The Talent Paradox

Phil Fersht wrote a cheerful (not) post this weekend where he asks

Is our sole purpose now simply to eliminate people?  We spend a couple of decades displacing “expensive” workers because we could find less expensive able ones to do the job.  Now we’re getting rid of them altogether just to keep the Buffetts and Elliotts happy?

In contrast, I recently wrote about Mike Rowe who points out we have countless unfilled jobs

“We’ve got millions of people looking for work and millions of jobs that nobody wants. College graduates are a trillion dollars in debt and struggling to find employment in their field of study. Meanwhile, 88 percent of all the available jobs don’t require a four-year degree. They require specific training. So what do we do? We push a four-year degree like it’s some sort of a Golden Ticket.”

And Warren Buffett, who Phil invokes has said “The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

What gives?

In my view there are no shortage of opportunities to create new businesses, new jobs. Let’s face it – in my 2010 book, The New Polymath I had talked about a number of Grand Challenges humans face when it comes to health, energy, infrastructure and many other areas. In 2017, those challenges still remain and most will create plenty of new jobs.

The job economy has morphed dramatically but many of us still long for the permanent employment of our parents. The reality is S&P 500 companies live less than 20 years – they used to live 60+ years. So, they cannot think about lifetime employment like they used to. Most have moved to variable labor models – contractors, franchises, on platforms, at their suppliers etc. In extreme cases, only 10% of their talent is directly on their payroll.

We get emotional about profit-hungry corporations – but in many ways they struggle with talent management when such a small percent of workers are on their payroll and they can control directly. They have given poor signals to the job economy so we have the severe mismatches Mike Rowe talks about. But their broader ecosystems have created tens of millions of what I call “Alt-Jobs”. And labor mobility has increased quite a bit too. In the US the average employee will have 8 to 10 jobs in their lifetimes often across different occupations.

As for as automation killing jobs, I have a contrarian view I expressed in this article titled Slow-Motion Automation. History shows that new technologies evolve faster than society adopts them.

In my view it is much better for individuals to quit thinking of what our parents enjoyed in terms of stability and instead look around for opportunities we have that our parents would have drooled about. They often stayed decades in their jobs they did not enjoy just to qualify for retirement benefits.


(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.