From industrial to post-industrial: What does it all mean?


Graduating from university has traditionally been synonymous with the good life and financial security. In some cases, it still is. But not for graduates with degrees for which there is no demand. Work was supposed to be plentiful, not precarious. Yet here we are. The world has changed and we have to rethink how our children are going to earn a living and what kind of education they’re going to need. We have to talk to them about higher education, about how the cost is rising, and about how it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Economies and societies evolve from industrial to post-industrial. That’s what’s been happening to us for the last 35 years. Wikipedia defines a post-industrial economy as: “A period of growth within an industrialized economy or nation in which the relative importance of manufacturing [shrinks] and that of services, information, and research grows. Such economies are often marked by:

“The industry aspect of a post-industrial economy is sent into less developed nations which manufacture what is needed at lower costs (see outsourcing). This occurrence is typical of nations that industrialized in the past such as the United States and most Western European countries.”

Akio Morita, the better known of SONY’s two co-founders, recognized the signs that North America’s economy was in transition in the mid-1980s. When he died in 1999, The New York Times published an account of his life that described when the transition began:

“In the 1980’s, when Japan seemed on top of the world, Mr. Morita was among the most vocal of the Japanese executives in criticizing American business and hailing the success of the Japanese model. He said American managers were financial paper shufflers who ‘can see only 10 minutes ahead’ and were not interested in building for the long term. And he said that because American companies were losing interest in manufacturing, the United States was abandoning its status as an industrial power.’ Those factors, he said, and not trade barriers, were the reason for America’s trade deficit with Japan.

“’There are few things in the United States that Japanese want to buy, but there are a lot of things in Japan that Americans want to buy,’” he wrote in 1989. “’This is at the root of the trade imbalance. The problem arises in that American politicians fail to understand this simple fact.’”

We’ve learned, some of us more painfully than others, that Morita was right. As went manufacturing, so went the economy. But manufacturing has been going elsewhere for the last 35 years and most people who have jobs appear not to have noticed. They’re convinced that a return to the good old days is just around the corner and they’re educating their children accordingly.

Even if they were right—and they’re not—graduates have discovered that the jobs “in their chosen field” that were supposed to pay off their student loans aren’t there any more. That’s something they and their parents should have known before they wrote the cheques or negotiated the loans.

Some of those graduates live in the U.S. and owe US$1.2 trillion. Their Canadian cousins owe between C$25 billion and C$50 billion.

Morita’s pronouncements were behind my founding Personal Due Diligence, or PDD. If the implications were going to impact on my two children, they were going to impact on other people’s children, too. PDD is sharing with parents and their children one-on-one the lessons of the last 35 years and helping them apply those lessons to choosing higher education. The seven planks in our platform are:

  • Researching and monitoring Canada’s economy
  • Researching and monitoring the global economy
  • Researching and monitoring the labour market
  • Acquiring and analyzing deep market intelligence
  • Identifying and analyzing industry trends
  • Quantifying and projecting precarious employment
  • Business case preparation to support a Plan A and Plan B scenario

An article entitled ‘The New Debate Over The Very Rich’ appeared in the June 29, 1992, issue of FORTUNE. It said in part: “Between 1980 and 1990, FORTUNE 500 companies shed 3.4 million jobs, but companies with fewer than 500 employees created more than 13 million.”

The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) came into force in 1989. My multinational IT executive search clients were already responding. The consequences figured in our family’s discussions about university.

Canada now has 12 free trade partners. That number will grow to 21 when current negotiations conclude. There will be concessions, compromises, headcount reductions, restructuring, outsourcing and offshoring as employers adjust to their new normal. Please see the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada website for further information.

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