Everything old is new again, but with a twist

Twenty-five years ago, people in the know predicted that we would work at five different careers before we retired. They were short on specifics, but their model left no doubt that people would have to re-educate themselves to qualify for those new careers. They didn’t mention the part about bills to pay and mouths to feed.

The future they predicted is here, but with a twist. Twenty-five years ago, university was a lot more affordable than it is now. Incomes were more predictable and more secure. So were pensions.

The mounting cost of sending children to university is becoming more and more painful for more and more families. Which makes RBC Future Launch’s candor so refreshing and so necessary:

“Canada’s youth are set up to fail in the new economy. In fact, today’s generation is at risk of ending up poorer than their parents.1 Failing to close the gap in unemployment rates between Canadian youth and people of prime-working age would mean missing out on a nearly $30B lift to our economy.2 Young people deserve a chance, and that’s why we created Future Launch. If youth fail, we all fail.

 “In the coming decade, half of all jobs will be disrupted by technology and automation. Some will change dramatically. Others will disappear completely, replaced by jobs that are yet to be invented. We are living through an era of radical change, with the latest advancements in artificial intelligence and automation transforming the way we work, even in unexpected fields such as law and customer service.”

What RBC proposes is commendable. But its target market is university students and graduates who’ve already put their money down. Many of them may already have limited their employment and career options. They invested in a future relationship with an employer in a context called the labour market inside another context called an economy. They understood little or nothing about either.

What they chose to study was up to them. What the labour market and the economy will have to say about that will be up to someone else. We don’t teach our children that. RBC is proposing a cure to a problem that already exists. Kudos to them. But we need something concrete to prevent the problem in the first place. Personal Due Diligence is that something.

We’re told that the more graduates we produce, the more graduates we’re going to need. But parents and their children need to know where the jobs will be before their first tuition cheque comes due. Our governments are showing no signs of preparing lists with timetables of occupations that have been earmarked for disruption or obsolescence, let alone notes about how it’s going to happen and when. That’s something families will have to do on their own because once size does not fit all.

While we’re at it, we may want to pay special attention to what it’s costing financially, physically and emotionally to send our children there. ‘Hunger And Homelessness Are Widespread Among College Students, Study Finds’ is the title of a National Public Radio report about a survey done by Temple University in Philadelphia and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab in Madison.

We can’t hope our way to a solution. We have to build one. In an address on September 3, 2008, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”

On January 23, 2009, CBS NEWS posted an open letter to President Barack Obama from Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande. Dr. Akande is an economist, scholar and Dean of the Business School at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. The title of his letter was ‘Hope Is Not A Strategy.’ You can find the full text by clicking here. This is an excerpt:

“Yet, the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.”

Our youth must win so that we all can win. That’s why Personal Due Diligence exists.

Neil Morris
Founder & President
Personal Due Diligence

+1 905.273.9880
info@personalduediligence.ca

Education shouldn’t be taken lightly

 

In Ontario, Section 21 of the Education Act requires that a family send its children to school until the age of 18 (Grade 12). The world prefers at least 4 more years (university).

Even though the price of a degree keeps going up, parents accept it as a fact of life because they’re convinced that their children will find work that pays enough to retire outstanding student loans, if applicable, and set out on their own. But (a) $40,000 for a basic, in town bachelor’s degree (tuition, fees, expenses) isn’t pocket change; (b) six million Canadians are working at precarious jobs; and (c) management continues to use technology to reduce its dependence on headcount.

The net result is that young people with incomes are moving back home to live with their parents so that they can save money or turn to The Bank of Mom and Pop for down payments on the 21st century equivalent of a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The new normal is changing, but to what we don’t know because the process is still ongoing.

We have to think very carefully about how to reconcile the kind of education our children want with what employers want. This has the potential to place the kids between a rock and a hard place when it comes to finding work in their chosen field. There are 26,368 universities in business in the world today. By 2025, 262 million students will be studying there. That makes many of today’s degrees commodities. Employers are as particular about whom they hire as they are because they can afford to be.

Post-secondary education is now as much about strategy and income as it is about academics. By their actions, employers are telling us to educate our children to be relevant to the times in which we live. They aren’t as willing to accommodate applicants with less than ideal credentials as they used to be. It’s a buyer’s market for graduates, but not all university education guarantees financial security or stability.

Personal Due Diligence (PDD) is based on understanding the labour market and developing post-secondary strategies to deal with it. In 2012 we learned that 300,000 graduates were working as unpaid interns. They said that they “couldn’t find work in their chosen field.” Did they not know where or how to look for it? Were they outmanoeuvred by people who did? Did they assume that a job with their name on it would be waiting for them once they returned their caps and gowns? Or that there would even be one? Now comes word that unpaid internships may still be with us. To wit, this recent headline in the Toronto Star: “Legal advocacy group under fire for unpaid internship scheme.

The traditional one job/one employee/one employer model has been disrupted. Deloitte and the Human Resources Professionals Association describe these times as the Intelligence Revolution and the gig economy, and the phenomenon isn’t unique to Canada. A child born in 2017 who attends their first lecture in 2035 can expect to pay $86,000 for a basic, at-home bachelor’s degree that today costs $40,000. That number will rise to over $152,000 if they study away from home.

Personal Due Diligence (PDD) helps families vet their assumptions about the connection between advanced education and financial security. We start two years before high school graduation to give them the time to identify and evaluate options. Here are some examples of what they’ll want to consider:

  1. Automate This! The future of work in an artificially intelligent world — CBC Radio One    
  2. What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages — McKinsey & Company
  3. Tech Giants Are Paying Huge Salaries for Scarce A.I. Talent — The New York Times
  4. The coming of the ‘gig economy’: a threat to European workers? — EU-Logos Athéna
  5. The Intelligence Revolution: Future-proofing Canada’s workforce — Deloitte/HRPA
  6. Are graduates good value for money? — Times Higher Education
  7. Number of Universities — CSIC
  8. A Rare Joint Interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Bill Gates — Wall Street Journal
  9. Prepare for the Digital Health Revolution — FORTUNE
  10. Global Economy’s Stubborn Reality: Plenty of Work, Not Enough Pay — The New York Times
  11. Temp work growth is ‘alarming’ and changes are coming — Toronto Star
  12. Are we up to the job of rescuing work? — Toronto Star
  13. This Company’s Robots Are Making Everything—and Reshaping the World — Bloomberg
  14. Subsidising coal production is a really bad idea — The Economist
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt And CreditFederal Reserve Bank of New York

Families will want to understand the lay of the land before they commit non-refundable after-tax dollars to post-secondary education. Our public education systems don’t explain the need for that. Nor do they teach what to do when 75% of employers use résumé screening software that eliminates 90% of all applicants. PDD does.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said recently, “Technological displacement is a real issue. There will be new kinds of jobs. Without the technological breakthroughs, we’re not going to have enough growth, and that’s not going to be good for anybody.” Those jobs will be filled by graduates with the latest, most relevant credentials. Some may not even exist today. To be among the 10% of applicants whose résumés will make it through screening, those graduates will need to know how to build a résumé that works with that software, not against it.

During 25 years as an executive recruiter I participated in 25 annual interview skills workshops at a university in the Greater Toronto Area. I saw nothing to suggest that their students understood the priorities that drive managers and how they deal with them. One of those priorities is fine-tuning their respective organizations. In 15 years as a transition counselling consultant, I led job search workshops and group sessions in how to carry out dignified, compassionate and respectful 5-minute severance notification meetings as part of that fine-tuning. In each of 2100 such meetings I was told why the employee was being let go. Half of them claimed that they “never saw it coming.” They’d been told that it could happen: they just didn’t think it would happen to them.

Job loss is an outcome best avoided.

Three articles, our children, and food for thought

 

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article entitled, Is Your Job About To Disappear?: Quick Take, said this:

“Throughout much of the developed world, gainful employment is seen as almost a fundamental right. But what if, in the not-too-distant future, there won’t be enough jobs to go around? That’s what some economists think will happen as robots and artificial intelligence increasingly become capable of performing human tasks. Of course, past technological upheavals created more jobs than they destroyed. But some labor experts argue that this time could be different: Technology is replacing human brains as well as brawn.”

In his review of “The Golden Passport” in the April 10th New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote, “The book is a richly reported indictment of the [Harvard Business School] as a leading reason that corporate America is disdained by much of the country … Citing a report from the Aspen Institute, [the book’s author Duff] McDonald explains that “when students enter business school, they believe that the purpose of a corporation is to produce goods and services for the benefit of society. When they graduate,” he continued, “they believe that it is to maximize shareholder value.”

The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence appeared on the Opinion page of the New York Times Sunday Review dated June 24, 2017. It was written by Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and chief executive of Sinovation Ventures, a venture capital firm, and the president of its Artificial Intelligence Institute.

Clearly the debate is heating up. At some point, someone or a group of someones will decide the winner, if there is a winner. Others will hand down a verdict on whether or not the Harvard Business School should take the credit or the blame for how enthusiastically business has embraced technology.

Families about to engage with their children in discussions about post-secondary education might want to answer these questions: Will there be 40-hour-a-week jobs with benefits and retirement pensions? Where? What kinds of jobs will they be? What education will it take to qualify for them? It’s a start.

Riding madly off in all directions

If there are days when it feels like the world is riding madly off in all directions, it probably is. Change is the culprit and it’s never happened this fast or in so many places at the same time. Nothing in our experience has equipped us to deal with it.

Parents who are sending their children to university in the current economic and technological climate expect that when their children graduate, the jobs they’ll be applying for will be as traditional and as plentiful as they were in their parents’ day. They may be in for a surprise.

Employment relationships aren’t what they used to be. Corporate tastes in university degrees have changed. We have to factor that into how we think about the role higher education is going to play in the life of our children and what their options are going to be. Change is a fact of life for real companies and organizations with real names. Our kids need to know which companies and organizations they are or are likely to be.

We also have to bear in mind that the cost of tuition has risen 40% in the last 10 years. That will continue. Over 50% of all jobs are now precarious. Over half of those jobs will be automated in the next 10 years. That, too, will continue.

The links in what follows will take you to articles and reports about the current environment and how it will impact on your young people and those of people you know. They feature GE’s Jeff Immelt (#4), MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson (#12), McGill’s Suzanne Fortier (#12) and Google’s Sergey Brin (#16), among others.

  1. September 1969 — The first node of ARPANET installed at UCLA
  2. August 12, 1981 — IBM introduces its first personal computer
  3. July 15, 2014 — Apple and IBM Forge Global Partnership to Transform Enterprise Mobility
  4. August 4, 2016 — LinkedIn interview with GE CEO Jeff Immelt: “Culture is not just apps. It’s a combination of people and technology. If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this.”
  5. September 2016 Deloitte survey “Transitioning to the Future of Work and the Workplace, Embracing Digital Culture, Tools, and Approaches”
  6. October 22, 2016 — Finance Minister Bill Morneau offered this advice at a Liberal Party gathering in Niagara-On-The-Lake: “Get used to the ‘job churn’ of short-term employment and career changes.”
  7. December 17, 2016 — Morneau’s advisory council on economic growth predicts that: Fully half of all jobs will be automated during the next decade, making massive retraining a social and economic necessity.”
  8. January 14, 2017 — “Innovation key to achieving Trudeau’s resourcefulness.’” In order to move Canada’s reputation away from resources to resourcefulness, PM must break the mould of linear thinking.
  9. January 12, 2017 — World Economic Forum report: “The jobless world and its discontents, How can we prepare for a future where drones, 3D printing and automation replace jobs?”
  10. January 14, 2017 — The Economist: “Lifelong learning, How to survive in the age of automation” (Cover story and Special Report)”
  11. January 16, 2017 —As Robots Take Jobs, Europeans Mull Free Money for Al
  12. January 19, 2017 — Davos 2017 – Issue Briefing: Jobs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  13. February 2017 — Maclean’s print edition: “When robots steal your job”, The real driver behind re-shoring is automation. Robotic jobs, not human ones, are coming back.
  14. February 2017 — Automa-nation: Will robots take your job? A new report suggests 42% of the Canadian job market is at risk.
  15. January 17, 2017 — IBM THINK Blog, IBM Cognitive Principles
  16. January 19, 2017 — World Economic Forum, Davos 2017: Google’s Sergey Brin on AI

We’re told that we’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We may not know how the story ends, be we do know that it will probably involve some form of advanced education. Our children have to be prepared.

 

 

“Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” Marshall McLuhan

Due diligence is behaviour designed to ensure before we put our money down that what we intend to buy and what the seller ultimately delivers are one and the same. Some would call that protecting an investment. Others would call it common sense. Personal Due Diligence calls it both.

Decisions about post-secondary education have consequences that involve life, career, family and financial stability. Too many parents believe that graduating from any institution of higher learning, university in particular, is a guarantee of well-paid, secure, predictable work. There are no such guarantees: only enhanced likelihoods. What we do know for sure is that we’re living in a post-industrial economy: yesterday’s manufacturing jobs and the ones that supported them are gone. What happened to blue-collar workers is now happening to white-collar workers. As Wikipedia puts it, “Information, knowledge, and creativity are the new raw materials of such an economy.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada: “The distinction between college and university is less important than the relevance of the discipline to the workplace, since it is relevance—along with supply and demand—that sets the market price for skilled talent.” Degrees in some disciplines are more likely to lead to work than others.

Research done in Alberta in 2005 showed that young people consult their parents in these matters more often than any other group and by a wide margin. But outdated ways of thinking, like old habits, die hard. Decisions based on wishful thinking rather than fact-based understanding of labour market and technological trends are some of the greatest risks our children face. The evidence has been accumulating since 2012 and the trend shows no sign of abating.

For now, the best defense against unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment for our children is due diligence. To quote The Economist, “[the] rise of the on-demand economy poses difficult questions for workers, companies and politicians,” and it comes with a considerable risk of displacement to which very few of us are immune. Due diligence is about minimizing the negative consequences of that risk. Or at the very least, knowing what the risks are and factoring them into the final decision to proceed with a university education. We should be making these decisions more with our eyes wide open and less with our fingers crossed.

In What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology wrote:

“Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation—be it an invention or a new idea—many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description.

“Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions. All of these dynamic processes that are entirely non-obvious comprise our ground or context. They all work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large. In a word (or four), ground comprises everything we don’t notice.

“If one thinks about it, there are far more dynamic processes occurring in the ground than comprise the actions of the figures, or things that we do notice. But when something changes, it often becomes noticeable. And noticing change is the key.

“As McLuhan reminds us, ‘Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.’”

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s not how much you spend on university. It’s how wisely

between friends


Rise of the ‘precariat
,’
the global scourge of precarious jobs

Barely one in four of the global workforce has a stable job, UN reports
– CBC News, World, June 1, 2015

Contract work is here to stay, says Bank of England governor
UK job market has changed permanently due to financial crisis, Mark Carney tells Treasury select committee
– The Guardian, November 25, 2014


In his Nov. 1, 2015, editorial ‘The 21st-Century Club’, Fortune editor Alan Murray said of the 13th Fortune Global Forum:

“We are now in the early stages of the third Industrial Revolution. New corporate behemoths like Google, Facebook and Uber are reaching Fortune 500 size at unprecedented speed. The century will belong to those who master this new model. Economic dynamism will matter more than sheer scale. The invitation-only CEO gathering (Nov. 2-4) will include leaders of many of the largest companies in the world and focus on the challenge of ‘Winning in the Disruptive Century'”. (You can view the agenda of the recently concluded event by clicking here.)

One of the advantages of living in the early 21st century is that all it takes to see how some of the most powerful corporations in the world are going to change the way we live and work is a few keystrokes. What the Forum attendees heard and discussed wasn’t ‘if’: it was when—and when is now.

Those companies will need the help of well-educated young minds and they’re not alone. They’ve declared their intentions publicly which means that the word is out on what kinds of schooling they’ll be looking for. Parents and children who plan to attend university have to read that word, understand it and act on it. We know the names of the people who are shaping the future and the names of the companies they head. The information they’re making available about what they’re thinking is free.

It’s not how much parents are spending on higher education that matters; it’s how wisely they’re spending it. It’s a lot cheaper to avoid making a mistake than it is to correct it. The two articles at the top of this page speak to the consequences. So does this story about the precariat by Joe Fiorito in today’s Toronto Star. How is someone who is just starting out supposed to repay student loans on irregular or inconsistent income? At what point will the rising cost of tuition put post-secondary education out of reach? What will the impact be on the universities themselves?

There’s a glut of degrees on the street. Jobs that used to call for a high school diploma now call for a degree but pay high school wages. Graduates are accepting them even though they aren’t full-time and employers don’t look gift horses in the mouth. Had graduates taken the time to scrutinize the labour market before they put their money down, they might not have run out of options.

We can’t blame all of this on graduates any more than we can blame all of it on universities or governments. But we can blame it on a changing employer-employee social contract that has already cost many parents their job. Why weren’t they and others paying attention?

The environment in which today’s jobs exist is as important as the jobs themselves. Free trade agreements are part of that environment. Compromises were built into every one of them. To get, we gave. And what we gave was often measured in jobs lost. Canada has entered into 44 of those agreements so far and concerns are being expressed about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has yet to be ratified. Politicians and businesspeople love to boast about how many new jobs the agreements they ink will create. What kind of jobs are they? Will they be permanent or precarious? What qualifications will they call for? How much will they pay?

In its Oct. 24th – 30th issue, The Economist published ‘Reinventing the company’. In its Nov. 1st issue, FORTUNE published ‘The 21st Century Corporation: Every aspect of your business is about to change’. This is what Geoff Colvin said in his lead-in:

“Imagine an economy without friction—a new world in which labor, information, and money move easily, cheaply, and almost instantly. Psst—it’s here. Is your company ready?”

Please be sure to read FORTUNE editor Alan Murray’s editorial ‘The 21st-Century Club’. It’s what the C-Suite is reading and it’s already here.

By no means does this apply to all lines of work or to all degrees or all post-secondary diplomas and certificates. But where it does, and if precarious employment is the outcome, how do we calculate the value of higher education? Or the cost? Is it the education, the way it’s chosen, or both?

Even if parents are prepared to borrow money to put their kids through college, someone is going to have to pay it back. In the States, 7 million have defaulted on their loans. The US$1.2 trillion owing isn’t the figment of someone’s imagination: it’s real. In Canada, the number is between C$25 billion and C$50 billion, and one family in 8 is shouldering the burden.

To see the numbers for yourself, go to Google Alerts and set it to deliver links to articles with the words “student debt” in them to your e-mail inbox once a day. You’ll average 10 per day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. I have been since October 2012, and the problem isn’t confined to North America. To see what universities are doing to cope, research the Millennium Project at the University of Michigan.

The world isn’t going through a phase: it’s evolving. We’re experiencing an economic tectonic shift, a “third Industrial Revolution” as FORTUNE puts it. If you want to see what the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014 – 2015 says about how Canada is faring, click here.

The United Negro College Fund has been reminding us for years that: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. So is a university. If we continue to waste either or both, we’ll have no one to blame for the consequences but ourselves.