Thursday, November 29, 2007

Figures Don't Lie, But Liars Do Figure

As a career counselor for the last 17 years, after serving as a CEO of a small industrial company for 18 years, I ask you to be suspicious of figures related to employment, and those who use them.

Those who back their claim with statistics that our economy, and the lives of our people in their world of work, are doing well, use and cherry pick their statistics of choice to support their claims, while conveniently ignoring other statistics which are clear indicators of trouble for our citizens.

In my own work/life, first going from gopher to president of a small company, and more recently as a career,work/life counselor, I've been asked by heads of families, fathers and mothers, recent high school, tech school and college graduates what to expect in today's world of work. These are the people, the families to which today's charlatans declare their commitment to family values but are actually ignoring, if not cynically using, statistics as a tool to cement their power.

They base their glowing claims on employment figures and are quick to use new job statistics to support such claims that we are all doing better. How convenient and cynical. They use figures which do not lie, but they are liars who use figures.

Statistics that reflect the level of employment are likely to be accurate and true to the extent that they are used to report how many people are employed. What they don't report is how much people are earning and what people are doing, compared to what they were earning and what they were doing before they lost their previous jobs.

Some jobs are lost even in the best of times. Some people aren't up to the tasks, or come cropper to conflicts in the work place. There is always a baseline unemployment rate which is difficult to analyze. Something like 3% or so unemployment is considered a full employment economy. It might be the plus or minus margin of error of polls, or it might be that some people do just enough in trying to find a job to stay in the unemployed category, but who are so marginally employable based on what they have to offer that they are likely to be the last employed under any circumstances.

But I'm not talking about these people.

I'm talking about people who have found a job, but a job which pays less than their previous job which was eliminated by their previous employers who, for one or more of many possible reasons, understandable from the point of view of the employer, decided to move their operation to a part of the world, next door or to the other side of the globe, where labor was less expensive.

As a former business executive I understand this.

In the 1890's, the New England textile industry essentially left New England and relocated in the Southeast of our country.

Since then industry after industry moved from their traditional base to places with lower wages; e.g. the shoe industry, steel industry.

As a career and work/life coach, in my attempts to counsel such people, help them understand what they need to learn and what they need to do to find work and income, I am faced with the challenge of re-educating them about today's reality of the world of work, the so-called new paradigm, to use the buzzword which made it's first appearance in the early 1990's.

If they want new jobs, if they hope to be employed again, they are likely to need new skills since those they had counted on in the past did not protect them from being let go. They also need to understand, adapt and decide that they need to look for work, not a job. They need to accept the reality that those who need what they can do, those in the market for their skills, might offer them work as an employee, or a contractor, or as a consultant. They need to understand that it is no longer their father's world, the comforting hymn not withstanding.

The concept of the job, with its benefits, salary or wages has gone the same route to extinction, for now, as the buggy whip. Owners of companies don't want employees, and in fact they don't want to be thought of as employers. They need and want someones or somethings to perform whatever tasks are needed to produce products and services which they have determined from their marketing analyses, will result in sales growth, and by virtue of reducing costs, most of which are associated with levels of employment, will result in increased profits, asset and equity growth.

These people see themselves as owners, not employers, with their focus on the owner's need for capital, investment. That means they need to keep the value of their stock high. They do that by the only two means possible; increasing revenue and reducing cost. Increasing revenue is usually a long term project, unless the fates smile on them by some dramatic change in technology or a sudden windfall which would have been difficult to predict.

Reducing cost can be accomplished more quickly. Reduce payroll by eliminating employees, and/or switch to temporary and contract workers, who receive none of the previously expected benefits; health care and retirement contributions for example. The cost reductions can be almost immediate, though sometimes less immediate due to commitments to severance packages.

However, Wall Street is inclined to reward them immediately by bidding up their share price, anticipating lower costs and the consequent larger profits; as they, the current and future shareholders compete with each other to buy in at the lowest cost they can.

The ownership and managers of profit oriented organizations are rebelling against the values and standards of the former paradigm which was characterized by rewarding loyalty and faithfulness, attributes and values normally associated with so-called family values.

If I were to write a book about this, I could come up with a lot of anecdotal evidence in support of my big picture, paradigm change acknowledgement, forty thousand foot view of today's world of work.

Others have already written those books. One of the best is, Job Shift, written in the early or mid 1990's. I wish I could remember the name of the author. can find it for you.

I take a dim view of folks who only complain and point out the obvious negatives. I have no Cupid magic arrow, nor does anyone else. But let's not focus on the arrow, the shooter, nor even the target.

Let's look at the idea of the shooting range itself. To be successful two things must be in place. The shooter has to be good, and the target has to be stationary, or at least available to the shooter's ability to hit it. This is familiar to many; the 22 rifle range at summer camp and/or the M1 or M14 firing range in boot camp. It was simple; you hit the target or you didn't. You qualified or you didn't. That's a pretty good metaphor for the world of today's job search.

By way of segueing to my next thoughts, here's a personal experience from my Army boot camp days.

At Fort Knox, in 1959, I was assigned to a group of grunts to try out a new gun site for tanks. We were instructed in how to use the background and foreground, left and right controls available to us for giving the tank gunner the target's coordinates.

I was quickly eliminated because I was consistently way off in the fore and aft setting. I since have learned that I have an ocular astigmatism, the solution to which is corrective lenses.

This is not a perfect example of the point I'm trying to make. The Army didn't move the test to another country, and they found other work they assigned me to do.

In fact, had they let me go back to civilian life I would have been thrilled since I had not wanted the job in the first place, but needed to fulfill the military requirement in place at that time.

This story, though, can help us be open to a need to consider the relative merits of the boot strap view of life and the safety net view of life.

In a sense the Army, putting aside motivations and preferences of the employer and the employee, took a safety net view of life in not eliminating my job, but finding another one for me in their organization. That next job resulted in my continual employment with no loss of income. It's not a clean analogy, since I was not an employee who could quit my job, but I hope you grasp the point I'm trying to make.

Some time ago I wrote on another of my blogs an essay entitled, Boot Straps and Safety Nets.

I spent a fair amount of thought and time on that, and if I were to try to summarize it here I would not be effective, nor successful.

Should you be sufficiently interested in this idea, I commend to you "Boot Straps and Safety Nets", at

Please take advantage of the opportunity to respond in any way you'd like, by clicking on the underlined, light blue words, "Comments", which always appear at the end and just below the post you have just read.

Those who write do so for at least one or more of several reasons. Restricting myself to a simple few, I write in the hope that readers ponder something which they might not have considered before, and which they might be open to adding to their personal and particular stone soup recipe of life.

Those who try out their latest recipes on their company, their friends, are always a bit on edge as to whether their guests will like it; but nevertheless they usually are of a sufficiently imaginative and creative temperament to put it out there, hope for the best, and live with, and learn from the results.

At the risk of adding to the maudlin gag response, those of us who write understand that we count on living to write another day.

The title of this web log is A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. That is intentional. Voices come and go, but Wilderness will always be with us.

In Desiderata, the poet wrote, "No doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should".


"Strive to be happy".

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