Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 9: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 17, 2017

This is my 9th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-8.)

I focused on a range of interrelated issues in Part 8 that directly relate to career planning and its execution. I said at the end of that installment that I would continue from where I left off there, by addressing two related topics here:

• Networking with a real career development focus, and
• Job transition challenges, where I will specifically focus on an increasingly common and troubling one: non-compete agreements as they are increasingly becoming common hiring requirements and by more and more types of employers and for more and more types and levels of jobs and work positions. I note here in anticipation of this line of discussion to come that while these impediments to next step employment were once essentially entirely limited to protecting a current employer’s proprietary knowledge and methods, they are becoming commonplace and even for low level jobs that do not require or involve special or proprietary skills of any sort, or access to special or proprietary information of any type either.

And I will at least begin addressing these points here, but before I do so I want to more fully address the career planning and execution challenges that workplace automation creates. And I begin by citing a piece of essentially axiomatically presumed “truth” that very quickly went from presumed trenchant observation, to trite catch phrase, to simply assumed and unspoken, and over the course of just a few years: “developed world countries such as the United States no longer operate in a manufacturing-driven economy; the real economic drivers in countries such as the United States now, are service-oriented and we now live and increasingly so in a service-based economy.”

That sounds very nice, and it is true that a great deal of mass production has moved to countries with lower payroll and related costs and certainly for industries such as clothing manufacture, with a relative increase in the proportion of service-oriented jobs arising from this shift. But let’s consider this in the light of our own individual experience. Do you ever call businesses for customer support? If so, and many if not most of us do this at least occasionally, when was the last time that your call was initially answered by a human operator and not by an automated response system?

Call centers and the customer support and related activity that they handle, represent quintessential support service activities. But it has become all but universal that call center and related support have become highly automated. How can that happen? I have in fact already answered that question in earlier postings to this blog, in the context of writing about Information Technology help desks, as for example are provided by businesses for employee support.

In most businesses, some 90% of all IT help request calls received are encompassed in a top ten list of recurring problems. And most of these help request problems tend to be amenable to standardized resolutions. “I forgot my password to — X–” for example, essentially always leads to some variation on “here is what you have to do to reset your password.” This is a context where the Pareto’s principle fully applies and usually in a stronger form than the more traditional 80:20 proportions that this empirically grounded rule of thumb would suggest. And given the way that the vast majority of all requests fit a single recurringly relevant list and the way that resolving them essentially always means following some single remediative process, it should not be surprising that the first thing most callers hear when reaching out to these call centers, is automated. And they generally never actually find themselves talking with an actual living person unless their call is one of those rarer “none of the aboves” that do not fit on the 80% or even 90% or higher, standardized list.

The principles underlying that apply in general for essentially all customer support help line systems. And an increasing number of businesses have sought to increase their range of issues and questions that can be resolved through automated processes, reducing their number of “none of the aboves” to as near zero as possible. And an increasing number of such businesses are entirely eliminating any opportunity to speak with a person through these systems – ever.

Automation does not always make related human employment disappear. Automated teller machines (ATMs) have not for example, made the position of bank teller a job and career possibility of the past. It is just that tellers spend less of their time handling routine bank deposits and withdrawals now, and less time helping customers check account balances or making account to account transfers. But automation has very significantly cut down on the number of people employed in help desk and customer support systems – and with the positions remaining requiring more and more skills and experience and very different ones than were traditionally required.

The service sector as a whole is facing tremendous change from automation, and in exactly the same way that manufacturing is, and not just in answering questions and offering consumer and end-user support services. Retail stores, for example, and certainly larger ones such as supermarkets are increasingly offering self service sales checkout machines for making purchases and offering payments. Human employment, and jobs and careers will not disappear in these sectors but they will change and a wide swath of types of work in them will give way to automation and disappear. The jobs that remain, and that open up and become possible from this transition will require more and different training and experience, and with that including an ability to work effectively in a mixed, human employee and automation setting.

With that noted, I at least begin to address the issue of networking with a more effective career development focus. And with the challenges of automation and of outsourcing, and of ongoing change per se in mind, and in ways that can and will impact upon all of us, I offer an assertion that should be fairly obvious even if it does violate how many of see social networking: business and professionally oriented online social networking included.

• Closed and intentionally limited-reach networking is an open invitation to be run over by change and the unexpected.
• And we are living in and still just beginning to enter into a period of profound change and uncertainty and certainly in any realistic jobs and careers context, and for all of us.

I offered a basic taxonomy of online social networking approaches and strategies in this blog, not that long after I began writing to it at all with Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy. And I recently picked up on that topic area again in two newer postings: Topologically (Contrived Opportunistically) Connected Social Networks: rethinking a basic paradigm and its Part 2 continuation. And I offer a basic assessment that I had already arrived at in 2009 when writing and posting the first of these three postings, that I refrained from expressing then, and certainly with any forcefulness:

• People who network for work opportunities, as for example in job searches when currently unemployed, and who network with a goal of advancing their careers, but who do so with real a priori restrictions in who they would network with, do so with at least one hand tied behind their back.
• You cannot effectively network for new job or career opportunities if you only seek to connect with and communicate with the familiar and with those who are already your close acquaintances.
• Change in general and disruptively novel unpredictable change in particular, call for open networking and a willingness to step outside of your usual circle to learn and to join in wider reaching conversations, where you can make genuinely new acquaintances.
• And we are definitely living at a time of ongoing change and of disruptively novel, unpredictable change, and even when we see something of the change that is coming and have named it (e.g. automation and the advancement of artificial intelligence-driven systems in the workplace.)

If manufacturing and service sector jobs and career paths are being reshaped by this, so are every other areas of work and employment, with some all but disappearing, some in effect emerging as workplace possibilities and all fundamentally changing. You have to network actively and openly and with a wide reach and an open mind if you are to keep up with all of this.

I am certain to have more to add to this in a next series installment, but will end this posting and its discussion here. And after adding to my discussion of business networking in that next installment, I will turn to consider the employment and career barrier of non-compete agreements as noted at the top if this posting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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