Friday, July 15, 2011

Staying Competitive in a Modern Employment Market

Thomas Friedman has noticed something that is incredibly new, unless you happened to be paying attention to the of the job market over the past four decades:
Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.
It's important to note up front that a lot of the work that has to be done, day in and day out, in a typical work place is mundane. Yes, in many industries more mundane jobs (including white collar jobs) are increasingly outsourced to other companies or nations, but few people can claim that they get paid principally or mostly to think and innovate.

I accept the thesis that workers need to be more entrepreneurial, more able to create their own jobs and justify their own compensation, both in the present job market and in the foreseeable future. But the days of finding a job with an employer, then staying with that employer (and perhaps remaining in that job) for an entire career, are long over. I recall hearing in the 1990's that my fellow graduates were likely to change jobs six or more times during a career, and that people were changing jobs roughly every three years. Yes, if we could, many of us would choose Friedman's path, find a sinecure with the New York Times and over a course of decades pontificate about how others need to innovate and change. (Oh - and let's not forget marrying a wealthy heiress.) But for most modern college graduates that has never been more than a dream.

Also, let's face it, not everybody is cut out to be an entrepreneur, or to continually identify and augment their most valuable job skills. People tend not to go the extra mile unless they see clear consequences arising from their failure to do so. I expect that Friedman knows the importance of his employer's website, and that a great deal of energy is put into the technical side. But do I think he's mastered modern technology, above and beyond the word processor? Let's just say, I haven't seen any reason to believe so. I am skeptical that Friedman knows anything about the New York Times' web servers or their management, their CMS or its management or development, or that he plays any significant role in the company's innovations. I'm not accusing Friedman of being a hypocrite, although I am accusing him (if that's the word) of being an extremely lucky man. I'm simply pointing out how even somebody who sees how dramatically the world is changing, and how easily he could be left behind, might nonetheless assume that change is something that only happens to other people, or still not perceive a sufficient incentive to reinvent and expand his own skills.

1 comment:

  1. Friedman also makes the mistake of assuming that the only difference (for a US company) between hiring a US worker and hiring a worker in, say, India, is how much they cost. A lot of Silicon Valley companies over the last decade found out the hard way that there are disadvantages to doing business in a company that does not, for example, allow you to strongly enforce confidentiality agreements.

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