During the national Vice Presidential debate on October 11, Republican candidate Senator Paul Ryan promised to create thousands of jobs for Americans. At first glance, this is the panacea we all wanted to hear. However, Mr. Ryan neglected to state how these jobs would be created, and what types and “quality” they would be. A “quality job” is not necessarily the career of one’s dream, yet it has traditionally been considered a stable occupation that affords reasonable access to the coveted middle-class lifestyle. This lifestyle has been enjoyed by many Americans for the past 60 years, but seems to be rapidly slipping away for far too many citizens.
Mr. Ryan’s speech would have been more realistic, albeit more confusing, and undoubtedly less popular, had he explained the harsh truths of the present American job crisis. For a variety of reasons, the creation of blue collar and unskilled jobs that have traditionally sustained much of our society no longer appears to be a viable economic possibility. A more successful and sensible approach our leaders can (should?) take is to squarely address the types of jobs that will actually be available, and more importantly, the necessary skill sets, training, and education Americans must have in order to compete for these occupations.
Einstein once stated that “one cannot fix a problem at the level at which it was created.” We cannot create millions of jobs at the unskilled level, because quite frankly, the economy will no longer prosper by these jobs. Most well-paying factory and warehouse jobs have become obsolete. Entry-level blue collar jobs no longer exist in significant numbers, as they have been outsourced to other countries. We can complain about outsourcing, but it is a fact of life in America. We are presently living in an economic dichotomy: Most of us want steady, good-paying jobs, yet we also tend to be shrewd consumers who want reasonably priced, massed-produced goods. Though we are a democratic society, we are still very much a capitalistic society. Our capitalistic corporate leaders derive great profit from outsourcing goods and labor. This has become the profitable tack to take for many years now.
A large section of the American public has clung nostalgically to a long-gone era. America’s long-term, unemployed citizens are actually the issue that should be addressed by our political leaders. We need an increasingly educated, trained, and flexible workforce to fill increasingly complicated and technical jobs that have become the predominant occupations in the western hemisphere. Even the majority of assembly jobs now require sophisticated technical training. By not acknowledging and addressing this “elephant in the room,“ we will continue to demand solutions that truly are no longer viable, and can possibly neglect strategies and innovations that could genuinely help our economy and provide quality, sustainable jobs.
Emerging Trends Ignored
America’s changing employment landscape is not a new phenomenon. Over 20 years ago while employed as a job counselor, I was responsible for the outplacement of a large lumber mill in Northern California. The lumber company provided jobs for generations of men in this small town, and then suddenly, it was closing forever. Obviously this situation was a horrible event for the generation of families affected by the closure. I remember distinctly our motto to the laid-off workers: “Never depend on a job for a life-time. The average worker will have five different careers in a life-time.” At that time, the prediction seemed a bit implausible. However, this prediction has increasingly come to fruition.
Coincidentally, at the same time as the lumber mill closure, a popular business magazine wrote an exposé about future jobs in America. The main point was that jobs would become increasingly complex, and in fact, it was estimated that 80% of the jobs in the next 20 years were not yet invented. At the time, that statement seemed to be such a preposterous prediction that I did not take it seriously, nor consider its far-reaching implications. On reflection, our job problems began in part, because many of us did not heed predictions and follow the emerging trends.
Staffing the New Global Economy
Who could have envisioned that the rampant introduction of computers and social media has not only changed our lifestyles, but has changed the way business is conducted on a global level. These changes have created an entire economy of careers based upon upgrading, coordinating, and creating global technology.
We may be able to solve the problem not by wishing things were the way they were, but by facing reality: the deficit in American human potential and capitol. Recent studies of successful countries outside the U.S. have analyzed various economic factors. A New York Times article by Thomas L. Friedman published March 11, 2012 entitled, “Pass the Books, Hold the Oil,” made the case that certain economically sophisticated and successful countries share a common denominator. Friedman explained that these countries, in particular Taiwan, while they lack substantial natural resources, they have invested heavily in their human capital. By focusing on continually educating their citizens, they have created a very talented, economically successful, and well employed society.
Closing the Talent Gap
Perhaps the United States can take lessons from these economically successful countries. Though we are abundant in natural resources and technology, we have fallen woefully behind in our education, skills, and job readiness to prepare our citizens to fill the complex jobs that will predominate. We must address this talent gap honestly if we hope to ever compete in the global marketplace. If we do not tackle this head on, no U.S. political leader will be able to improve our current global employment landscape.
We cannot speak of “good jobs” without training and education. They are intricately connected. Future well-paying jobs will be increasingly technically oriented and will demand some type of formal training. Reading, writing, communication, and math skills are increasingly becoming a prerequisite for most jobs. As parents, we cannot be in denial about these conditions. We would be setting our children up for certain failure and poverty if we do not encourage them to do everything they can to access the greatest amount of education and training possible. When the budgets of educational systems that have historically prepared a talented workforce are cut at the very same time in which are jobs depend upon this designated training, a national economic genocide will occur.
No Magic Bullet
Are there solutions to the complex employment crisis? There are, but unfortunately there is no magic bullet. Many Americans have a fantasy that someone of power will suddenly create jobs out of thin air, and droves of job seekers will be guaranteed not only a stable job, but a quality middle-class lifestyle. The days of large companies springing up and providing thousands of unskilled labor jobs are simply over; it is just not profitable. Americans must come to terms with the fact that there will be few employment opportunities for unskilled, under-trained, and uneducated workers. It seems to be a dirty little secret many of us simply do not want to admit.
The first step to a viable solution is to stop blaming our current commander in chief for our job crisis. It simply is not his fault. To his credit, President Obama has actually created jobs during his term. He realizes the critical link between education and gainful employment, andhas worked tirelessly to allow the ordinary American to have greater access to an education. A second critical step is to empower our communities to access business and employment opportunities nationally and globally. Technology enables us to create economically successful communities that exceed and transcend traditional employment opportunities.
Let’s All Step Up
Another step that would move us forward is for Americans to take more responsibility for their career futures. Never has there been a time where resources and knowledge have been so available. We are in an era where few if any companies will guarantee life-time employment. In fact, temporary and contingent employment is a fact of life. Taking care of our minds, leading healthy lifestyles that prevent us from becoming society’s victims, pursuing life-time learning, and researching future trends will assist us all in creating and participating in a healthier and more lucrative employment environment.
We cannot expect either political candidate to solve all of our employment strife. We are going through a painful, but necessary learning curve. There is reason to believe that American is still the land of opportunity. Instead of demanding jobs, Americans can succeed by becoming experts at studying trends, and adapting and preparing for the economically-relevant employment opportunities of today and tomorrow.