Tag Archives: job loss

The Coming Wave of “Knowledge Worker Day-laborers” (“Where will the jobs be?”, continued)

One who works by the day…

Tomorrow morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I present my synopsis of Macrowikinomics:  Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  It is a terrific book.  But as I read about the “dark side” of the wikinomics economy, a phrase came to mind that I have not been able to escape.  So – here’s my prediction:

We are becoming a nation, and world, filled with “knowledge worker day-laborers.”

You know what a day-laborer is.  It is a person who shows up at a site where others gather, hoping to be hired for the day.  Traditionally, this is a phrase describing physical laborers, expecially farm laborers.  They show up, early in the morning, on the right street corner, hoping to be hired for the day.

Well, the book Macrowikinomics describes all sorts of ways that companies are using more than just “their employees,” and all sorts of ways that individuals are collaborating on short term projects.  This is all well and good.  But…where will the actual jobs be?  Or, to put it differently, how will people feel secure, confident that they will have work to do for the next day, week, month, decade…?

Conisder these thoughts, from the book:

(re. the “joblessness” of the younger adults, throughout the developed world) – This is a problem of epic proportions…  There is a real danger that the largest, most highly educated cohort of young people in history could become “the lost generation.”


The trend for many companies is clear:  if we can do more with fewer, we will…  talent can be inside and outside of firms… Aren’t wikinomics business models the death knell for jobs?

The Big Scares (my observations)
• are we becoming  a world of (internet connected and enabled, computer terminal) “day-laborers” – always looking for the next job/assignment/project… with little or no security and continuity?  (in other words – how will people make a living in this brave, new, scary world?)
• Think about this:  IBM – from 399,000 to 100,000 by 2017 (projected cuts in actual employees – their planned “HR transformation program”).

Think about that last item – IBM intends to cut nearly 75% of its jobs, and maybe “hire” many of the same people back on an “as needed basis” for specific tasks/jobs.  “The trend for many companies is clear:  if we can do more with fewer, we will….”

Yes, the wikinomics world is an exciting world of collaboration and multiple breakthroughs.  And the book tries to paint an optimistic picture.  The book says: “We think that there is a stronger case to be made that wikinomics principles help bolster fledgling enterprises by supercharging their innovative capabilities and that small enterprises in turn are the most reliable job creators.”

But I can’t help but think that what we really face is a not-so-brave, not-so-secure world of “Knowledge worker day-laborers,” hanging around their virtual street corners each morning looking for work for the day, facing a very uncertain future.

“This is a problem of epic proportions.”

Where Will The Jobs Be? – Fewer And Fewer Will Be In Sales

Slate.com has an article this morning about the shrinking number of sales jobs: Death of a Salesman. Of Lots of Them, Actually: The troubling disappearance of salesmen and how it helps explain America’s economic woes, by James Ledbetter.

Here are excerpts:

Maybe Willy Loman was a little ahead of his time. His demise in Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman wasn’t intended to predict the downfall of an iconic American profession. But surveying today’s scarred employment landscape, one fact stands out starkly: America has stopped creating sales jobs at the frantic pace it once did. And whether you like dealing with salespeople or not, their economic health is critical to the health of the American economy as a whole.

From 1950 to 1980, sales represented one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. In the 1980s, sales was by far the largest job-growth category, increasing 54 percent. That growth slowed in the 1990s, and by 2007, the number of sales job was shrinking. No other job category has experienced a drop this sharp in the same time period.

In his classic 1976 book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell discussed how sales—and its close cousin, advertising—were at the heart of the cultural changes of 20th-century America. For better or worse, mass consumption became the engine that powered not only the American economy but also its value system and psyche. Getting people to spend their money became a kind of secular religion that was necessary to overthrow an older Puritan order. “Selling became the most striking activity of contemporary America,” Bell wrote. “Against frugality, selling emphasized prodigality; against asceticism, the lavish display.”

…for much of recent American history, sales jobs functioned as a pillar of the middle class. Over the last few decades, the American economy has generated a large number of high-skill, high-paying jobs, and a large number of low-skilled, low-paying jobs. The middle, however, is being “hollowed out,” in the phrase David Autor used in an economic paper published in April, and sales is a major component of that shrinking middle. The strength of sales jobs is that they can be reasonably high-paying but typically don’t require technical training or other specialized skills. When those jobs disappear, the people who hold them will often be pushed down the wage ladder or even out of the workforce. Sixty years after Willy Loman, that is our tragedy.

It is increasingly clear that jobs that were plentifully available for middle class folks — jobs that helped create the middle class – are disappearing.  And the implications of this trend are pretty frightening for the overall health of our economy, and really frightening for people who actually lose their sales jobs.

Becoming true for more and more folks

Jobs Are Lost To Greater Productivity (And Plenty of the Credit Goes to Wal-Mart)

The law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.
From Wikipedia


Recently, I linked to an article about the best magazine articles ever.  (My post here; the main article with the complete list from CoolTools, here).  Many (ok, most) of these are articles I was not aware of, thus, certainly, had not read.  So, I am reading through much of the list slowly.

Yesterday, I read this article: The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know by Charles Fishman, from December 1, 2003, Fast Company.  It is a valuable article — giving genuine insight into what has happened in today’s work world.

First, here is the message in a nutshell:  Wal-Mart demands a lot from its suppliers.  A whole lot.  Suppliers have to produce more and more, at the lowest possible price, to meet Wal-Mart’s expectations – or they lose the account.  And the account at Wal-Mart is pretty much the whole ball game in the USA.

And, though very, very demanding, Wal-Mart is not lacking in integrity:

To a person, all those interviewed credit Wal-Mart with a fundamental integrity in its dealings that’s unusual in the world of consumer goods, retailing, and groceries. Wal-Mart does not cheat suppliers, it keeps its word, it pays its bills briskly. “They are tough people but very honest; they treat you honestly,” says Peter Campanella, who ran the business that sold Corning kitchenware products, both at Corning and then at World Kitchen. “It was a joke to do business with most of their competitors. A fiasco.”

But, though this article says plenty about Wal-Mart and its practices, it actually says something deeper.  First, this key quote:

Carey, a partner at Bain & Co., says, “for any product that is the same as what you sold them last year, Wal-Mart will say, ‘Here’s the price you gave me last year. Here’s what I can get a competitor’s product for. Here’s what I can get a private-label version for. I want to see a better value that I can bring to my shopper this year. Or else I’m going to use that shelf space differently.’ “

Throughout the article is this one undeniable fact – any supplier that provides a product at one price this year is expected to provide it next year at a lower price.  Or else!

Thus, all suppliers have to be meaner, leaner, pulling more productivity out of each worker, making more products for less money, year after year.

Here is the unintended consequence:  this has helped fuel the rise of productivity, and thus, contributed to a great loss of jobs.  Because if a company has to produce more for less, one of the “less” factors is the factor of producing more with fewer workers.

And, ultimately, as fewer workers produce the same or greater output in one company, this leads to a grand total of fewer workers overall.

Bob Herbert, this morning in the New York Times, has this:

At some point we’re going to have to claw our way out of this denial. With 14.6 million people officially jobless, and 5.9 million who have stopped looking but say they want a job, and 8.5 million who are working part time but would like to work full time, you end up with nearly 30 million Americans who cannot find the work they want and desperately need.

We’ve got more and more people in our working-age population and fewer and fewer jobs to go around. Mr. McMillion tells us that there are now 3.4 million fewer private-sector jobs in the U.S. than there were a decade ago. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen the worst job creation record since 1928 to 1938.

There are a lot of reasons for the loss of jobs.  But, one reason is that we have simply gotten so very much better at producing more with fewer people.

And as good as this is for productivity, and prices, the unintended consequence leading to overall job loss is looking like a true nightmare.

Thoughts on Technology, Old Fashioned Mail, and Constant Contact

This is just an “isn’t this interesting” thought.

Here’s a little exercise.  We pretty much publicize the First Friday Book Synopsis with Constant Contact, and nothing else.  (I’ll leave out our web site as part of this little exercise).  We used to simply use our own e-mail program.  This is so much better!

We send out three e-mails a month for each monthly event.  One original e-mail, then ever so slightly adapted versions for two reminder e-mails.  Total yearly cost:  $454.68.

Let’s break it down.

I just sent out the first of two reminder e-mails about our August First Friday Book Synopsis.  We pay $35.00 per month, plus tax, for a total of $37.89 per month.  This allows for unlimited e-mails, and more than enough storage for e-mails and images.  (We have lots of book cover images).

I’m not smart enough to figure out the share of cost for my computer cost, and my internet access.  But, Constant Contact just added a new feature, at no additional cost, where they tweet my e-mail to my Twitter account – thus they create a web page for my e-mail for the tweet link.  (you can follow me on Twitter here).  Here is the link to the e-mail, provided by Constant Contact.

So – after being grateful for this new feature, I decided to figure out what it would cost to mail this in the old fashioned way – you know, with paper, and envelopes, and postage.  Of course, our mailing list is substantially larger than the number of folks who actually, regularly attend.  If you have ever had an old-fashioned mailing list, this is usual practice…

Here’s what I came up with, for our current mailing list size:

Postage (figured at First Class – we could save with some form of bulk mailing): — $865.92

Envelopes (the inexpensive kind): — $ 35.89

Copies of “flier” – (I figured this black and white, one side of one page) — $100.00

Administrative time (to stuff, seal, etc…) — $60.00 (a guess – I think conservative).

Total cost for one mailing:  $1061.81

Let’s pretend we mail it twice a month (we send three Constant Contact –e-mails a month – we discovered that with travel, etc., two reminders works better than just one reminder):  monthly cost, $2123.62

Money saved per month:  $2085.73

Money saved per year: $25028.76

This one page flier would have much less info that we can put in our e-mails.  And the images we use would not look as good on the flier.  In fact, we still distribute a paper flier at the event itself, for the next month.  The e-mail looks a lot better!

I’m sure I have forgotten something in this calculation.  But if you consider what Constant Contact saves us, then you begin to see how technology has an impact on productivity, and job creation or loss, in a multitude of ways.

(And, in case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of Constant Contact).

When the Honeymoon is Over – and the Work is Not What You Expected

When I teach my speech class, one of the most important principles I teach is this – a speaker must guard against violating the expectations of his/her audience.  When a person’s expectations are not met, it is disappointing.  But when a person’s expectations are violated, it is close to infuriating.

I think about this as I wrestle with a growing problem in the current work place – a whole lot of folks are having their expectations violated.  You know the story:  a person is hired for a new job.  The job is presented this way:  this will be a fun place to work.  You will have plenty of flexibility.  You will have plenty of opportunity for personal development, for the development of new and diverse skills.  You will help shape our future.  You will grow as a person as you work here.

I quoted this from Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin in this blog post, A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy:

Today’s best young employees, the ones on whom future success will depend, are demanding that employers help make them better performers…  Organizations are finding that the advantages of building a big reputation for developing people are even greater than they may have thought.  Such a reputation grants these companies a “first-pick advantage,” an edge in attracting the cream of college and business-school students.
Understand that each person in the organization is not just doing a job, but is also being stretched and grown.

And so, a person tackles a new job with just such expectations.  And, then…  reality sets in.

There have been times when such “promises” were absolutely misrepresented.  In such instances, it is more than ok to be infuriated, and feel betrayed.  And in such situations, there should be some way to label such a company as guilty of hiring malpractice!

But, in today’s business climate, what we can expect from a job has actually, genuinely, changed.  And not for the better. What was promised may simply not be possible at this moment.

Here’s what I mean.  Companies that just a couple of years ago could deliver on such promises are now struggling, fighting for their future.  The economy has made company after company worried about their future, about their very survival.  This has dampened the mood, lowered the morale, and created something akin to a bunker mentality.  Companies have trimmed training budgets, taken away perks and raises and…  and demanded more and more productivity from fewer workers.  They need more from everyone, and yes, many jobs have simply been eliminated, or many positions go unfilled as a cost saving measure.  And some people hired to do one job are having to help in ways that may seem “less than” what they were hired to do.

And the employee in such a company feels “betrayed,” because expectations have been violated.

What to do?  As hard as it is, for a lot of folks, it is time to lower expectations regarding what we expect to find in a job – at least, for a while.  (Daniel Pink, who spoke in Dallas a few months ago about his book Drive, said that this is a temporary situation.  I hope so!)

This is the reality for the current crop of graduates who can not find the jobs they thought would be available.  Thus, they have to accept jobs that were not what they went through college or graduate school to take.  This is also the reality for people who have been laid off, and now they have to “accept” what they can find.  And this is also the reality for people who have not lost their jobs, but now realize that their same jobs are not providing what they did just a few months ago.

Think of it this way.  Imagine that you are working away, in fulfilled bliss, under optimum conditions. And, then, disaster strikes.  A hurricane; a tornado; an earthquake; an oil spill.  Your job changes because you have a disaster on your hands. You can not “get your life back” for quite some time.  Regardless of where you are in the company hierarchy, you have a new job at the moment – doing your part to get the ship upright again.

You have to lower your expectations. You have to get to work to salvage what can be salvaged.  And you hope that the days of bliss will return.

And, this is America.  Of course we believe they will return – it may just take a while.  We just have to “suck it up” until such days do return.

{And – by the way, who do you blame for this circumstance?  You may as well blame the stars, or the aliens, or…blame the universe.  Because, whoever may be at fault, we really are all in the same boat at this difficult moment.  Assigning blame is not overly productive.  We’ve got to work in our corner of the world to set things as right as we can…}

The jobs problem – if we ignore it, it won’t go away

I keep writing on this blog about the jobs problem.  It captivates my thinking.  I don’t know the answer.  And I think it is a big, big problem.

The evidence is all around us.  It has now become a commonly understood fact that companies look for ways to get rid of jobs – they outsource, they go in for the newest technology, they replace workers with cheaper workers from anywhere and every-where,  and they perpetually cut workers.

In Bob’s interview with Dave Ulrich, (the interviews conducted by Bob provide a rich business education), you find this little tidbit:

A second shift was finding technology-based ways to do the transaction work often affiliated with legacy HR. The work ended up in service centers, being outsourced, or on line for employee self-sufficiency. This freed up HR professionals to focus on the more strategic and transformational parts of their job.

Yes, this does free up HR professionals to focus on other things, but it also frees up a whole lot of people from their jobs.

And so the number of jobs declines.  Seemingly continually.

ABC News is broadcasting a multi-night series this week on the disappearing middle-class.  The middle-class is disappearing because the jobs are disappearing.

And then I simply think about the hints all around me about the lost jobs.  Take the shopping center near my house.  There used to be a thriving TCBY (I miss TCBY!).  It’s gone. The last owner was pleasant, prompt, responsive, delivering good customer service.  The workers were all pleasant.  It was, for a while, a great place for work for the local teenagers, at night or on the weekends.  The product was good.  But I showed up less and less often.  As did apparently everyone else.  It’s gone.  And there are other shops gone, and the shopping center is basically a ghost town.

I’ve seen a lot of shopping centers like that.

And I think about how I pay my bills.  I now pay most of my bills on-line.  It is free to do so.  If I mail the payment, I pay postage.  If I call it in, I pay an over-the-phone fee.  But if I do it on-line, there is no cost.  So, the post office faces job cuts.  And, I assume, the companies are trying to cut the phone center workers.

The big companies cut jobs as technology improves.  And the government always trumpets small businesses as the source of jobs in the future, yet the evidence is that most – the vast majority of  — small businesses fail.  Depending on which source you use, between 50% (the optimistic number) and 67% of small businesses fail within two years.  And, most small businesses stay really small – just one person, or at best a handful.

And then I keep thinking about the work ethic question.  Common wisdom, common sense will tell you that if you work hard, you will succeed.  I do believe that.  But there is a morale component, and a hope component. When people who work hard are laid off because of industry change, technology change, forces beyond the control of their own work ethic, it creates a downward spiral, effecting work ethic and hope and morale…

Last November, I wrote this post:  What I’m Not Reading – and why I’m bothered by it (should companies focus, much more, on nurturing jobs?), in which I wrote:

But there is one theme that is not being written about.  At least, if it is, it has not made it close to anyone’s best-seller list.  It is this theme:
  how can we build companies that nurture and protect the jobs of the people who make those companies successful?

And I’m just reflecting what is written practically everywhere I read, like this:

Where will the jobs come from? Wall Street can produce another bubble, but that won’t put the 15 million without jobs to work, one third of which have been out of work for at least six months.

So – where will the jobs be?  I think this is the most serious challenge of the era, and I think our best business leaders need to move this question to the highest priority for their thinking and planning time.


I just read this column by Bob Herbert, about Toyota’s decision to close a plant in Caifornia.  It is worth reading.  Note this paragraph:

What we’re dealing with here is the kind of corporate treachery toward workers and their local communities that has ruined countless lives over the past several decades and completely undermined the long-term prospects of the economy.