93 Comments

Summary:

One job for life hasn’t been true for a while, but in the tech space even expecting to have one skill-set for life may be asking too much. Jobs may last less than a decade before becoming obsolete. So how do we cope?

We have a serious problem, a very, very serious problem and its related to how we recruit, hire, train, and retain employees for many modern and critical roles. Based on anecdotal evidence I believe we are rapidly approaching a point where 15-30 percent of our work force could be “worked” out of a job in any given eight to ten-year period.

That would mean up to 45 million Americans looking for replacement roles in any ten-year span. Yes, my numbers were developed anecdotally from previous experience in combination with information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As an example in 2002 there were roughly 15 million manufacturing roles. When you combine that with operations oriented IT or service oriented roles you can quickly come up to 45 million affected positions.

It gets worse, not better.

The first world has been lucky. We had the last 100 years to help folks through a changing job market in the manufacturing sector, yet we still often failed. Many of the employees during this 100-year stretch felt they could make a good-enough living without a college degree or seeking a path into alternate roles in their company. This “good-enough” mentality is now causing the first world real issues as they try to transition these folks effectively either into early retirement or new jobs.

It’s not just manufacturing. Even computer programming has experienced this cycle of job obsolescence. Consider all the assembler and Cobol programmers whose careers in the 60s and 70s seemed as if they would last forever.

Today’s job market is very obviously different from a century or even three decades ago. Many of today’s positions have a lifespan of less than 10 years. Almost any manufacturing role or traditional IT infrastructure role would fit into this category. This sub-10-year job lifespan already affects millions of positions in the U.S. alone. Interestingly five years from now we’ll look back longingly at the good old days when a job (role) might last 10 years. The accelerating change associated with advancements in technology has increased the speed at which many jobs become obsolete.

Why now is different

Think of the trauma caused in a single-industry town (logging, manufacturing, fishing, etc) when the winds of change (regulations, technology, climate) eliminate that industry in that location. This trauma occurs even though we often see the change coming for a decade and the jobs have been largely the same for 30 or more years already.

Today, that same trauma would be magnified by the fact that most of the jobs would be less than 10 years old and the town will likely have two years or less to react to what the future holds. That assumes, of course, that the town or people in that town are actively paying attention to the future. In order to continue to grow our companies and our economy we must get away from the reactive response to role changes or compensation changes and think more strategically about how we protect our employees.

The role of HR, business and you

If you agree with the risks implied in the above, then there would seem to be no alternative but to rethink how most modern companies recruit, hire, train and retain employees. The employer and employee are going to need to work together to effect this change. HR isn’t always going to understand whether a specific role or function is becoming outdated, so they will have to work with employees and leaders.

The knowledge of “what’s coming” should be translated into your training/retraining programs. Basically you should be training your team to take jobs that don’t exist so they are ready when they do. It also means that reward systems need to be reworked significantly. Current systems tend to emphasize excellence at a particular skill. Instead you should be putting emphasis on how well employees work themselves out of their job. In effect the employee should be creating their own obsolescence.

There are several areas of opportunity in the corporation to help reduce the trauma of this shift:

  • When recruiting places new or additional emphasis on skill development capability in the potential recruit
  • During hiring, include discussion and planning around the growth of the employee beyond just “I’d like to be a manager someday” or “senior system admin.”
  • Training should focus as much on how effectively employees can change as it does on a specific skill set. However, training will also need to include “retraining” of staff as an ongoing part of the employer/employee responsibility.

Governments can also play a role since, it seems logical that they would be interested in helping companies that are working effectively to support employment in the U.S. Some simple suggestions include:

  • Labor areas where the traditional rules of benefits are softened, but the rules for training and retraining are increased.
  • Tax incentives could be applied in order to push companies and workers to develop better retention and training programs. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we incent companies or employees to keep doing jobs we can get rid of, just the opposite.

And of course, employees also have a role to play. Instead of whining about how hard it is to find another system admin job or a manufacturing line operator position, take responsibility for developing your career and working with your leadership to be prepared for what’s coming. Keep up your education current through any processes available, from night classes to cross training, industry participation and reading. As employers we need to take more interest in how well our employees are being developed so that they are a greater enabler to our success.

At the end of the day, if we have higher employment our companies sell more, which means more opportunity for all.

Building photo courtesy of Shutterstock user  Vladitto

Mark Thiele is executive VP of Data Center Tech at Switch, the operator of the SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas. Thiele blogs at SwitchScribe and at Data Center Pulse, where is also president and founder. He can be found on Twitter at @mthiele10.

  1. I think this trend points to a critical need for education reform starting with primary school. We need to start teaching students how to learn, grow, change, adapt, and create, not just how to do, respond, and conform.

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    1. Jeff, great points that I most certainly would have included in my piece, but I couldn’t keep it short enough. This is a topic area I would love to explore with others.

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      1. What Jeff alludes to is not rooted by environment, but by the nature of the person. It is ultimately our choice in who we want to become. If we learn to accept what we can control, then it’s possible that our decisions will be made for the better.

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    2. Right on Jeff. It’s time to lose the industrial revolution education system. Unfortunately the only education reform is see happening is only making things worse, no child left behind more, standardized tests etc.

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    3. So right Jeff. Only being our of the education system for a short period of time (graduated from a Big Ten university this past spring) I can tell you I was completely unprepared for college after coming out of high school. We also can’t forget about students who don’t want to go to higher education, basic labor jobs are becoming much more technical and require training. Not everyone is cut out for education, but we really need to rethink our eduction system to adapt to ever changing needs and trends in our society.

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  2. David Mumford Friday, October 26, 2012

    Great article!
    IMHO there are (atleast) 2 types of companies, ones that create the future and others that follow.

    For companies actually creating the future this article is spot on. For the others though, their jobs can last decades and they create friction in adapting to change.

    I think being an autodidact is the best education :)

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  3. Brian Gracely Friday, October 26, 2012

    Excellent article. Especially in technology, I’m not sure it realistic anymore to see roles lasting more than 3-4 years, and some other factors are causing challenges of aligning the right people with the right roles.

    1 – Technology and the associated companies are changing faster than ever before. There are no longer sustained periods of stability.
    2 – Technology allows people to work anywhere, but many roles are now asking people to “be in the physical office” (Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC, Austin). Tons of smart people don’t want to move their families for what coud be 3-4yr opportunities.
    3 – Social tools are making technologists very visible and many of them want to incorporate that into their work life. Too many companies try to restrict (or censor) this, creating frustrations and limiting knowledge sharing with the market.

    I tell most people not to expect their company to plan a “career path” for them (it’s their responsibility) and not to expect the company to pay for them to learn new skills, as so much is available for free online. It means putting in the hours outside of work (usually for $0 compensation).

    I do agree with your guidance to have a plan that you can bring to an employer about where you want to go next. There are lots of ways to gain valuable experience and skills within an existing job that will give someone an advantage at getting another role to advance their career. But they should own that plan.

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    1. This. Moving for a job is absolutely nonsensical in this day and age. Are we all to become gypsies in order to survive? It makes no sense and society cannot support it. We need roots, community, etc… Companies need to adapt to a mobile, telecommute workforce.

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    2. The reality is that companies would be smart to identify and train those staffers who are capable and interested in keeping current with corporate needs. Aside from an interview, my first job included two IQ tests and a logic test. These provide the basis for capability. Interest level is developed over time and can in fact be guided by the company.

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  4. Venkata Acharya Friday, October 26, 2012

    The points made are really true. The pace of innovation is increasing, thus the pace of change. What this also means is that fortunes are being made faster. Earlier, when change was slow, everyone had the opportunity to adapt and thus participate in the fortune building. But now, the percentage of who can adapt is shrinking, and will continue to shrink as pace becomes more rapid. All this just means that fortunes will be made by fewer and fewer people – not a good thing for society. I can only hope that we somehow get into a reverse spiral of slowing down and enjoying this life on earth!

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    1. Thats TRUE!!! We need to slow down and be natural!!!

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    2. Not exactly our life on earth, but our active life I would say. We will be less and less able to add value to the economy and so we will have to find ways to help the communities and create scope for our lives. At least for this spiral, that seems to go in this direction now, but don’t forget that all social trends are cyclical. There will be a moment when this profit seeking economy will create so much social frustration that the trend will eventually reverse.

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      1. I would hope so…However, based on the frantic pace at which we are going, I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon…

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  5. “I can only hope that we somehow get into a reverse spiral of slowing down and enjoying this life on earth!”

    Best point so far, but it will never happen. The trend is toward cookie cutter perfect. And the rest of us….Drop Dead!

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  6. Matthew Loxton (MKM) Friday, October 26, 2012

    This is a problem that my fellow Knowledge Management practitioners and I see only too well as turbulence causes eddies and swirl in knowledge requirements – what was critical knowledge for executing a business plan last year suddenly is not just obsolete but irellevant to today’s problem, and likewise what knowledge holdings next year’s business problem needs is at this time simply inscrutable.

    Some knowledge remains critical over time but un-mapped and may leave when the people go, other knowledge is missing and often where to get it is unclear, and business managers often don’t know which is the case.

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    1. Melinda Augustina Friday, October 26, 2012

      Very true. A company cannot be without it’s Knowledge practitioners. Kai-Zen, baby!!

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  7. Andrew Murray Friday, October 26, 2012

    The statistics and predictions of this article sound scary, but I agree with the need to hire for potential. I’ve recently joined Driscoll’s where our recruiting model is to hire for: 1. our company values 2. Potential 3. skill set….and in that order of priority. Hiring persons that fit the companies values and have the potential to grow and learn helps build long term, loyal, valuable employees.

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  8. Fascinating critical analysis of employment, industry and commerce. And I agree with Jeff below – for the most part, current educational paradigms teach about what is known, not where things are going. There’s a best-selling book in here.

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  9. Coming from a software engineering background, one of the biggest issues that I see is how companies want to hire very specific skills, not talented engineers. Many of the specific skills can be learned quickly by a talented engineer, but if the skills are necessary to walk in the door then (a) companies will focus on hiring flash over substance, and (b) it puts undo burden upon the engineer to constantly be learning in their free time, since few companies are providing the downtime or financial support/incentive to take additional courses. This is an unhealthy cycle that has led most of the engineers I know, to consider moving out of technology and into management or otherwise after about a decade, because once they have a family, they aren’t interested in spending all of their freetime learning to stay relevant … and this just to stay in the same place, wthout advancing their career.

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    1. I totally agree. I have been in the software and technology industry for 20 years. I have kept my skills relevant in many new technologies.

      But I find it pretty rediculous when employers look for very specific skills, version numbers even! They find it irrelevant when I have 5 – 10 years experience in the last version or have used 3 competing products in the same space. Even when I have written commercial software to serve the same goal.

      I keep hearing about how there are not enough skilled technical resources in the US, but I firmly believe employers are looking for the wrong skills and missing out on true technical experts that can make a huge difference.

      I have always believed that my job is to make my job function obsolete – automate, empower, and train others to fill my role. Then I get to reinvent myself and stay ahead of the business and technology curve :)

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      1. Where I worked, there is a tendency for higher management to “make their mark” by purchasing expensive business software launching large projects. Then they ride a “6 month” project for 3 years until something finally gets implemented.

        Then they have a celebration, declare success, get promoted / or get a new position elswhere and move on. The real work comes where the system tries to synergize with the rest of the business processes and become really useful. About two years after that a new manager decides to “make their mark” and spends millions to buy a new system. But they have no clue how difficult it is to switch over and it takes 6 times longer than they expect so you end up with multiple systems that you have to integrate with. And the cycle continues…

        Unfortunately for us tech workers, the latest trend is to purchase systems that are “in the cloud” but developed by a third party, which basically takes all the local control of it away. Any customization has to be purchased and developed off site at ten times the expense and ten times the turnaround time (if you can even get it).

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      2. Michael Taylor Monday, October 29, 2012

        That is the kind of company you should probably avoid since their mindset is to harvest whatever skills you have and then move on to the next person at lowest cost. The smart money companies look at the bigger picture of how to develop their best workers and champion them into projects where their skill sets can expand.

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      3. This is a very insightful comment. Also, it is the same sentiment that I have shared for almost a decade. As a Gen X’er, I infused my time and career with technology. We’re possibly the first generation to do this. The track record I share with those like me is the ability to sustain. And, that has taken a great deal of commitment to immerse oneself into something by it’s very nature both rapidly changing and short lived. The message goes out to all the HR pros and recruiters out there. Your industry hasn’t changed, get more warm bodies. However, I.T. has, so please reinvent yourself, because it hasn’t been working for this nation and it certainly won’t work for years to come. The data indicated this very fact. Try to truly find out what is required instead of researching buzzwords and tech jargon. This trite repackaging is plain to see and obvious to the truly qualified professionals and has been a real put-off. So, take the criticism, and reverse all those years of practicing an antiquated formula for filling (so called) positions. There’s real work to be done, and there is an army of extremely qualified personell that are prepared to deliver. The next generation of tech service is sure to come. Adapt and surmount to this new challenge.

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      4. Wilbert Lancaster Wednesday, October 31, 2012

        Fanastic observation, making yourself obsolete as far as the process is concerned
        then re-inventing, learning and pushing the curve on new challenges.
        Training others and empowering them, is exactly what I’ve been trying to add
        to companies and industries in which I’ve worked. This article points out some very relevant truths and exactly what most of the commentors are experiencing.

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    2. I’m not sure if it’s enough to spend freetime, most of these companies are demanding work experience. In most cases they look at solely what you are doing now, and if it’s not a match for what they are looking for they reject the resume.

      As an employee, if I am looking for a new job, it’s usually not because I want to do the same thing I’m doing now.

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      1. This statement sound like a contradiction, and this is mainly the reason why you end up doing things you don’t like. The solution is “hire the attitude and train the skills”, but of course the hiring side has to agree with this idea. I believe that if someone has the right attitude, he can do almost any job, and on the contrary if he has the wrong one, he will never be happy with his job and the employer will feel the same way.

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      2. Zsolt, a truly a valiant effort on your part in attempting bring some type of order in explaining to a process that is devoid of those characteristics. The attitude of most technologists shines through in the following way. They spend countless hours on very complex problems, just like most professions. Problems that most people would rather delegate than deal with. A certain pervasiveness exists in their attitude bordering on obsession, even, to find solutions, or to find a better way, altogether. Then, once discovered, trotting through endless red tape and archaic managerial preferences. Contemplating byte-code, boot-loaders, and big data doesn’t require you to ‘put on a happy face’, it’s a science with a measure of artistic craft. That being said, although having a positive attitude is important, I believe having a neutral or negative attitude is not catastrophic. Great concept, by the way, it just needs to be walked over to the sales department, as it has no real place in I.T.

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    3. Exactly!

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    4. Bon, I completely agree! I’m in Canada and things are no better here. I’ve been in my current position (well, company) for 7 years and our entire office is being closed in 3 months. I’ve known for 3 months officially, and have suspected it for 6, which is when I started looking for work.

      I have a huge skill set as well as 19 years of experience, but for every position I’m missing one thing they want (the newest version of a software, for example) and that’s enough to screen me out as a candidate. It’s very frustrating because it’s always something I could easily learn, but they all seem to want the experience with that skill/program/whatever.

      My entire career I’ve spent all my free time learning, as everyone around me gets older. I can barely keep a relationship, have skipped having children and I’ve realized that when my parents die I’ll have regrets of not spending time with them. As it is I’ve moved to a city several hours away from them to be employed. Is this what a healthy employee is supposed to be?

      I’m seriously considering leaving the field, but I truely enjoy what I do.

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  10. I have been employeed with the same company for 16 years + , I am 56 yrs old and am working on a B.S. degree in Consumer Science . I will finish next semester and plan to study for a M.S. in Studies of Future Technology. I realized how fast the job market is changing some time ago but just recently realized how it could affect me in my long term role with my company. At 56 I still have another 9 to 10 years that I need to work. It is not impossible (and I have not found it tremendously difficult) for older employees to learn an entirely new career.

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    1. Melinda Augustina Friday, October 26, 2012

      You are correct, Joyce!!

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  11. Scott Redding Friday, October 26, 2012

    Intriguing article about the future of employment. Although I feel directionally this article is accurate, I think we tech centric people often over emphasize how fast things are changing. The shifts from the industrial age to the services age still took a long time to happen. Just because some things change incredibly fast doesn’t mean that everything is changing that quickly also. The Google culture in our society where you should be super “Agile” and be sure to “Pivot” as fast as you can is affecting how we view the world. Maybe we should all slow down and question the theories that have led us to thinking that we all need to be working ourselves out of a job and figure out how to create new jobs for more people.

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  12. It is crucial for employers to keep their employees up to date and marketable. Those companies that get stuck with stuck employees find that they are still making wagon wheels and horshoes when the rest of the world is moving on to automobile parts….

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  13. Melinda Augustina Friday, October 26, 2012

    Excellent article. To accept “continual education” as a fact of life would be a good start.

    Most importantly your point that employers and employees need to figure this out together. To abandon employees because they’ve been too busy doing their jobs and haven’t kept up is like punishing them for focusing on their work… It has to be company priority and employee priority.

    Continual education has become a fact of my life – and I feel I am very, very fortunate because of this. When I made time to continue to educate myself as an adult – it changed my life. And my life continues to change every time I learn something new.

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  14. In my experience, companies are no longer concerned with training their employees. This is based on 38yrs of work experience.

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  15. This is a shallow article that repeats the same old naive conventional wisdom about how things change so fast that logging towns have to transition to service economies or tech hubs or some other ridiculousness.

    We are screwed because 1) we have been exporting as much value-adding employment as possible as quickly as possible to the lowest bidders, and not just manufacturing. We got suckered into the “service economy” horse feathers argument decades ago only to discover now that it really means “low waged and unskilled.” We bought into a sappy pipedream and got a brutal race to the bottom instead.

    Want to read something meatier? Try this:

    http://betanews.com/2012/10/25/h-1b-visa-abuse-limits-wages-and-steals-us-jobs/

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  16. There are 2 categories that will keep one alive. Become extremely specialized and thus your skill is needed as the world-at-large is a market today for that specialized skill. Or be agile. As was said by somebody, used to be that one changed 7 jobs in their life. Now its 7 careers. So the key is either become very specialized or be ready to be agile. For the latter, I hope as others pointed out – education will come to the rescue. Self paced, low cost education might be the answer – but its long ways off.

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  17. Interesting article, agree for technical skills, changes so fast that an individual needs to stay current and build on their experience with new innovation, but I generally find top talent is very capable of layering thier skills, building on a foundation of technology from 10 or 20 years ago and using that to apply to new areas, while the technology changes the practical application and soft skills to leverage the technology are still critical, the skills of communication, negotiation, influencing, making the complex simple comes with years and years of experience across many technology areas, like IT wisdom, I think those that combine these every lasting soft skills with new technology and innovation become increasingly valuable to a business….build these skills and you’ve increased your portability across companies but also industries if that’s your aspiration.

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  18. I think there are some good suggestions in this article. I especially agree that the government should be involved with providing incentives for companies to take further steps to re-train and grow employee’s for the next step in their career. Without these incentives I do not think companies will take the time, effort or cost to do this unless they are reimbursed somehow. We are seeing a trend of shortages of specific skill/expertise sets disappearing altogether and no potential candidates in the foreseeable future to fill these types of roles as our workforce starts to age and retire (i.e. the engineering field is already seeing a shortage of candidates domestically). I also believe this will help reduce the amount of outsourcing or at least the excuse to outsource engineering resources to other countries. . . .

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  19. The mentality that most IT workers are lazy and do not bother to learn new skills needs to change. By nature of the field, IT workers are generally very independent workers and problem solvers who take it upon themselves to learn what is necessary to succeed. In a tough, competitive job market, the easist thing to throw in a candidate’s face — often in order to hide the true motives of the hiring preferences of the employer — is that the candidate should simply take some classes. Then after the candidate has shown that he has indeed taken classes, because, again, it’s assumed that he’s too lazy to have learned any new technologies, he’s told, “That’s great…but we need someone with experience in these technologies/languages.” Also, an IT worker seems to become even more in trouble if he dares to engage in training that is deemed more applicable to another field. Even though companies always state that they require strong analytical skills and good motivation, this IT worker will be classified as uncommitted to his field! If a middle aged IT worker has returned to school for an MBA, a finance degree, or whatever degree for crying out loud, that it is a great commitment and achievement that should be considered. It obviously shows continued analytical capability. Many employers need to be called out on hiding behind their true hiring desires such wanting frat-house environments, minorities, or cheaper greencard workers.

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    1. Mark, I’m not sure where you would get “Lazy” from my blog. I’ve been in IT for over 20 years and some of the hardest working people I’ve ever known are in the IT field. However, it doesn’t change the fundamentals around rewards (for being really good at one thing) and fear of change. The fear of change is often exacerbated by a lack of trust that management will take care of you if you work yourself out of a job.

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      1. Because most management won’t. Most could care less. Believing otherwise demonstrates naivety.

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  20. I give a round of applause to this article. It is on point for employees and employers that are playing in today’s markets. Give yourself a high five because you truly have shown insight in your thinking throughout this article. This is useful and extraordinary information from a visionary.

    I was truly blessed when reading this article. As humans, we will continue to develop, moment by moment until death we part. Learning and change is always ongoing. Thanks!

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  21. Reblogged this on Health Center IT and commented:
    Workers in healthcare technology — whether in traditional IT infrastructure, or app development, or biomedical devices — need to pay attention to this advice more so than almost any other field. They key takeaway: You need to be working yourself out of your current job; you need to always be learning and growing for the next big thing around the corner.

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  22. Interesting thoughts. Question: if a company wanted to hone it’s ability to measure a potential recruits capacity for learning and change, how would you suggest framing those questions? If “I’d like to be a manager someday” (presumably an answer the horrible question of “where do you see yourself in 5 years”) is to be avoided, what questions does a hiring manager ask in the new hiring environment?

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    1. While “I want to be a manger someday” isn’t always a bad answer to the question of “where do you see yourself in X years”. A better question might be “what would you do if I told you your job was going away”? A good answer might be “I don’t plan on letting that happen. I will do everything I can to stay current and be prepared for my next role. regardless of whether that’s a promotion or a skill adjustment”.

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  23. 10 years in IT in Japan has shown me that companies with regional leads who are Japanese (international HQ or not) tend to resist change to the point where work cannot be done correctly. This problem will be a hard one for north american and european countries, but it will be devastating to Japan. I have been expecting this for some time now and am not surprised in the least to read this article. There definitely needs to be laws put in place to properly account for re-training, and in the case of Japan, those laws should actually be enforced. Re-training on a scale for example from programming to cisco certification is a big time sink. A lot of employers expect this to be done on private time outside of work. I think that is a mistake. Some initiative outside work is fine, but asking for 100% outside work is not. Japan already has enough over-work related suicides and absentee fathers as it is.

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  24. Great article but, more important, great comments. That’s where we need to start: from the education system. Let’s face it: it’s a disaster. It was probably good about 100 years ago, when the world was not as dynamic as it is today.

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  25. Former Sec Labor Robert Reich had a good paradigm for analyzing types of work/jobs in “The Work of Nations” (1991) – Routine Production Services (globally competitive, then 25% of jUS obs and declining); In person Services (localized to the customer and then 30% of US jobs and increasing); and Symbolic-Analytical Services (globally competitive, high value added, non-standardized services) – other groups of natural resources and government employees and contractors who face more localized and less global competition. To remain competitive on the global stage for both production services (e.g. ITIL-based IT support) and symbolic analytic services the emerging language and tools of the latest developments need to be understood by the practitioner. Over 20 years later, I find this approach still valuable and insightful. Training and development must be strategic, and the same technology driving change can change our training systems… no longer do schools need the planting, growing and harvest seasons off for children to work the farm, no more than we need the factory bell to announce production and shift changes. for our youngest production line trainees. Ineffiecency in any system breeds waste, high costs, low productivity and high costs.

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  26. And most importantly, poor results!

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  27. Great article, but … it fails to address what to do about 45 to 60 year old workers. Retirement at 65 is no longer an option. People live to 80+ years and sitting around watching TV, or watching the world go by is not good for the individual, or for society. If we as a nation cannot create a society where people can work until they are 75, 80, or more (I personally know someone 87 that is still doing electrical engineering with nano-electronics), then we will end up with tens of millions of “throw-away” people. That is something that can never benefit any country.

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    1. You’re correct, I didn’t specifically call out the 45-60 age group. However, I’m not limiting the potential for job retraining and appropriate skill positioning to any age. While it may be less risky for younger workers to make a job change, us older workers need to prepare for being flexible. In my 25 years of “professional” career, I’ve largely stayed in the same field (IT), but have changed jobs at least 10 times. In half the cases the job changes were minor, but in several they were big departures. My ability to stay current and be aware of what’s going on in the “bigger” picture is what helped me continue to grow and develop my value.

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      1. I share a career background very similar to yours; 15 years IT starting with programming, then network administration, now network engineering. Originally, I was a bio-medical researcher with a a Doctorate in Experimental Medicine. I have remained flexible and open to new opportunities, and have this thrived (most of the time …), but there are many that cannot, or will not, do this on their own.

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  28. In an era when the individual changes jobs to progress their career and absorb new skills, it’s interesting that this article still registers, “place new or additional emphasis on skill development capability in the potential recruit” as critical in this new world. Will a candidate with this attribute stay longer, or move on more quickly as they adapt?

    There’s something acknowledged implicitly within this: regardless of skills / opportunity shifts, the work environment – in its broadest sense – is still a draw to many of us, irrespective of online professional networks and broadcast opportunity. I think that this humanity is rather a comforting thought!

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  29. So, I thoroughly scrubbed my résumé of any references that could be used to determine my age (fortunately I had just completed my M.S.) and sent it out. I got three interviews, even though I was over 50!

    First interviewer: Oh, we were expecting someone . . . uh. Me: shorter? I get that a lot.

    Second interviewer: So, how long do you intend to keep working?

    Third interviewer: There’s a lot of walking in this job. Would you be OK with that?

    Needless to say, I now work for the government.

    So, Mark, how’s Switch doing at hiring? Are skills REALLY the most important criterion? Do you do blind interviews, or do you check out candidate’s LinkedIn picture first? Have you looked for a job since you turned 50? How many over-50 workers have you promoted because they completed some additional training?

    In short, you’re going to need to establish some cred before I plunk down another $10k for additional training on your say-so.

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    1. I wish there was some “Easy Button” formula for every person at every age, from all backgrounds and skill sets, but sadly there isn’t. That being said, as I mentioned in my response to a previous comment, I’m over 50 now and have managed to keep my skills fresh and myself visible. These two things combined with developing new value equations for where I can help someone has contributed to my ability to change positions over 10 times in the last 25 years, and maintain my growth and relevance. At Switch I can only say that we hire “good” people. We have all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.

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      1. That’s OK, Mark, I’m sure you meant well, and I really didn’t expect you to directly answer a single one of my questions, anyway.

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    2. David Mitchell Monday, October 29, 2012

      The out of touch HR dept. fails at calculating diminishing return as it relates to someone with a learning-curve and the talent of a seasoned skill-set. OR They just restrict candidates to those that fall within the new business strategy; minimum skill; minimum pay; minimum benefits to roll-over the skilled and talented for the sake of the immediate bottom-line which pads the executive salaries and why, the middle-class is now earning a 1990’s salary (has not kept up with inflation).

      Not my thoughts; I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to assist Dr. Deming when he was lecturing and had explained all of this in the corporate spotlight.

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  30. At minimum, we need to prepare professionals to:

    * Learn how to learn: Learning how to identify key areas of demand and the likely skills needed to work in a suitable area
    * Informal entrepreneurship: Working toward creating new intra- and extra-organizational projects that can supply needed capability, even as those who need the new capability are just realizing the need
    * Self-marketing: Creating and sustaining a presence that enables others to locate you which want/need your talents
    * Tele-presence: The ability to work from almost anywhere productively

    We can be part of these changes, not just victims of them. But, it takes a mind-shift and some real work to get there. This could be the basis of a new professional masters degree program as well as ongoing education and coaching.

    Thoughts?

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    1. Mark B,

      You’ve got some great thoughts here. There’s no doubt that our education system could use some adapting. I’ve worked with several universities attempting to develop new “adaptable” programs for technology oriented curriculum. Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty unsuccessful, as they are mostly very slow to change and are more worried with protecting tenured program directors and professors.

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  31. David Mitchell Monday, October 29, 2012

    “Jobs may last less than a decade before becoming obsolete.” (Mark Thiele, Switch – gigaom.com)

    That realization began to take foothold in the mid 90’s for me. I’d decided to align my career direction with the term; envisionary. Seeking out and collaborating on some of the most challenging projects using new technologies and converged services had always been my style but I’ve made it a core strategy, developed the necessary skills with proven results and the privilege of working with some of the most talented in their field.

    I would call this a ‘cross-platform knowledge-base’, rather than a ‘single-ended system perspective’. Not just the passe ‘out of the box thinker’, but developing the envisionary process of making the future vision a reality. I recall some friendly advice from a former Dir. of Communications; “The moment you stop developing your creativity is the time to which you’ve become obsolete.” I enjoyed the article, thanks.

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  32. David Mitchell Monday, October 29, 2012

    I would also add; I think the HR field has focused too much with just scanning for ‘hit’ words within resume’s and has lost touch with what really is a skill-set for the new technologies era.

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  33. So true. My first job was engineer for TACs, AMPS mobile phone system in 1995. Later GSM and 3G mobile sales engineer from 2000. Lately I am a business development manager of IT services of router making giant. I just could not follow how fast the technologies evolve.

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  34. Ismail Gassiep Monday, October 29, 2012

    This is a real problem. The company I work for is undergoing a major restructure. Recruiting IT people with “new skills” and the experience, bemoaning the “skills shortage”, but getting rid of techies with “outdated skill”. Watch us repeat this exercise in 4-5 years time.

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  35. Very good article, but you’re dead wrong with Cobol programmers. You’d be amaze to learn that there are still people new to programming that are learning Cobol on their first job. I expect them to be able to reach retirement as Cobol programmers. The banking and insurance industries still rely heavily on Cobol, and those systems will not die soon.

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  36. Unfortunately when a company faces some turbulence (meaning profits going down) the first victim is education – in 5 years tenure in a big IT company I had the opportunity to provide only 5 training courses for my 20+ FTE team, i.e. just 5 people benefited in 60 months!

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  37. Looks like you`ve never worked in IT, you cannot forsee trends as well as the lack of training before a change.
    Look at Virtualization for example, back in pre 2005 the only Virtualization training was from Citrix and that`s no way near good for today`s industry.

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  38. I’d like to make a few points…

    First, job obsolescence doesn’t occur by you working yourself out of a job. It comes from forces outside your control.

    Second, retraining good employees, or providing good employees opportunities to retrain themselves, takes advantage of known strengths. Replacing good employees just to get more up-to-date versions of skillsets leaves you with up-to-date employees with whom you have no experience.

    Third, a short skill lifecycle doesn’t fit a model of hiring the young to get new skillsets in the door while retiring the old to make room for the young.

    Fourth, although age has a way of slowing you down, that fact by itself does not mean that anyone above a certain age will be unable to keep up with change. You need to deal with each employee or potential employee as an individual.

    Fifth, allowing for employee retraining doesn’t require the employer to predict the future. It just requires the employer to be alert and flexible enough to keep up with change.

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  39. many companies are scared to losing their best employees, they are reluctant to spend heavily on training and development only for staff to join their competitors to start up by themselves.

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    1. That concern by employers only helps to ensure that the best employees do leave.

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  40. Talent & Attitude – what a novel idea

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  41. Sadly most companies find it easier/faster to hire from outside the company for the particular skill set they need rather than retool them. There’s a reason why employees want those “management” roles. Those are the roles who do the hiring/firing of those with/without the necessary skill sets and have the job security.

    You’re right though that it will bite them. Good contractors who know what they are doing will charge you well for their services and companies will waste a lot of time and money on all the bad ones. Companies also have unrealistic expectations like “5 years experience in Android development” which isn’t possible since it has been out that long.

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  42. The problem is recuiters and those who enlist their services. Business seems to be unwilling give anyone a chance to get in the door any more. Recuiters place little or no value on the years of business experience that one may have obtained throughout a career or a Computer Science or Information Systems degree, unless of course the client requests it. It is simply do you have two to five years of technology X. If this trend continues, the only people that businesses are have available are those whose individuals and organizations who are willing to falsify their resumes.

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  43. Reblogged this on (LAS) ABDUN-NUR and commented:
    For third and second worlders; first world companies usually start at overseas interests with all scaling and structuring activities.

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  44. I am an early Cloud architect and consultant and often speak at Cloud events. I have warned people back in the 2008 that Cloud will create a major storm in the IT industry. Four years on and I still don’t see much evidence that organisations have realised what is happening. Many of the infrastructure and even software related jobs will simply go disappear. How many IT jobs has Amazon AWS alone made redundant? I would rather not know. Ok, it has created new opportunities that were not there in the first place, but the reality is, we are looking into the eye of a major storm. There are two options now – stick your head in the stand or become very active at all levels (senior management, HR, employees themselves) and work on tactical and strategic plans that will mitigate to some degree the impact of this major change.
    Phil, Exception, UK

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  45. Claudia Fulbright Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Personally, I’ve always felt the emphasis to readily conforn to certain ways of doing things and solving ptoblems within a comapny has stifled not only growth in individuals, but hurt the companies as well.
    That has led to many companies failure to act swiftly enough to trend changes, and thus fail to perform well in the market place.

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  46. Mark,
    At first I was inclined to disagree with you concerning the 15-30% churn over 8-10 years. I thought it would be closer to a 50% churn over a 5-year period — that is, until I realized my own bias in the field of Engineering. Some occupations *can* last a lifetime like Teaching — specifically in high school Math and Science. Yet too many of us have been starved out of that occupation. Your article needs to be taken seriously, and it will if decisionmakers and taxpayers compensate these math and science teachers for conveying deeper knowledge of their subjects. Currently, teaching to the test is meant to remedy *perceived* problems. The conventional practice is to line up the “bottom performing” teachers and schools in front of the firing squad. Instead, we need to identify teaching practices and relevant content that together produce better than expected outcomes considering the students’ own life situations. A number of techniques in Healthcare Outcomes Measurement can be borrowed and adapted to Educational Outcomes Measurement.
    –John Sloan from LinkedIn

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  47. Virginia Morris Thursday, November 1, 2012

    In the “olden” days, French literature majors were hired for IT positions on the grounds that they had demonstrated a capability for learning new things. The hiring company took the responsibility of training these new hires in the skills they needed for their positions, and both company and employees took responsibility for learning new skills. Seems to me that worked fairly well – and didn’t require changing the entire educational system – which is a horse of a different color!

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  48. That’s why liberal arts majors do so well in the work force – they learned how to learn in school…

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  49. After 20 years in IT I simply am sick to death of chasing the dragon, I am studying for science degree next year…..

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  50. This article will only make the roller coaster drop sooner

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  51. Matteo Biotti Friday, November 2, 2012

    It is difficult to disagree with such realistic article. To keep high one’s own employabity is one of the main challenges workers must face today. I work as an HRBP and every day I notice how difficult to learn this way of thinking is for elder workers. Training is the key for sure but also a great dosis of humbleness.

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  52. Anonymous Coward Friday, November 2, 2012

    There’s a simple solution to the problem: make Africa and China rich, so they can’t sell cheap labour anymore. Manufacturing jobs will return to the industrialized countries.

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  53. “Instead of whining about how hard it is to find another system admin job or a manufacturing line operator position, take responsibility for developing your career”

    Spoken like a true capitalist, slave driver. This is the world we have now created and seem willing to accept as the only way of living. Where people are in constant fear of losing their jobs, endlessly selling themselves to prospective employers. This is not progress; this is a lifetime of insidious enslavement, masquerading as self empowerment. Enough

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    1. Really John, I’m thinking that not only do you not understand the issue, but I know for a fact that you don’t know me. I have a 25+ year career in leadership positions with a long demonstrated history of helping to grow and elevate those around me.

      So sir, I’m afraid you couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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  54. Maturing capitalism + advancing technology = massive redundancies in the workforce.

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    1. There is some truth to your point. However, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I would argue that there is significantly more employment today than there was 150 years ago. Yet we’ve introduced combines, automated production lines, computing, mass transit, the Internet, etc., etc. So, Employment does come but the risk here is exacerbated by the increased speed of change.

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  55. Michael Watkins Saturday, November 3, 2012

    The problem is that the governments and educations systems in the western world are not fit for the 21st century. I live in the UK where we are governed by people who for the most part had a private education and have never worked in a real job. They are the people who are making decisions on how the young people of today should be educated. From having my own children, I can see it is woefully inadequate. Secondary education prepares children to pass exams but doesn’t prepare them for the outside world or give them the tools to survive in that world.

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  56. That would be fine if employers offered to pay for their technical people’s education needs and allowed employees to be paid while they learn. Nowadays companies expect people to learn on their own time to upgrade their career. Not only that, but they do practice age discrimination, making it hard for older people to find new jobs. My advice is to be sure to save your money, and work on building up some kind of pension funds. Companies are looking to hire the cheapest talent they can get, so don’t expect them to be loyal to you, their favorite line is “what have you done for me lately”

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  57. A common problem, is that often those in charge are the gregarious people whose main contribution is self promotion. They are more prepared to spend money delegating, showing off, looking after self, contracting out, absolving their own responsibility, etc than they are on staff training, coalface systems that aid the workers, behind the scenes maintenance, facilitating the work of others or future upgrade costs through depreciation.

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  58. Do you really think companies are going to pay for all this extra training ? Most companies won’t pay for training as it is (unless they are forced to)…..

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  59. For some IT jobs it is not just obsolescence like the proverbial buggy whip makers, but job offshoring aided by overly sweet free trade deals between the US gov’t and gov’ts of sources of virtual slave labor, like India and China. My job, mainframe system development, was such a job that was so offshored. THat is, beyond the dynamic of mere technology sunsetting, if our gov’t wd have been a bit more protectionist of its middle class citizen workers, there ‘d be more middle class jobs instead of walmart level jobs – more people north of the 47 pct and contributing to the US treasury than south of it , not only not contributing to the treasury, but actually sucking money out of it with unemployment , food stamps, section 8 , energy supplements, and welfare. that is, there was , and is, still a whole of work to be done even in the older technology that our gov’t let the cheap overseas labor get at. OUr gov’t was more interested in enriching the middle class of mumbai than the middle class of the USA.

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  60. Reblogged this on We Are Xtream IT and commented:
    Excellent article. Great read for folks involved in staffing or related servics.

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