The shifting sands of the modern job market
Carrier, an American manufacturer of HVAC equipment, just announced that they’re moving their Indianapolis, Indiana manufacturing operations to Mexico in the next year and a half. Carrier’s senior management assured the 1400 workers that are going to lose their jobs that the decision to relocate is purely economic, not personal.
In January of this year, WestRock Co. announced it’s plans to permanently close its Newberg, Oregon paper mill. Only 210 employees will lose their jobs and careers, so the news didn’t receive national attention.
These stories, and many more like them, are becoming all too common. Corporations and manufacturing facilities are more mobile than ever. International trade agreements are creating economic opportunities for corporations that require them to take advantage of lower labor and production costs, or to risk failure and collapse when they can’t compete with more aggressive firms that do take advantage of cost savings.
I recently heard the story of an Oregon man that’s been a small to medium sized business owner for most of his life. His businesses have employed hundreds of Oregonians for many years. He’s just now completing a new manufacturing facility that is fully automated. It will require only 2 full-time employees to achieve the same level of productivity that formerly required 50 employees. The owner has told associates that he’s vastly relieved to be less reliant on a large work force at this new facility and that his long term plan is to automate all of his operations so that he can reduce his human workforce even further.
Amazon has been a leader in automating their warehouse and shipping facilities. In fact, many new automation technologies have been developed just for Amazon. By relying more heavily on automation and less on employees, Amazon has reduced their unit costs and increased their efficiency, making it very difficult to effectively compete.
All of this is the tip of a very big iceberg that the American job market has already struck. We’ve just begun to feel the brunt of the impact. There aren’t enough lifeboats to save us all. If you’re going to survive in the choppy waters of the new economic reality, you’re going to have to think fast, and be more creative that you ever thought you could be.
While I know it’s scary to feel that we’re being cast adrift with no hope of rescue, we’re in a far better situation that the passengers on the Titanic. For one thing, we’re much closer to a New World of opportunity that will open up possibilities that humans haven’t even dared to dream of before this moment in history.
The only constant is change
The Information Age is behind us. We are now entering the Technological Age. Information is still a vital part of our economy, but the real driving force right now is the flood of new technologies that are changing everything from how medicine is practiced to how we travel to how we produce our manufactured goods.
Because technology, particularly automation and robotics, is replacing people in too many employment sectors to count, all of our plans for the future HAVE to take these looming changes into account as we plan for tomorrow. Planning for next year is going to be even more complicated.
The one thing we can say with certainty is that as changes take place in the world around us, we as individuals must either be willing and able to change along with the world, and we’d better be able to change as quickly as markets are changing around us if we want to thrive as this new era unfolds.
In their book Becoming Generation Flux: Why Traditional Career Planning is Dead, Miles Anthony and Mathew Wolf admonish their readers to become flexible, and to be prepared to change jobs frequently in order to stay apace with the Technological Age. This is great advice. The old model of finding a stable company and staying on as a lifelong, loyal employee secure in your golden handcuffs is long gone. As Carrier proved to their Indianapolis employees, big employers don’t have loyalty to anything other than their bottom line.
At this point, I want to caution you (and me too) against becoming embittered or angry out of the sense that any of this is unfair. Opportunities abound, and you can and should make decisions that are in your own best interest, just like corporate CEOs and shareholders do. The fact is that we’ve become far too dependent on others to secure our financial futures. In the Technological Age, you will have more opportunities than our parents and grandparents could have imagined.
But you will have to be flexible. You will have to be willing to learn new skills and absorb new technologies. Rather than the complacency that characterized previous generations, we’re all going to have to be vigilant in watching the changes around us, and adapting to them as they come.
It will be exciting, and it can be immensely rewarding. You’re living at a time that most of humanity has longed for. Make up your mind right now that you’re going to make the very most of it.