Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Offering a unique value proposition as an employee 31: accommodating and thriving in change 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on November 2, 2013

This is my thirty first posting to a series on offering defining value as an employee, and on presenting yourself as the answer to problems faced while doing so (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 311-340 for Parts 1-30.) And also see two closely related supplemental postings that I have added to this Guide:

Some Thoughts on the Emerging Workplace and Employability Great Restructuring 1 and
Its Part 2 continuation

as they discuss fundamental changes taking place in the workplace and to employability per se that will directly impact upon all of us as we seek to develop our careers and professional lives.

My goal for Part 30 of this series and for this installment is to at least begin a discussion of how the fundamental changes that I discuss on those supplemental postings will affect us and both individually and societally, and how we can adapt to them as we pursue our work and career plans.

I wrote in Part 29 of this series and also in Part 30, of the need for professionals to develop and use new career-level planning tools. And I said at the end of Part 30 that I will delve into that and into creating such tools here. I am going to focus primarily on that in this posting but before I do and to bring this rapidly emerging Great Restructuring into clearer focus as a context that these tools would be used in, I want to offer an update and even a correction to a point that I made in Part 30.

I stated there that the Great Restructuring will have much of its early effects in the more technologically advanced countries where automated systems could be more cost-effectively developed. But that is not entirely true. In principle, even a fully automated factory could be built and run anywhere, and in principle that might be more cost-effective in an otherwise less developed economy and certainly if taxes and other operating expenses could be reduced for building there. Hands-on technical support for maintaining these automated systems will, however, still be required and additional logistical and other cost-creating factors would, at least as of this writing still make it more cost-effective in most cases to locate these facilities in more technologically developed countries and even if average per-employee personnel costs are higher there. Head count for this would be very low. So as far as facility location is concerned, automated systems that I have been writing about in a Great Restructuring context will at least for now be largely a developed country phenomenon for where they are located and run. But they will still directly impact upon less developed countries, and with this I cite what will all but certainly become an emerging shift from outsourcing to automation, beginning with industries such as textile and clothing manufacturing that already show a developing automation track record.

The textile and clothing manufacturing that was once a province of the United States, largely moved out of this country as razor thin profit margins and intense competitive pressures made outsourcing to countries with lower labor costs more and more attractive, and then more and more necessary. And this led to a race to the bottom as far as labor costs are concerned with a very large percentage of clothing worn in markets such as the United States and Europe actually made in countries like Bangladesh where its average factory worker is paid as little as $39 per month in salary plus benefits (and with essentially no benefits – no health insurance protection for example.) But now, some of this business is coming back to the United States again, and both for direct cost containment reasons and for risk management reasons too, and particularly since the Rana Plaza factory collapse, killing over 1,100 workers in April, 2013. As a risk management consideration, it is too expensive to outsource production to a site where workplace safety is so lax.

Textile and clothing manufacturing are starting to come back to the United States and will move back to at least a significant degree to the more technologically developed countries in general but not as work for human employees. This work is coming back to automated factories. So automation per se might be primarily taking place, at least for now in the more developed world, but this will, as a matter of Great Restructuring change directly impact on both the most and the least developed areas of this world first.

That noted, I turn to the issues of career-level tools, as they would be added to the jobs-level toolset that I have been discussing throughout my Jobs and Careers Guide, and particularly in series such as Finding Your Best Practices Plan B When Your Job Search isn’t Working (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 56 and following.) And I focus here on jobs and career development in countries where automation is directly supplanting human employment.

• First and foremost, it is important to know what you do that could be automated away. That means thinking through what you do as the bulk of your work effort and how it might be contained as a work process in algorithm form. If you had to describe in workable detail what you do, step by step, what parts of your job or your job skills area could you so describe and in such a way that someone else could do this same work and entirely from your directions and without any further instructional guidance?
• Now what do you do that cannot readily be encapsulated in a single set of directions of this sort: where decision making judgment is needed that cannot be readily represented in a fixed “if this condition take this action, if that condition take that action” automatable process?
• Ultimately, job security in an age of growing automation is going to require shifting what you do and what you can market yourself professionally for being able to do, into skills areas that cannot readily be automated.
• Career level tools that would address this will need to help you identify emerging career vulnerabilities that you face where you could be automated out of work.
• They will have to include tools for helping you to more effectively transition into more long-term secure work areas to help you reduce this risk, and this might very well mean shifting into skills areas that are opened up by automation and in support of systems that do the types of work that you have been doing.
• And these new tools will be required for helping you to shift into more secure work areas if you do find yourself out of work from this where this might mean making significant career path adjustments or moving into an entirely new career.

We are still just facing the start of this Great Restructuring, and many and even most people still see what I write of here as a more abstract and distant possibility, at least as far as any direct impact on their own lives would be concerned. Long-term, where I would cite the next one or two decades as a timeframe for that, this perception will change and for more and more of us. Automation and its attendant changes will become a more direct and personal source of concern too, with human work shifting away from and out of many traditional employment areas – even as new types of work do open up and become available.

As a final thought, this basic type of shift has happened before. And I find myself thinking of a particular historical example as I write this. I live near an urban park that was built not long after the American Civil War. This park was built in significant part by veterans of that war, hired as part of a program for helping them transition back into civilian life and civilian employment. And this park has a small artificial lake in it that was dug out and constructed by thousands of men with hand shovels and wheelbarrows. Steam powered and later, newer technology earthmoving equipment have long since made that form of labor both obsolete and impractical and eliminated this type of brute force manual labor as a significant employment option. The Great Restructuring of today and a rapidly approaching tomorrow is in many respects simply repeating a process, this time for task processing, that that earlier rounds of technology development revolution brought us for heavy physical labor.

Precision labor remained and continues to remain in human hands, while labor simply requiring strength and willingness to do simple repetitive tasks was automated away. A similar pattern will follow here, and with new types of jobs emerging to replace what is lost. But this transition, like those earlier ones will not be smooth or easy for people caught up in its change. Best career practices will serve to reduce the risk of being so caught up in automation and will help people to transition back into the workforce and in new types of work if that becomes needed.

I am going to conclude this series at least for now with this point. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and at its first Guide directory page.


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