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article imageOp-Ed: What’s in a job? Basics ignored as US states try training schemes

By Paul Wallis     Jan 8, 2012 in Business
Job creation is the catchcry of politicians around the world. The trouble is that they know nothing about the realities of the current workforce. Nor do employers and government administrators, and the result is obvious.
Background: I spent many years working on a US/European/Indian employment site in which I found people losing their jobs, their homes, their sanity and their self-respect. I saw talent going begging on an hourly basis and ridiculous, ugly pettiness trashing careers and bureaucratic nightmares for American unemployed in particular, even compared to ultra-bureaucratic India.
There’s now a rather circular debate about US state training programs, which are taxpayer-funded, and their effectiveness.
The New York Times:
Critics suggest the programs may not even be in the best interest of workers if the resulting jobs pay low wages or simply disappear after a few years, leaving employees with narrow skills that do not help them land new positions. In North Carolina, for example, people are still smarting from the departure of a Dell factory that put nearly 1,000 people out of work just five years after the state spent close to $2 million on training.
Various studies have long questioned whether states get their money’s worth from incentives for companies that build facilities or expand existing ones. In a report last month, Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research organization that tracks such spending, found that states often attract companies that create few jobs, pay low wages or scrimp on health insurance.
Meaning the theory is that the companies employ local workers, but the practice often works out differently. If this thinking was applied to jobs generally, it would instantly dig up some other realities about working conditions for Americans.
Conventional stats and mindsets about employment have been falling in a screaming heap regularly. The basic vision of the employment market is naïve to say the least, and includes these shoddy old theories:
College education gets you a job- So it does, but the quality of the jobs is often pretty dubious, and the pay is abysmal. I saw an ad for an “intern” with a Master’s Degree in which the incumbent was supposed to design research programs, keep the workspace tidy, do the administration and anything else required- For $20 an hour. Talk about cranking up your professional credentials and packing your CV with high achiever status. That pay scale for that level of qualification would be an insult in most Western countries.
Jobs have natural progressions and you can create a career with the right training- As a matter of fact, your training and experience must give you what I call “job agility” to keep the career moving, or you wind up in a hole. Even the so-called executive jobs can go nowhere over a space of decades. Combinations of skill sets are critical to employment options. If you’ve got one skill set, you’re limited by definition in your job market. You now need several skill sets and multiple qualifications from your training.
Multi-tasking creates cost-efficiency- Rubbish. “Doing more with less” usually means doing a lot more, badly, and restricting the ability of employees to do more productive work. The fatigue factor in added tasks to a job is largely ignored.
Jobs are created naturally as businesses expand- Therefore, they’re lost when businesses contract. Fine, but there’s more to it than that. The most basic and most frequently overlooked reality of the employment market is that jobs are business deals for employers. Every job has to fit a business plan, and every job has to relate to productivity. Most employers have at best a hazy idea of the dynamics of employment. They see employees as costs, when they’re really assets.
So- People making lousy business decisions can’t make lousy employment decisions? Employment tends to be as good as the business of the employers, and the chronic under performance of American businesses doesn’t need to be over-emphasized. The mere fact that American businesses have swallowed whole the idea of oppressive labour costs, obviously without knowing a damn thing about the economics of job design, is an indictment in itself.
Training creates jobs- No it doesn’t, at least not of itself. You need a range of training these days, because the combinations of skill sets required are far more complex. The New Economy, for example, outsources everything including its admin. To work in this environment you need high skill levels.
Job creation schemes are good by definition- Only if you come up with a productive, sustainable scheme which generates cash for the local economy and isn’t a one trick wonder. The US states aren’t so much wrong as stuck for options in this area. It’d be better if they focused on creating a working structure for local needs, not the relatively superficial approach of trying to get airhead business hacks to invest in state economies. Charity does begin at home, if you’re a typical cash-strapped US state.
For example- What does North Carolina really need that can be turned into a bedrock local business operation? What does Louisiana need that can be turned into an ongoing paying proposition? Could New York use some applied chutzpah in terms of job options for the benefit of the state? Excuse the rhetoric, but the real deal is “What pays is what works”.
The US can either wallow around nitpicking uselessly about dollar values of training schemes, or start organizing its job market and ancillaries to meet the needs of the new job market and types of employment which have never existed before. The New Economy is bulldozing the old job market, and the ideas of employment must evolve to match the realities. Subsidize the skills, and you’ll create your jobs. Just make sure you’re giving people working options in the new job market and multiple skill sets.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about USA job market, employment skill sets, job agility, North Carolina Caterpillar training initiative, USA state economics
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