Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 10: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 4

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 29, 2017

This is my 10th 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 1-9.)

I began addressing the issues of networking in a changing workplace and employment context in Part 9, and continue that narrative here. And with that context in place for this posting, I begin it by offering some specific, crucially important advice:

• When you are facing new and the uncertainty that that brings with it, effective professionally oriented networking can be one of your most powerful and useful tools.
• And the faster that change is advancing around you, that would impact on how and where you could productively find work, the more important it is that your networking reach be open to new possibilities – and open for who you would actively network with in finding them.

I restate and repeat this advice here because it is crucially important and for all of us, that we move past the restrictions of self-limited networking and that we be willing to actively move out of our perhaps comfort zone of only reaching out to the already known and familiar. You will not find the new and unexpected information or insight, or the job and career advancement next step guidance that you will need in addressing the new and the disruptively new, if you only converse with and share information with, and hear and learn from the smaller circle of those who you already know. You already probably know much if not most of what they could offer you, if you actually actively network with them anyway.

Let’s take this out of the abstract by considering a very real, specific emerging form of workplace and employability New. I wrote of automation in Part 9 as an increasingly important source of examples of this, for how workplace change is actively, rapidly reshaping and redefining what employment and even employability even mean. My quickly sketched discussion of that set of issues as offered in that posting, only addressed one minor aspect of an emerging change that will fundamentally reshape the workplace and employment forever. Think back historically to how the first industrial revolution reshaped both the working world and the meaning of employability. That progression of change and disruption included in it, a massive shift from agriculture as the major source of employment, as more and more mostly-young adult workers began to move to more urban settings and to new jobs and types of them in manufacturing. And small hand crafted shops that had constituted the basic manufacturing base already in place, gave way at an even faster rate than that, as mass production and the demand for new types of mass produced products, and for new types of employees to make them took hold.

More recently and starting in the late 20th century in countries such as the United States, manufacturing as a major source of employment and the manufacturing economy, gave way to the service economy (as briefly noted in Part 9) and now all of this is being fundamentally redefined yet again by automation and the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotization into the workplace. And this seismic shift in employment and employability might very well prove to be the largest and most far-reaching of these three.

Old and comfortingly familiar might offer real and even sustaining value in a stable and fixed context, or even when change is taking place but only in a slow and steady evolutionary manner. Disruptive change and very rapid ongoing change demand a different approach – a new and more open one for acknowledging what is happening and how best to meet its demands.

And with this said, I turn to consider the second basic issue that I said I would address here, at the end of Part 9: the advent of the non-compete agreement as a basic requirement for employment, as this is being used to skew the balance of power in the employee-employer relationship, starting with pre-hire negotiations and proceeding on from there.

I begin this line of discussion with some historical background notes, that I offer in order to put this topic in its current manifestation into wider perspective. Employees, and certainly hands-on non-managerial ones, and employers have always faced both points of agreement and alignment, and friction points of disagreement with at least potentially conflicting goals and perspectives driving them. This probably goes back as far in history as the first hiring of non-family employees does, if not farther. Ultimately, a business’ leadership and certainly its owners tend to think in terms of what would most benefit their business as a value creating organization, and themselves through it. And that business’ employees think more in terms of their own needs and interests and meeting them. That employee-oriented perspective definitely applies when employees hold no stake in the businesses that they work for and see themselves as receiving their salaries and whatever other specific benefits that were explicitly agreed to but nothing else – leaving them with no reason for their thinking of their workplace in any sense as being “their business” too.

I have written in this blog, of the benefits of everyone at a business coming to take a proprietary approach to where they work and a sense of this being their business too, and with everyone there acting accordingly. That can be accomplished as a matter of corporate culture and certainly when employees at all levels are rewarded for taking a stretch goals, beneficial to the company approach to their workplace. And that approach can tremendously add to the overall strength and resiliency of a business, when openly and widely encouraged and rewarded, as it can help that business to capture the fuller range of value creating potential that its employees could bring to the table there. But that sense of widely held ownership has to be explicitly worked toward, for it to be achieved and most workplaces and their owners do not seek to realize this as a practical possibility. (See for example: Accepting and Living an Ownership Approach to Jobs and Careers and More – a key to enabling a fuller life.) It is commoner, even if less functional and certainly long-term and in the face of change and challenge, for the employee-employer relationship to be more confrontational, and as an unstated but known possibility if not as an immediately acted-out here and now reality.

That is why so many people in so many industries and so many types of work positions have organized together through unions over the years. And it is why businesses that have seen their employees unionize, have historically and in so many ways pushed back against this strength in numbers approach, as employees seek a larger and more powerful voice in workplace and compensation negotiations. But unions and I add a wide range of other more traditional pressure points that could be cited here, only address part of this story, and that part from the employee-enabling side. And this brings me directly to the non-compete clause, usually added into the standard terms of employment agreement that new hires are required to sign as part of their being hired there at all.

Originally and as generally conceived and implemented until recently, businesses only required select employees to enter into non-compete agreements as part of their terms of employment, and this was used for basically just one reason: protection from loss of control and ownership of proprietary information and techniques, and of specialized in-house proprietary skills. And these agreements were generally fairly focused in what they restricted and both for specific next types of work for employees who move on, and for the geographic reach of such agreements, as well as for how long they would remain in force before expiring.

Then more and more businesses began deploying much more widely inclusive and much more widely restrictive non-compete agreements, in order to limit their employees in their ability to leave for better job and career opportunities. And their intention in this was very clear. It was to retain the people that they wanted to keep on staff by limiting or even entirely blocking their being able to move on, and certainly in the same type of work that they have been performing. And at the same time these contractually binding agreements have been used to limit the competitive pressures of the employment marketplace, as the possibilities to find better jobs elsewhere at higher pay have became more and more limited from them. And this meant their being able to retain those employees and at lower overall salary and compensation costs than they would have to face and accept, absent these new job change barriers.

The first antimonopoly law of any real stature to pass into law in the United States was the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Ironically the first real uses of this law were not to reign in monopolistic business practices; this law was primarily used at least at first to challenge and break unions and employee organization through them. And the key phrase from this law that was applied there, and that was subsequently used in enforcing antimonopoly restrictions against large corporations too, was “… in restraint of trade.” I cite this law and this key phrase from it here because the widespread use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, and their punitive open ended enforcement, arguably constitute the exact type of restraint of trade – here the opportunity for employees to enter into it and of their own free will, as envisioned to be problematical there.

I take this out of the abstract and by way of some specific relevant news story links that date from June 2014 through May 2017:

Noncompete Clauses Increasingly Pop Up in Array of Jobs.
When the Guy Making Your Sandwich Has a Noncompete Clause.
To Compete Better, States Are Trying to Curb Noncompete Pacts.
Companies Compete but Won’t Let Their Workers Do the Same.

The second of these articles and its discussion of how even minimally trained minimum wage workers can become caught up in non-compete agreements now, highlights the ridiculous extremes that at least some businesses are pursuing through use of these employability limiting contract clauses. And the third makes note of how this business practice is now coming under fire at least at the state level in the United States, where its use has become particularly rampant.

And as a final thought for this posting, and bringing its two halves together, right now a significant percentage of the overall workforce in countries like the United States, are being caught between disruptive forces such as workplace automation that limit the types of jobs that will be available, and rampant use of non-compete agreements that serve to limit ability and opportunity to advance in their careers and remain competitive in the workforce.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least briefly consider the issues of legal challenge to the open ended use of non-compete agreements. But more importantly, I will discuss this as a new source of disruptive change in a career development context, and how networking and other approaches that hold value in addressing disruptive change, can hold value here too – and before any court or legislative action limits the use or reach of these restrictions. And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.

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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