400 -8% 32
Distribution, tracking and scheduling co-ordination occupations -36,200 -11% 33
Harvesting, landscaping and natural resources labourers -10,100 -11% 34
Assemblers in manufacturing -32,300 -16% 35
Labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities -35,500 -19% 36
Processing and manufacturing machine operators -91,100 -23% 37
Office support occupations -226,600 -26% 38
Middle management in retail and wholesale -87,700 -28% 39
Senior management occupations -24,500 -35% 40
Total -601,200 -18%  n.a.

In the bottom-ten NOC codes, total employment declined from 3.4 million to 2.8 million, or about 600,000 jobs lost.  This is an 18% decline or 1.8% fewer jobs each year.

While it is common to talk about whether the economy and jobs are improving “on average,” we can miss a more interesting picture in the details.  On the whole, the total number of jobs increased from 14.2 to 15.3 million, which is 1.1 million new jobs or an 8.0% increase.  So yes, employment has been growing “on average.”  However, average means that some did extremely well and others did not.

There is an under-spoken story of those who have slipped, who have lost in some way.  These are not people who have replaced their accord with a civic.  These are people who have had to move in with their parents or children, apply for social assistance, and listen to politicians give sunny speeches about a brighter future.

Looking back, it only makes sense that someone angry and unreasonable will speak for them, and that it won’t be pretty.  Their critique rests on some truth, regardless of their choice of words.