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Sixty to eighty percent of those in the work force are dissatisfied with their jobs. The workplace is changing. With economic prospects dim, companies are downsizing to make themselves more competitive, and college graduates are facing a dismal hiring environment. Automation and technology will reduce employment needs even more, and there will be strong competition for jobs.
Whether you're a young person preparing to attend college, an executive considering a job change, or you're looking forward to retirement, Your Career in Changing Times is the tool you'll need to make these life-changing decisions. In a transforming workplace you can't afford to be plagued with doubt about the skills you have to offer, and you can't afford to be uninformed about career planning.
The Workplace Is Changing
The twentieth century has been an era of unbelievable changes. We literally have gone from the horse and buggy days to outer space in less than 100 years. At the turn of the twentieth century, 90 percent of Americans worked in agriculture—usually on small farms. Now less than 5 percent earn a living growing our food.
We have seen the evolution of mass production technology, such as the automobile assembly lines, shifted from people to machines and the office work force capability expanded a thousandfold by computers.
New technologies have accelerated changes in transportation, manufacturing, communications, and nearly every other area of our lives. But all changes bring with them some pluses and some minuses. Certainly our technology revolution is no exception.
For instance, at the turn of this century a high school dropout could expect to get a good job. Why? Because the technology of the time required little formal education. By mid-century, a high school diploma was a minimum requirement for most production jobs; and by the beginning of the next century, at least some post-high-school education will be needed for virtually any job.
Technology brings increased productivity, but it also necessitates increased skills and complexity. Unprepared workers will be relegated to the status of menial labor.
Through the end of this century and further, these changes will have a dramatic impact on future jobs. One of our main goals in writing this book is to inform you of these changes so you can prepare now for the future. In many ways we're playing a "new ball game" and many of the old rules don't apply anymore.
Let's take a look at the way careers were developed under the old system—the one most of us who entered the work force during the last 50 years understand.
The Old System, 1946–1990
During the period following World War II, it was normal for someone to get and hold a job with the same company for a lifetime. Many people came to view their lives and their jobs as totally interrelated.
Most young people graduating from high school or college expected that a good job would be waiting, because the actual starting point in the work force usually depended on education and experience. Even the routine job, such as an assembly line worker, paid a very livable wage. After all, America ruled the (economic) world, and "Made in the USA" really meant something.
Whether someone worked in a textile mill, a steel mill, a coal mine, or a corporate giant such as Sears, General Motors, or IBM, having a job for life was a reasonable expectation for dedicated and diligent workers.
In the past, there was a fixed pattern to how companies were structured and operated. Most were organized with layers of executives, management, supervisors, and workers. Workers who showed initiative, hired at any level, had a chance for "upward mobility." Career planning often was as simple as getting a job and working upward in the organization.
Americans of earlier decades were accustomed to some structural changes in industry, but they were generally gradual, and we had a growing economy that could accommodate the people displaced by automation and technology.
For instance, in 1940 about 23 percent of the work force earned a living through farming. By 1990 this had declined to about 2.3 percent, yet our economy was able to absorb this segment of the work force without much problem.
Generally the decades of the fifties, sixties, and seventies were prosperous times, with enormous potential economic growth. To be sure, there were slow periods (recessions), but even the workers who were laid off during these slow periods knew there would be abundant jobs when the economy "perked up." After all, the U. S. economy had capital, technology, a good public educational system, low energy cost, and good access to cheap raw materials.
Perhaps best of all, American industry had developed a tremendous production capability during World War II that hadn't suffered the devastation experienced by other world powers. Consequently, we had a tremendous head start when the war ended. The world was poised for a period of unparalleled prosperity as the rebuilding began, and the U.S. would lead the "pack."
Because of our position, our wealth, and our leadership role, we became overconfident, sloppy, wasteful, and arrogant. There is an old saying: "prosperity is hard to handle," and this certainly was the case with post-World War II America.
Economic Sluggishness Begins to Set In
In time, both businesses and employees began to "expect" good times. Customers, profits, and paychecks were taken for granted, while the unique international conditions that had allowed easy profits were rapidly changing.
Our leadership position was eroded through blatant arrogance toward our customers. Our attitude was, "If you don't like it, lump it!" Thus we opened the door for our eventual competitors to step through. At the same time, government services, as well as regulatory agencies, were growing rapidly and beginning to consume a larger portion of business profits and personal incomes.
The seeds of government welfare and control that were planted during the depression years began to sprout and grow. Government at every level, but especially in Washington D.C., swelled and bloated, while assuming more and more of a "provider" role. The social reformers thought the government could solve all of society's ills if enough money was thrown at the problems. To do this required lots of money—more than the politicians were willing to tax their constituents to pay.
In order to fund the shortfall created by these social experiments, our government borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. The politicians borrowed from the taxpayers, their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren. They even borrowed from our competitors—in return giving them free access to our markets. But the borrowing wasn't limited just to the government.
By the mid-seventies, the whole country was hooked on credit: consumers, businesses, governments—even college students. The artificial growth of the eighties was the result of debt-spending more than anything else.
As the economy slowed down in the late eighties, properties deflated in value and business collateral began to decline, which curtailed further borrowing. By this time, consumers had exhausted sources of collateral for more loans, and consumer spending slowed dramatically.
Coincidental with our economic shift to debt-spending during the seventies and eighties, the economies of Europe and Asia were just hitting their full stride. Even though American industry being untouched by World War II was an asset in the forties, fifties, and early sixties, it now became a liability.
Europe and Asia had rebuilt their factories using newer, more efficient technologies. Worst of all, American labor and management were in a malaise: living on past accomplishments and falling steadily behind the rest of the world.
In the Far East and Asia, relatively inexpensive labor, lean management structures, new technologies, and support from national governments enabled many overseas companies to become very competitive and profitable. While protecting their own markets, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea began systematically to corner ours. As they did, American manufacturing jobs began to decline.
During this same time period, new technologies in communications and computers played a major role in reshaping the economic world. In the sixties and seventies, corporate giants such as IBM could overwhelm their competition by owning the entire operation—from making their own computers to writing their own software. But as competition increased and downsizing made emerging technologies more productive, those very same factors that made IBM and GM profitable in the fifties and sixties became their biggest stumbling blocks.
The term downsizing was coined to describe the restructuring process that most companies are undergoing as they seek to cut back some of the extra layers of management that accrued during the earlier decades.
Production technology shifted from total integration to decentralization. For example, while Ford, GM, and Chrysler attempted to maintain in-house capabilities for everything from engines to electronics, a competitor like Honda set up independent suppliers for everything from wheels to radios. The sub-systems were built to Honda's specifications, and the cost savings were significant.
In the U.S. all attempts to decentralize and develop a flexible team concept in the manufacturing plants were resisted by the unions. With decentralization comes greater productivity but loss of jobs as well. It was not until it became clear that survival was the issue that the real changes began to take place.
The onset of relatively inexpensive, high-tech equipment has enabled small companies to spring up quickly and respond with new products. Corporate giants, who stayed too long with the old system, now struggle for their very survival. Employees and employers have discovered that volume, not price, determines profits. Technology and competition have created the need to be leaner and more cost conscious. In turn, these efforts to become competitive (profitable) have brought on the need to downsize.
Just as many levels of middle management are being eliminated, so too are jobs that allowed the extreme specialization of the integrated companies. No company that wants to remain competitive in the nineties can afford the luxury of an employee who only does one task or a plant that only turns out one type of product.
The need is for flexible, well-educated employees who can respond quickly to changing consumer demands. The last words of a dying company are: "We never did it that way before. I can't...." In the nineties, the business world is coming to grips with problems generated by changes in technology, economics, overregulation, and overindulgence.
The purpose in reviewing these facts is not to criticize but to put into perspective some of the events that brought about the changes in the U. S. economy and work force. In the future, workers must be willing to adapt—or be unemployed.
Many more changes will shape the workplace of the future. In a feature article of the Chicago Tribune, William Neikirk gave several insights into what is happening to our economy. He notes that millions of workers have lost their jobs as part of the current corporate restructuring.
Neikirk says, "They [the workers] have been swept up in a new industrial revolution that many business analysts believe is a long way from complete. Some think that downsizing will continue during the nineties as American corporations reinvent themselves to survive in a new, even more competitive century."
Any thinking person should have concerns about the employment future for all American workers. The downsizing of the early nineties is not just the result of an economic slump. Rather, it is a restructuring that will fundamentally change the way we think about jobs and careers. As many are already beginning to realize, the majority of those who have been laid off never will return to their old jobs because they are gone forever!
Structural unemployment is a term used to describe what is actually happening in our economy. You almost can think of the next few years as a metamorphosis—much like the life cycle the sluggish caterpillar goes through to become a graceful butterfly.
Many of our corporate giants are going through painful contortions as they try to find a new shape that will give them the flexibility to keep up with the changes in the marketplace today. Unfortunately, most of the pain will be felt by those who lose their jobs in the process. American industry no longer sets the rules—and must either adjust or fail.
Accept Change and Prepare for the Future
If there is one absolute for the future, it is change; and this change likely will come at an ever-accelerating rate. Think what life was like just 100 years ago, then 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago. The rate of change that has occurred is breathtaking. We have gone from horses and buggies to stealth fighters in this century. Change is not uncommon—it is inevitable.
I grew up in the fifties, so I still can remember what life was like before television. In those days, people usually traveled by bus or train. Propeller airplanes that traveled 150 miles an hour were considered fast, and commercial air travel was a somewhat hazardous adventure. Most people didn't travel long distances regularly, and families usually had one fairly unreliable car. Life certainly has changed a lot since then.
When I entered the Air Force in 1959, the basic electronics course consisted of the vacuum tube theory, although a few days were devoted to the still-unproven technology of transistors. Most of the transistors that were in production were used primarily in analog circuits (as opposed to digital), and were more unreliable than glass radio tubes.
Fixing your television in the early sixties consisted of pulling every tube in the set, taking them down to the local TV repair shop, where for a dollar or so the owner would test them for you.
After the Air Force, I went to work at Cape Canaveral in Florida. In the early sixties the primary computer system at the space center (then known as the ballistic missile testing range) was an IBM analog computer that required its own building, cooling system, and a host of technicians just to change vacuum tubes every day. Today, a handheld calculator has more computing ability than that entire system.
By the mid-sixties all the computers were solid state (transistorized) digital systems. The on-board computer that steered Apollo XI to the moon's surface was a technological marvel of that time. The package weighed only 80 pounds and had more than 50,000 words of memory. Compare that to a portable computer today that weighs 5 pounds and has 12 million words of memory!
All of the computing power available at the space center during the moon landing in 1969 would not come close to matching the power of one IBM PC today.
The revolution that took place in automobiles at the turn of the twentieth century, and in flying machines a decade later, in rockets two decades later, in commercial aircraft during the seventies, and in computers during the seventies, still continues today. It is not the change that is abnormal; it's the pace of the change. If you reflect on the last 30 years, it's clear that the changes are accelerating.
Lee Iacocca, past chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, coined an expression that bears repeating: "In our society today you have to lead, follow, or get out of the way." That is absolutely true. And although change can be a little unnerving, we must adapt to the change in our world and profit from it. If we don't, others will.
In his book entitled Margin, Richard A. Swenson documents the changes taking place in every area of our lives. Through a series of graphs, he illustrates that since about 1940 industrial processes have changed at a rate that is unparalleled in history. In studying the 29 graphs of various changes, in the appendix of Swenson's book, one thing stands out very clearly: All the changes are compounding.
Depicted above is a representative view of Swenson's graphs, which directly follow the rate of change in technology. For instance, on the graph shown, you can see that, starting about 1940, the volume of technological innovations began to change.
As time progresses, the changes accelerate. Our "progress" has been a two-edged sword. It has brought us a better life through improved health care and modern conveniences that relieve burdensome toil; yet it has brought us problems and stresses never known before —particularly in the area of vocation.
Much of the structural unemployment we see today is a direct result of businesses, governments, and especially individuals not being able to anticipate and prepare for these changes.
Prepare Now for the Changing Workplace
So far I have sounded a rather pessimistic trumpet regarding the future of our economy and the workplace. In reality, there is much to be optimistic about for the future of both employers and employees, if you are willing and able to adapt.
The United States has many strengths that will help us adapt to the future. First of all, we still have a fundamentally capitalistic system—the most responsive and versatile still have a fundamentally capitalistic system—the most responsive and versatile economic system in existence. When companies don't make a profit, they either regroup and develop a strategy for becoming profitable or they go under. In our current "economic revolution," some will go under, but most will take a hard look at what they are doing and adjust as necessary in order to make a profit.
Excerpted from Your Career in Changing Times by Larry Burkett, Lee Ellis, Adeline Griffith. Copyright © 1993 Larry Burkett and Lee Ellis. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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