Category Archives: Applications to career management

The labour market: grizzlies and streams where the salmon run

Just when we thought it was safe to think of the workplace as a stable, predictable environment in which to earn a living and build a life, job security is slipping into reverse. Precarious (irregular) employment is becoming more common, governments are working at increasing the minimum wage and employers are still ‘hiring’ young people but not paying them because, those employers claim, they’re volunteers. The law now takes a dim view of such practices.

Deloitte (‘Six trends to watch in alternative work’), RBC Royal Bank (‘Predicting Tomorrow’s Workforce: More ‘bots, More Skills, More Anxiety’) and McKinsey Global Institute (‘What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages’) tell us that technology and higher education will figure prominently in the future of work. But when the rubber meets the road, neither comes with a guarantee of employment, lifelong or ottherwise. The 40-hour workweeks and permanent jobs with benefits and pensions we’ve always wanted for our children are at risk of becoming an endangered species.

(To read about a real-world application of what you just read, please visit GM Gets Ready for a Post-Car Future‘, FORTUNE 500, June 1, 2018, for a description of how and why GM CEO Mary Barra is changing the environment and culture at the 110-year-old automaker.)

Parchment isn’t delivering financial security and above average lifetime earnings the way it used to when the world was a more flexible and accommodating place. Demand for university graduates has never been stronger and more students are enrolling because of it. There are now so many degrees on the street that our children have to navigate buyers’ markets for talent, just-in-time work-forces and environments that reward employers for dragging out the hiring process. By 2025, enrollment at the world’s 26,368 universities will stand at 260 million. More graduates, more competition for work.

There are more different kinds of work to apply for and more new places in which to find it than at any other time in history. But résumé screening statistics show that only 10 job applicants in 100 understand what the labour market is and what makes it tick well enough to motivate prospective employers to call them in for an interview. They also show that only one of those 10 applicants will be offered a job. What they don’t tell us is how the work is going to be structured, how much it will pay, how long it will last and how employees and employers are going to relate to one another.

Our education system isn’t producing graduates who can make the connection between what they learn in school, labour markets, how employers determine what a degree is worth, and going for the brass ring. Every one of the 7.3 billion people on the planet wants their shot at that brass ring.

The National Geographic TV series One Strange Rock aired an episode entitled Survival on April 10th. It showed what survival is in a way that only National Geographic can. BBC Earth is doing the same. Human beings created the technology and shaped the attitudes that define the environments in which we live and and work. Our kids are going to support themselves in those environments.

Grizzlies pluck migrating salmon out of the air as they swim upstream to spawn. The streams are the labour market, the salmon are employment opportunities. Grizzlies know what salmon are, in what streams they’ll be running and how to catch them. We have to teach our children how to find the streams where the salmon run. Whether they’ll choose to fish when they get there and how well they’ll fish will be up to them. 

The world as Deloitte, RBC and McKinsey see it has implications for our children. They’ll have to learn about those implications at our knee because they won’t be learning about them anywhere else.

I teach parents and their young people how to connect school, labour markets, how employers determine what a degree is worth, and going for the brass ring. It’s a skill they’re going to need for the rest of their lives. Grizzlies already know that.

Neil Morris
President
Personal Due Diligence

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

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.

 

 

Customers First, Investors Last: What were they thinking?

For years now, my colleagues and I here at BoardBench, have been saying that Wall Street has it backwards.  In the boardroom, directors have been fed, with a very large spoon, the mantra that they are beholden to the shareholder, that their purpose is to “maximize shareholder value.”  If you asked a large group of directors if this is true, you’d see a lot of bobbleheads in the room.  Many believe this is a legal requirement and in line with good business sense and good corporate governance.  Unfortunately, the concept of “shareholder primacy” is a relatively recent phenomenon.  It is also simplistic (shareholders’ wants are not homogeneous), has no legal basis anywhere (go ahead, try to prove me wrong), and, as many are now pointing out, usually damaging to companies, and the economy as a whole.

What we believe is real, and will eventually be proven again as real to the Street, is that customers, and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  When I say “again” I’m referring to Peter Drucker’s famous quote from decades ago: “the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.”  So many seem to have forgotten this, or have never even heard of it.

But the basic premise is this: if you take care of your customers, and have great employees who are well supported and appreciated for being curious and excited about what they do such that they will ensure that customers love the products and services that the company offers, the company and shareholders will reap the rewards, too.  Of course other things come into play, like managing R&D investments (with the customer in mind), operations, and supporting a corporate culture that has strong values and morals.  The basic premise may be slightly oversimplified, but it applies, and should resonate with the board.

It appears that I’m finally not standing alone on this either.  In a recent interview, Jack Ma, the world’s newest CEO darling, made two bold public statements.  He basically shunned the current thinking of the Street by stating, on national TV, that “our customers come first, ouJack.jpgr employees second, and our shareholders third.”   He continued: “We aim to be larger than Wal-Mart by 2016, or sooner.”  If – no, when – Jack succeeds, and executes flawlessly on his statement, that customers and employees take a front seat over shareholders/investors, then he’s got an excellent chance of passing Wal-Mart as the world’s largest retailer.  Note, Wal-Mart just slapped some of its employees, who have the most direct relationship with their customers, by cutting their insurance benefits. This was probably done to cut costs, but it will probably also have a long-term impact on their customer relationships, too. But, I digress.

It seems that too many directors, CEOs, and business leaders, have become obsessed with what Wall Street, its analysts, and shareholders think.  Many have learned to play these groups exceptionally well, too. Countless analysts and shareholders have been taken in by companies’ projections, quarterly earnings estimates, and highly creative financial management and reporting.  Don’t get me wrong, the importance of the exchanges and the markets cannot be downplayed, but a balance is needed.  Focusing on Main Street is just as important, if not more so.

If you follow Main Street, you know about big box discount stores. Costco Wholesale Club, founded by Jim Sinegal and Jeffrey Brotman, believe in serving the customer first, and that if employees are treated properly, they will work with, and treat the customer well too.  Jim, the public face, is a “hands on guy” who is known for visiting each individual Costco store.  Jim is also outspoken about his views on Wall Street.  He’s been known to say that he puts his customers and employee needs above “pleasing shareholders.”  This philosophy must be working: Costco’s five year return is +116.73%.  If you bought the stock earlier, your return would be closer to 354%.

American Express is another company known for taking good care of its customer/members.  Personally I’ve been a fan of the company’s customer service representatives over the years, and tell them that every time I’ve called for help.  Don’t get me wrong, working at this company must be tough: when I was younger, AmEx employees were nicknamed The Dragons.  Perhaps because they were seehat2.jpgn as willing to fight for the company and their customers nearly to the end.  By the way, if you invested in American Express five years ago, your return on investment would be up 149.46%.

If you’ve worked with the general retail public, as I did during my college years, then you know just how tough this can be.  Sadly, not everyone who enters a store, calls a helpline, or dines in a restaurant is a kind and thoughtful customer.  Amazon deals with all sorts of customers from nearly every continent in the world, and I’m sure they have some interesting stories to share.  However, the company is noted for being one of the best customer service organizations in the world.  Amazon has more than one customer base, as many do: retail members, and consumers.  Jeff Bezos clearly divided the customer’s connection to Amazon into two categories: the experience and the service.  At this level, he notes that customer service is part of the full customer experience.  If it’s unpleasant, it’s a negative customer experience.  He supports the idea that a positive customer experience creates greater loyalty with Amazon.  If you’ve ever dealt with an Amazon Customer Service rep, you know that they work quickly to resolve your issue, they get the job done for you, and you are nearly always satisfied and left feeling good about your relationship with Amazon.  And, if you invested in Amazon five year ago, your return on investment is now up 236.64%.

While it’s much more pleasant to focus on the “good guys,” there are dark clouds.  Some companies are noted for their poor customer service.  Some survive because there are few alternatives: think of phone companies and cable providers, and some you can name on your own (take a look at their five-year ROIs).  However, when it comes to poor customer experience these days, I think sadly of that American icon Sears.  Whenever I bring them up these days, all I hear is: “Oh my gosh, I could tell you about the time when…”  Sears is a sad story101.jpg about the decline of a once great and loved retail giant.  Many years ago, the Sears catalog used to be called a “wish book.”  Families would anxiously wait for it to arrive in the mail.  It was nearly 5 inches thick. Moms, dads, sisters, and brothers would argue over whose turn it was to browse through and select from among the items they wanted for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and more.  Some people even bought their homes out of the Sears catalog.  But, it has lost its way, and it’s touch with its customers and has already begun its drop down that magical slide once pictured in its own catalog.  The entire company and its hopes for the future look pretty dismal: sell off of units and real estate, store closings, etc.  Sadly, if you invested in Sear’s five years ago, your return on investment would be -58.50% and it’s still falling today.

To sum up and put things into even sharper perspective, I recently spoke with the General Counsel of one of the largest, most recognized corporations in the world.  He told me, succinctly, that the biggest problem with their board is that not one director had any understanding of who their customers were and are or what they want.  I can also assume that they don’t understand their employees either.  So I will watch how this company slides in the next few years (Note: their record has been negative for some time), and report back with an update, unless, that is, they somehow figure it out and turn it around.

Do you need to focus on board improvement: composition, strategy, direction, execution, oversight?  Boards are our specialty. Give us a call.

Nancy May

A riddle with a twist

What costs $24,000 or more; takes 4 years to deliver; can’t be insured; has no cash surrender value; can’t be returned or exchanged; comes with no performance commitments and is covered by the two-word guarantee: caveat emptor?

An undergraduate degree.

Such is the mystique surrounding universities that otherwise perfectly rational human beings line up like lemmings to press hard-earned money into the palms of people who work in registrars’ and admissions offices. This in spite of media coverage of the plight of university graduates who’ve watched employers devalue and demean their diplomas and the four years of work that went into earning them by offering unpaid internships, short term employment contracts or permanent part-time engagements. No benefits, no stability, no prospects. The labour market in Canada and elsewhere is awash in undergraduates and post-graduates who are free to sell their services at whatever severely depressed prices the market dictates, or run the risk of earning next to nothing or nothing at all.

Employers are playing the game according to the rules of supply and demand in pursuit of profit and positive return on investment. The question is, by what rules are parents playing that we’ve arrived at this point? How much damage is inadequate decision making going to do to the financial future of our children and, quite possibly, the country, before we accept that we’re in a buyer’s market for certain kinds of education. The university degree is a commodity and it’s in oversupply in certain disciplines. Every new diploma in those disciplines that hits the street and has no takers drives down its own value and the value of diplomas like it.

Parents who choose to sleepwalk through these economic times when it comes to choosing post-secondary education are bringing about precisely the outcome they spent so much money trying to avoid. Absolute trust in the inevitability of work for all bearers of all university diplomas is out of place in 2015.

Management training: Keeping it on the company campus and How to join the 1%are two articles from The Economist that show just how quickly some in the business community adapt to new ideas. And if those ideas don’t pan out, there are always new ones waiting in the wings.

I’m a firm believer in the need for healthy, affordable universities. My children and their spouses are now established undergraduates and post-graduates. Where else are the people we’re going to need to get on with the rest of our life going to come from if not from universities, community colleges and technical schools? I’m not just talking about medical and other professional people. I’m talking about people who’ll come up with better ideas than the ones we have now about climate change, air pollution, land use, R & D, manufacturing, natural resource extraction, inadequate transit and drought in key food-producing regions of the world, just to name a few.

Those temp jobs that always seemed to be there for anyone who needed a little spare cash every now and then have morphed into the new normal for 50% of working people of all ages, yourself included, dear reader. And not only in Canada.

Head-in-the-sand attitudes, not mass hypnosis, are responsible for the outbreak of PEV (precarious employment virus), aided and abetted by vote-buying tax breaks paid for with taxpayer dollars that were supposed to generate work for Canadians but instead have accumulated to the tune of over C$500 billion in dead money according to former Bank of Canada and now Bank of England governor Mark Carney:

“Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has taken a rare swing at corporate Canada, accusing companies of sitting on huge piles of “dead money” that should be invested productively or returned to investors. ‘Statistics Canada numbers show Canadian non-financial corporations with a cash hoard of $526-billion at the end of the first quarter of 2012, an increase of 43 per cent since the recession ended in 2009.’”

Universities cater to the demands, not the needs, of the students who make up the bulk of their clientele. What students need is a strategy to deal with employers who won’t offer full-time employment. One way to deal with them is to not plan to work for them. Would you approve a mortgage or car loan for someone who can only find part-time work? Wouldn’t it be ironic if we reverted from being a cashless society to a cash-only society? As PEV continues to spread and economics forces more and more families to consider options other than university, employers will have to raise salaries, train, and revert to the full-time employment model to attract the talent they need. But that won’t happen overnight, if it happens at all.

A review of the literature dating back to the early 2000s will show that many universities are struggling to cope with reduced government funding, declining enrollment and the impact of technology. You might want to read what James Duderstadt, President Emeritus of the University of Michigan, had to say about the subject in the ‘Emory Report dated March 20, 2000.

The era of ‘you pay your money and you take your chances’ is drawing to a close. Forty million Americans owe US$1.2 trillion in student debt. Seven million have already defaulted on those loans. Many of them haven’t or won’t complete their programmes. Still, universities have no incentive to scale back their student intake based on the demands of the economy when they can collect 100% of their ‘fee’ from each graduate they produce regardless of whether that graduate finds work or not. It’s that intake that attracts government funding. Why does the buying public accept that?

According to The Guardian, the Bank of England believes that contract work is here to stay. Parents and their children may not agree with that assessment, but due diligence demands that, at the very least, they take all reasonable steps to assess its implications.

If you have questions, PDD has answers. I invite your inquiries and your comments.

Sincerely,

F. Neil Morris
President & Founder
Personal Due Diligence

+1 (905) 273 9880

A 5-minute survey on hopes, dreams, tuition, precarious employment and post-secondary education

Higher education is the single largest investment most people will make in their lifetime, after a home

— Neil Morris, Founder & CEO, the Personal Due Diligence Project (PDD)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

 

Conventional wisdom and statistics have traditionally maintained that an advanced education is one of the better ways to protect children from an uncertain economic future. In some cases it still is, but in a growing number of what used to be safe cases, it isn’t.

“Don’t trust anyone over 30” defined the ’60s. “Ich bin ein Berliner” defined the Cold War. Some day, a future historian may paraphrase Stephen Leacock and say that we were living in a world “[riding] madly off in all directions” with an iPhone in one hand, an iPad in the other and (as of April 24th) an Apple WATCH on its wrist.

That all 3 three devices originated with a single company is a fascinating story in its own right, and it’s still being written as you read this. The WATCH is the first all-new product to be conceived, developed and released since the passing of Steve Jobs.

Also evolving is the 140-year-old company that was once considered the antithesis of Apple. That evolution has given rise to WATSON, and, among other things, to a 7-year contract with Apple to develop apps for the iPhone. That company is IBM. You owe it to yourself and your children to watch and THINK about this interview with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty from start to finish (15 minutes). Then there are C|NET stories 1and 2 you can find here. The big story is the evolution of technology. The really big story is how it’s contributed to the evolution of the 7.2 billion people who live on this planet.

All of the companies mentioned in these stories accepted that to survive, they had to leave large parts of their past behind. Now comes the question, “How will our thinking have to evolve so that we and our children can survive precarious employment? It’s because of that question that I hope you’ll take 5 minutes to complete PDD’s on-line survey ‘Hopes, dreams and tuition’ by clicking here. And to ask that you pass this link along to anyone you know who plans advanced education for his or her children. All responses are strictly anonymous. The survey tool does not identify respondents.

Thank you for your interest and your participation.

Sincerely,

F. Neil Morris
Founder & President
The Personal Due Diligence Project

+ 1 905 273 9880