Saturday, August 31, 2013

Labor Day

This country is facing a serious labor shortage. Sure we have a lot of unemployed folks. Some don’t want to work, at least not for the wages that are available. Some are just not employable for a variety of reasons. Some are living in the wrong zip code and can’t figure out how to get to where the jobs are. And many are in transition and will be working soon. Then there are drugs and criminal records and health issues and all kinds of noise that keep people unemployed. Unemployment is a problem, a serious problem and I don’t mean to minimize it. If you’re unemployed it’s a huge problem for you personally. But, when one looks at the big picture and considers what this nation will look like over the next fifty years, the looming labor shortage is as critical as any issue we are facing. We are rapidly approaching the point where there simply will not be enough skilled trades people around to keep our machines running. Even semi-skilled or unskilled labor will be in short supply.

Everyone can’t be information workers or idea people or relationship managers. Some one has to keep things running and clean-up the mess. Ultimately, the marketplace will do its job and the person with the tool belt and hardhat will make more money than the person with the keyboard and mouse. In fact, we are already there with certain trades. The person driving the truck will make more money, a lot more money, than the person dispatching the truck. In some transportation sectors we are already there, as well. And the person repairing the truck may end up making more money than anyone.

Information, ideas and relationships ultimately matter. For hundreds of years those people who were good at managing (and in many cases manipulating) information, ideas and relationships were pretty special and made a lot of money. In an age of instant and almost unlimited information, “knowing” stuff isn’t so special anymore. And most of the low-hanging fruit of brilliant ideas has been picked. Invention and innovation will always be special. But we now live in a global marketplace of ideas. The supply of brilliant minds is greater than it’s ever been in the history of the world. So what if you’re the smartest person in your city or state or country. It just doesn’t mean what it used to mean, nor is it worth as much. And as for relationships, it will probably make more sense to know people who can fix your car, your computer or your air-conditioning; than it will to know how to motivate your employees. Especially, when your employees read about motivation on the internet and know exactly what you’re up to.

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