Friday, February 17, 2017

On the Job: Three Months of Choosing Good Ones, Getting Them, Hating Them, and Containing Them

Whatever your work status, something has come out recently for you to think about.

In Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal’s November 2016 Dave Gardner interview of Maurice Flurie, “CEO:  The trades are booming,” Flurie, who runs “state-wide cyberschool” Commonwealth Charter Academy, described a disconnect between the jobs for which public schools are preparing their students and actual marketplace needs.  He did not fall into the tired and incorrect view that employers deserve no blame for their unfilled below-market-rate-paying openings, but instead focused on teaching pre-high-school students entire careers, not only considering differing aptitudes but fully recognizing the value of skilled trades.  I have advocated those in construction, as demand for them will stay high in general, and see as the only concerns what can be up-and-down hiring and confusion with manufacturing positions having much poorer long-term prospects.

Also on career selection, The Economist, which has disappointed me recently in employment-related matters, did much better in their The World in 2017 special issue.  In “Apply within,” author Tom Standage only wrote up our Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted jobs rate through 2024, but those projections showed more depth than those made before.  The top position, expected to provide twice as many opportunities as now, was wind turbine service technician, far ahead of second-place occupational therapy assistant.  After that, not until eighth place does one with which I disagree, statistician, appear.  The others follow my principles in 2013’s Choosing a Lasting Career remarkably closely:  giving best prospects to healthcare-related professionals other than physicians; a great emphasis on jobs that must be done locally and in person; a #10 rating for the position I named first overall, physician assistant; and avoiding currently good but dangerously vulnerable occupations such as pharmacist and computer programmer.  Kudos to the BLS for their pronouncement and to Standage and The Economist for educating us about it.

On December 16th, a Washington Post Jeffrey J. Selingo opinion piece asked “Why are so many students failing to find good jobs after college?”  I could almost completely dispose of it by answering “because the permanent jobs crisis means there are too many workers chasing too few jobs,” but the article brings up a few items worthy of other note.  I was surprised that as recently as 2005 the top motivation for incoming UCLA students was to “learn about things that interest me” – I had thought that the vocationalists, who seemed to win that war in the late 1970s, were still in the majority at least nationally.  According to other studies Selingo uncovered, fewer than 20% of students graduating 2010 or later found their university career centers helpful, rather stunning given such low official unemployment.  Selingo called on colleges to make use of federal 75% work-study subsidies by offering positions with skills more advanced than those typical for student-employee positions; whatever the solution, it is depressing to think how poorly university vocational help would be doing if we had another recession.

Just after Thanksgiving, Forbes career columnist Liz Ryan offered two lists for jobseekers and jobholders.  The second, “Ten Job-Search Habits to Break” (December 5), described how to stick to what she described as “the new-millennium approach using Pain Letters,” in which the applicant acts as a consultant, seeking out information on what the employer needs to improve, to show they can contribute effectively.  The behaviors Ryan recommends ending are using standard cover-letter language, describing career backgrounds instead of problem-solving examples, writing the likes of “results-oriented professional” or “motivated self-starter,” being obsequious in general, only waiting to answer questions in the interview, walking through an already submitted resume, and naming related experience, mentioning compensation levels, asking for approval, or trying to impress hiring managers.  All revolutionary but often justified, especially for people suspecting they may not have a real chance to be hired without it.

Ryan’s previous list, “The Top Ten Reasons People Hate Their Jobs” (November 29), put incentive for good work performances on employers’ shoulders, saying “motivation is a feature of the environment, not the people who work in it.”  Her in-effect checklist named the following as indications that organizational management may be falling short here:  employees “not respected as people at work”; people lacking both the correct tools for their jobs and ability to get them; apathy about personal lives; a supervisor unqualified or “a tyrant”; too many lies; no confidence in leadership; too much politics; being “underpaid and overworked”; inability to get their projects moving forward; and an atmosphere where employees “could get in trouble – or get fired – for almost any reason.”  Some are old and vague, but are indeed worthy of avoiding. 

That brings us to January 17th’s “Why America Needs the French Email Law,” written by Katie Denis in Pulse.  The title referred to the January 1st requirement in France that companies with at least 50 workers must name hours during which their employees cannot send (or answer) email messages.  We’re a long way from agreeing on some of the points Denis made, such as that “skipping vacation time doesn’t make you more valuable” or that we need to “appreciate power of downtime” – perception means a great deal, and innumerable corporate managers cannot tell the difference between work quality and quantity – but I agree that even if such a law were enacted in the United States, which it should not, it is positive that a major advanced country has actually done that.  There is not enough pressure on American employers to let their workers manage their own lives, and this law, applicable to them or not, will provide some.  It, along with the other five subjects here, was well worth publicizing.

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