Category Archives: Getting heard in a noisy world

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

Retailing higher education — yours

Raphael’s painting of the School of Athens captures the essence of what some people would like to think university still is: scholars deeply engrossed in thought, debate and dialogue.


Raphael: The  School of Athens. "Sanzio 01" by Raphael - Stitched together from vatican.va. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanzio_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sanzio_01.jpg

Raphael: The School of Athens. “Sanzio 01” by Raphael – Stitched together from vatican.va. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


Most people tend to think of it the way the U.S. Department of Labor and Wikipedia see it…


Earnings and unemployment


Is it any wonder that parents insist on spending money on higher education at any cost? Why wouldn’t they? But there’s a fly in the ointment. Actually, it’s more like sand in the crankcase and sugar in the gas tank: the charts apply only to people who have jobs.


US_household_wealth_by_education


 

Here are two stories. Both are true.


Story 1

The instructor walked to the front of the room, a small lecture theatre, really. The floor swept gently upward from the podium. Instead of individual seats, each of the 4 tiers featured 2 very long desks separated by an aisle with 6 seats per desk. The 20 of us who made up this particular sales class would spend the next 6 weeks together.

The lecture theatre was one of 2 on the ground floor of a 3-storey building in Princeton, New Jersey. IBM rented the ground floor and the subfloor where the demonstration and presentation rooms were located. Parents and children who rode the elevator up to “3” were there to see the dentist whose building this was.

The class consisted of 17 Americans and 3 Canadians. One of the Americans was Rob M., a former U.S. NAVY fighter pilot from Texas, and he looked the part. That included the naval aviator sunglasses: government issue and very macho. You couldn’t buy them anywhere. We learned the expression “cool your jets” from him. Three of the others and I were newly minted university grads. The rest had fulltime working credentials.

Al E. was the instructor. Football player type. He was wearing a dark blue, 3-piece suit, starched white shirt, “sincere” tie and wing tip shoes otherwise known as brogues or sodbusters. It was clear from the way the rest of us were dressed that we were with Al.

Al led off with a question: “How many of you would rather not be called salesmen?”

My hand and several others went up. Our reasons for raising them were very similar: sales people were smooth-talking glad-handers with loud ties, expense accounts, slacks and houndstooth sports jackets. At IBM, selling was and still is a profession, consultative selling to be precise. At the end of our 6 weeks, we all understood why. No gimmicks, no glad-handing, no back slapping, no smooth talking. Just hard work with emphasis on understanding what the customer needed, lots of emphasis. And on being able to communicate how we were going to use IBM products to address them.

Contrary to popular belief, IBM sales reps did sweat. More than most as it turns out. No more raised hands.

The predicament in which many of the graduates with one or more degrees and no work to show for it find themselves is very reminiscent of the lessons that came out of that IBM sales school. Our business cards were like university diplomas. We were proud to carry them and we were proud to present them. But there were other people out there with business cards and they were good. It’s just that customers expected something extra and better from the ladies and the gentlemen in dark blue suits.

There’s a name for that: value added. It’s what differentiated IBM from the competition.

Universities don’t offer courses in professional, consultative selling. Maybe they should for a modest fee before parents and students commit to 4 or more years. But that’s not going to happen because universities are businesses. First they sell the seats. Then they sell the education wholesale. Graduates have always had to find ways to sell it retail. What makes the job that much more challenging is that, in the eyes of customers, all degrees from the same university are the same and they stay that way until the graduate demonstrates otherwise.

Story 2

I recently attended at a meeting in which an employee with 25 years service with a consumer packaged goods manufacturer was released because the local function the employee headed up was being outsourced and off-shored. The employer explained that they were late moving in this direction vis-à-vis their competitors.

We recalled how Canada Post had been one of the first major corporations in the country to jettison its IT function in the 1990s. In Canada, Data Crown and CSG were laying the groundwork for that decision and others like it. The rationale was that the corporation wasn’t in the computer business: it was in the business of moving mail.

This is the part where the consequences of not understanding the needs of the customer kick in. You’ll see it in these CBC stories: Canadian job skills mismatch: truth or science fiction? Unemployment dips to 7%, most new jobs are part time. Where Canada’s job vacancies are—and aren’t. Loonie tumbles amid huge miss in jobs data, expectations, geopolitical worries. Then there’s Frazier Fathers with his undergraduate degree, two master’s degrees and unemployed in Windsor, Ontario.

Employment and Social Development Canada’s Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS) predicts that growth in industrial GDP [will] improve in the primary and manufacturing sectors between now and 2020, driven mainly by foreign demand. This should come as welcome news for anyone who plans to graduate with a postsecondary education before the end of the decade.

The free trade agreements into which Canada is entering—including the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), details of which will be released shortly—will change customer behaviour. How will they change employment prospects? What is it going to take to win?

In my 7 years with IBM, I saw “THINK” and “There’s never enough time to do the job right, but there’s always enough time to do the job over” in close proximity to each other more than once. It’s not so easy to do the job over when your first degree involves stocking up on education nobody wants to buy.

If the education system were more about education and less about politics, it would be providing up-to-the-minute information on which to base decisions about advanced schooling. The media are much better at it. So is the price they charge.

Rob Kelly defines gap analysis as “a strategic planning tool to help you understand where you are, where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.” High school graduates must understand that where they and their parents might want them to be and where they may have to be could be two very different places.

The day newly minted graduates receive their diploma is the day they become unemployment statistics—unless they have a job to step into. We have enough statistics. Most of them have dollar signs in front of them: $1.2 trillion owing in student loans in the U.S.; $25 billion to $50 billion in Canada. At least 7 million U.S. students have defaulted on their loan payments at least once.

We need as many gainfully employed graduates as we can produce. For their sake and for the sake of the country.

 

 

 

Your résumé, the 90/10 divide and personal due diligence

 

A carefully worded and deliberately targeted résumé increases the odds of convincing a total stranger that what we represent warrants a face-to-face meeting. The alternative can mean no meeting and a job search that drags on much longer than it has to. Ask someone you know who’s been through the résumé wars and they’ll tell you that building one of the most important documents you’ll ever write about yourself is much harder than it looks. Harder—not impossible—but very necessary.

Up until the end of the 1970’s, you could still find people who insisted on receiving résumés written in longhand on high-quality bond. They believed that cursive writing provided insights into the candidate’s psyche that typewriting obscured or hid from view altogether. Those were kinder, gentler times when there was enough slack in the economy to absorb job seekers with less than specific skills, and on-the-job training was more common than it is now. Those days are gone. So is the time to linger over “less than scientific” candidate selection.

Digital scientific candidate selection is everywhere. So are managers with neither the time nor the inclination to delve into whether there might be a place in their organization for what appears to be a marginal applicant. That’s why 90% of résumés never see the light of day. They belong to people with neither the time nor the inclination to delve into the psyche of a prospective employer when that’s precisely what they should be doing.

What candidates don’t know about the process is hurting them. The expectation is that employers will overlook imperfections in candidate submissions and compensate for lack of attention to detail and the presence of too many adjectives and not enough nouns. Employers won’t because screening software won’t let them. That explains why so many would-be candidates unnecessarily find themselves on the wrong side of the 90/10 divide. Being on the right side of it demands hard work because the economic stakes are high and the alternative is no work. Those who choose not to do it do so at their peril.

To make matters more interesting, social media gurus are having a field day with the concept of your “personal brand”. There’s no Big Bang when brands wink into existence and no instant gravitas. They have to be cultivated and nurtured. The Rolls-Royce brand and what it stands for didn’t come into being overnight. Neither did Coca-Cola’s or Apple’s or Cartier’s. It took years if not decades to build them, and often takes tens of millions of dollars to defend them.

Two printed pages and your digital social media page are what you have to communicate the desirability and value of your brand. They have to reflect how well you understand the audience for whose consumption they’re intended. More hard work.

The better the job you do when you first present yourself and your marque to the world, the greater the likelihood of not having to do it again for 3 to 5 years if not longer. The decision is yours. This market doesn’t reward second-class work with first-class incomes.

You don’t have to face the market alone. A properly designed and executed résumé is at the heart of a carefully conceived and executed marketing plan. That plan is a reflection of the quality of your personal due diligence.

This is a topic worth discussing. We’d be pleased to discuss it with you.

Don’t sell yourself or their memory short

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On November 11th Canada will remember its fallen servicemen and servicewomen. They made the ultimate sacrifice because they believed in this country. They deserve to be remembered.

If you’re in job search mode as you read this, or expect to be, try to remember that what this country is reflects the contribution of everyone who lives and works here. No one person, corporation or political party can take credit for having built this country alone. It took the collective commitment, determination, imagination, creativity, energy, dedication, talent, genius and knowledge of those who came before us. And that will never stop. It mustn’t stop.

Take the time to get to know as much about this place as you can during your search. It is, after all, the second largest country on the planet and consistently ranks among the best in the world in which to live. Tell yourself, your children, maybe even your grandchildren, that we’re about more than large corporations and skylines “dominated by skyscrapers with the logos of banks, international consulting firms … and the like”, as Bruce Stewart put it in his post on October 26th.

Remind them that corporations are made up of individual people who do great things. (Remember when we used to be people instead of “talent” or “human resources”?) Great things happen in small businesses, too. And in a very real sense, every one of us is an entrepreneur.

While you’re at it, familiarize yourself with Applicant Tracking Systems and how they work. Then find out who uses them. ATS’s as they’re also known were conceived to make it easier to handle the tsunamis of e-mails with résumés attached that deluge large corporations by screening out those that don’t contain the “keywords of the day”.

Some software manufacturers claim to be able to drill down through multiple layers of information in résumés to help them make better assessments of prospective candidates. They’re dumbing down the process by being the answer to the prayers of managers who don’t enjoy recruiting enough to think about what recruiting is. They lack the imagination to see and understand between the lines because the software makes sure they never see let alone read the lines. That’s where you’ll find the occasional or not so occasional diamonds in the rough who are often the difference between truly remarkable companies and truly mediocre ones.

The Personal Due Diligence Project knows a few things about diamonds in the rough and how much we need them. The large corporation’s loss will be the small business’s gain. Happily, more people are now working for small business than for big business. Small business is creating more employment opportunities than big business. Something to keep in mind.

We may be the second largest country on the planet, but we aren’t alone on it. When it comes to creativity and ingenuity, you don’t have to take a backseat to anyone. You may have to go that extra mile (1.61 kilometres) to prove it, but you and Canada are worth it.

How to get there from here by making sure there will be a “there” to get to

Visualizing some things can be a challenge. Take the Higgs boson [1] or the neutrino [2] for example. No one has ever seen let alone touched one, but it appears that they do exist. We see faces [3] every day so they’re less of a challenge, but which of those faces is vying with you for that job you’d pinned your hopes on? Or the job [4] “people” say will be waiting when you or your children graduate?

That last one is a little trickier. If you’re a parent of someone in post-secondary education or contemplating it after high school, you may not have been following the stories about graduate un- and underemployment that started appearing at the beginning of this year. Or lived through the experience. The full extent of the phenomenon became a fact of life only recently, and all but a very small handful of the people who have lived through it have yet to be parents.

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The GPS system that came with your car or that you added as a standalone unit or an app on your smartphone is much easier to visualize. So is what it does. But it’s also a metaphor for [3] and [4].

GPS systems work flawlessly as long as the software is up to date. But you may have found yourself at coordinates you requested and an empty lot where what you were looking for used to be. It’s happened to me more than once, mainly where service stations were involved and my gas gauge was flirting with “EMPTY”. The software and the technology weren’t at fault, but Garmin or Google hadn’t reflected the “disappearance” in their software yet. I had to make the trip to find out.

For us, those were isolated incidents. But how many millions of people own GPS navigation systems and how many isolated incidents in total have they experienced? GPS navigators will find alternates for service stations and they’re usually close by. But what if the destination had been 900 kilometres and 2 days away and I’d assumed that my destination was still at its original address and hadn’t bothered confirming that it was? Or that the company was still in business?

You wouldn’t have taken that address for granted, especially if $50,000+ and 4 years were at stake. But the stories that began appearing at the beginning of this year about students with degrees and no jobs involved taking for granted that their employment destination would be there when they arrived. They gambled and lost.

Moving, evolving or disappearing industries or jobs are hallmarks of the times we live in and it appears that too many parents and their children aren’t factoring that into the equation. The “software” and the “hardware” of the matter were available. Had they looked for it, many of their stories might have had happier, if different, endings. By taking for granted what they should not have taken for granted, they deprived themselves of real competitive advantage. The price they paid was discovering that there were no other service stations in the area.

The Personal Due Diligence Project provides guidance in how to extract and exploit the economic, political and labour market “software updates” being delivered as you read this. The process will contiunue every hour of every day whether you’re already working or have children who hope to once they decide on their destination, how best to equip themselves to reach it, and how to reassure themselves that it will be there when they arrive.

It’s been said that there’s never enough time to do the job right, but there’s always enough time to do the job over. Not today, not in this labour market, and not at the prices we’re paying for post-secondary education and jobs that disappear.

The Personal Due Diligence Project wants you to get there from here. And we’ll be happy to explain how we do it. Please call or e-mail us to learn more.

“Stuff” they didn’t teach us in school: how George Carlin might have described it to parents

Our parents sent us to school so that we could learn “stuff”. Math stuff. Chemistry stuff. History stuff. How-to-play-with-other-kids stuff. Geography stuff. Drawing stuff. Industrial arts stuff. Home economics stuff. You know. Stuff.

Then we graduated from primary school and went on to high school so that we could learn more stuff. Higher level stuff maybe, but still stuff. Trigonometry stuff. Inter-algebra stuff. Chemistry stuff. Biology stuff. Physics stuff. Latin stuff—seriously.

This time, when we graduated we celebrated because, in the fall, we were going on to higher education. We’d be starting classes later than kids in public school and high school and wrapping up at the end of April instead of at the end of June. Bonus! Longer summer vacation. Major bonus!

Now we were going to be learning ultra high-level stuff. And except for first-year courses where attendance was compulsory, we were totally on our own. Awesome!

It wasn’t until we received our grades at the end of first year that we discovered how tough university really was and is. We actually had to work at studying stuff. We learned what it meant to pull an “all-nighter” and how it feels when no one’s on your case to hit the books.

The economy isn’t stuff: it’s reality and it can be harsh. Many of last year’s and this year’s graduates, the unemployed and under-employed ones, didn’t read the memo that said:

  1. Labour is expensive and employers have become very good at keeping the cost of it down or eliminating it altogether. Once you’re a part of the job market, you’re labour.
  2. In a global economy, good enough just isn’t good enough.
  3. The easiest way to be disappointed about stuff is to not see it for what it is. Education as an incentive for employers to align their needs with what you studied is that kind of stuff.
  4. One of the best ways to improve the odds that you’ll find and land the job you want once you’ve written your final exam is to start thinking about and acting on being the answer to some employer’s prayers before you start university.
  5. We never write the final final exam because life never stops testing us.
  6. You’ll learn more about work stuff in the year after you graduate than you did in all the years before you graduated.
  7. The only jobs governments create are within government.
  8. You should have been paying attention to truths 1 through 7 before you chose your alma mater.

There’s nothing trivial about not being able to find work, let alone the work we were hoping to find. When we were kids learning how to ride a two-wheeler, we were wobbly at first, lurching along and losing our balance until we got the hang of it. That’s how it was with finding full-time work a generation ago. It isn’t that way any more.

Companies are not one great big happy family. You have to learn how to keep one eye on being a team player and the other on your colleagues, the ones competing with you for promotion and upward mobility, assuming you find a permanent position with benefits—or want one. You can learn about the Microsoft Jim Balmer’s leaving by clicking here.

There are ways to deal with truths 1 through 8. PDD knows what they are and we’ll not only teach you about them, we’ll show you how to apply them. Because we know our stuff. To see firsthand that there’s nothing trival about what we do and why we do it, please drop us an e-mail or call.

Sincerely,

Neil Morris
Personal Due Diligence Project

info@personalduediligence.ca
905 273 9880

Retirement, debt and the true cost of a university education

According to a poll commissioned by CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, one of Canada’s 5 largest banks) and released on August 22nd, 2013, parents may have to work for an additional five years to help their children pay off their university loans. This as the cost of a university education continues to rise in lockstep with the debt load graduates are and will be carrying.

Value for money and student debt now figure more prominently in deliberations over post-secondary education than at any time in the recent past. It’s why we conceived Personal Due Diligence.

For more information, please review the posts you’ll find here. Then call or write to us.

Sincerely,

Neil Morris
Personal Due Diligence Project

http://personalduediligence.com
info@personalduediligence.ca

905 273 9880