Voting with your feet

Opposable thumbs and language make us different from all other living things. Thumbs are what make it possible for us to build machines like atomic force microscopes to study the unimaginably small and very large array telescopes to study the unimaginably vast. Language makes it possible for us to tell each other about it.

Sometimes language fails us when it comes to delivering messages with the intensity they deserve. A case in point is the outrage we felt when the media frenzy erupted over the story about replacing Canadians with foreign workers at a major Canadian bank. The story came down to misapplying or ignoring Canada’s immigration laws. But it seems everybody’s doing it. Just as everybody’s doing outsourcing. And they’ll go right on doing it because the story will fade away.

Complaining about what that bank and others have been doing, are doing now or will be doing will change nothing. Companies and institutions, like the people who work for them, are in survival mode. Companies are eliminating positions and functions that aren’t advancing their cause. People in search of education and work should do likewise. That means we have to teach our children how to vote with their feet.

Clicking on Surveys at the top of this page will take you to a page with a questionnaire. PDD urges you to complete it, especially if you’re the parent of someone in the midst of contemplating postsecondary education or are that someone. The thought-provoking, hard-nosed questions you’ll find there were designed to help you question everything you always believed about the automatic connection between education and the good life.

There was no outcry because downsizing and outsourcing are yesterday’s news, just as the stories at the beginning of 2013 that described the plight of university graduates who can’t find work are yesterday’s news. Once the media were done with the subject, they moved on to other things. Perhaps they might want to revisit the subject of skills shortages.

Downsizing and outsourcing have been going on in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere since 1980. If the media do their homework, they’ll find Anne B. Fisher’s feature article The New Debate Over the Very Rich in the June 29th, 1992 issue of FORTUNE Magazine. In it, Fisher said:

“Between 1980 and 1990, FORTUNE 500 companies shed 3.4 million jobs, but companies with fewer than 500 employees created more than 13 million.”

IBM had this observation in its September 1991 issue of IBM INSIGHT:

“Rolling the dice to determine the future educational needs of a country is hardly a desirable course of action, yet Canada, challenged by a competitive technology-driven global marketplace, is heading into the 21st century in danger of becoming a second-rate country. A recent Coopers & Lybrand report says that Canadian competitiveness in international markets has seriously declined since 1988, with worse to come in the early 90s.

“We know that in 1988 there were one million unemployed in Canada and 600,000 high-tech jobs that couldn’t be filled … We don’t have the skill base to support the economic base Canada is attempting to move into.”

− Meeting the Global Challenge: Canada in Crisis
IBM INSIGHT, September 1991

“Canadians are asking what the future holds for themselves and their families. In a profoundly changing world, they know that traditional strategies are no longer enough to provide economic security and prosperity and protect our environment programs.

“New approaches are needed to meet the challenges that confront us − challenges that threaten our ability to generate new jobs, our standard of living, and our social programs.”

Government of Canada
©Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1991

It’s been over 20 years since what you’ve just read was written. What was true then is true now. Only then they were predictions: now they’re descriptions of the status quo.

Since 2001, I’ve met one-on-one with 1953 people, each of whom had been told 5 minutes earlier that their services were no longer required. At least half of them were past the midpoint of their career when I met them. Their first instinct was to blame their immediate superior for the calamity that had just befallen them. All but a handful insisted that they hadn’t seen it coming. For whatever reason, the majority had failed or refused to adapt to changing circumstances. They paid with their jobs.

No one is totally immune to having the work they do shipped offshore. But there are ways of decreasing the risk. One of the most potent is to seek out work that is less likely to be exported and employers who are less likely to export it. Anne Fisher offered a clue when she referred to companies of 500 or less. Entrepreneurial businesses fall into that category.

Outsourcing and offshoring are now part of the new normal. But it doesn’t have to apply to everyone everywhere. Companies and institutions are loath to lose people who are critical to their survival, let alone success. Circumstances in Canada’s economy and labour market are changing. That part of Canada’s population that will be graduating from high school in 2014 is well placed today to respond to those circumstances. They and their parents have the time to prepare to vote with their feet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s