Hatchet man to the over-employed

Aging has its challenges.  The physical ones we’ve all heard about are well documented.  And though not all conquered, they are at least, by-and-large understood.

There’s a tragedy I’ve had a front row seat to recently.  I’ve written about it some and it’s also fairly well known.  Well .. I guess I’d say it’s well known from a distance.  By that I mean that the emotional and tactical movements associated with it are not easily discerned.  We see numbers.  We hear about trends.  But I deal with people.

It has to do with the obsolescence of job- and life-skills.  I’ll say it in personal terms, as I process the new stuff:

While I know I work in a technical area where things move fast, I also know that if I sit on the bleeding edge of the latest technical development, I will 1) bleed and 2)  wastefully invest about 60-75% of my energy in things that never “pan out” in the marketplace, and thus, the work place.

But, if I go to the other extreme and ignore all new developments, I will miss the 25-40% of those which will radically change the job I do and will do.

There is also a raw skill gap.  I don’t necessarily have the ability to lean, adapt and acquire.  It’s often a question about how much time and energy I can and will give to learning.  I may sink into the false conclusion that I cannot learn.  I’m thankful to not ever live in that state very long.

Every field has developments.  As I’ve written before, if you drive nails, you likely have a pneumatic nail gun at this writing.  If not, you better be doing finish carpentry or something specialized, because you are outgunned.

I’m writing again about some people I know some people who never picked up a nail gun.  They never thought it necessary, or couldn’t or just won’t.  The details about why it hasn’t happened and isn’t happening really don’t matter.

It hasn’t.  They are now over-employed; paid too much for the work they do and are without a strategy to get to a better place.  And as far as their work is concerned, they are spectators and commentators.

And they’re angry with the reluctant hatchet man whose job it is to report on their unproductive and inefficient work.  No one likes that job, but as they say, someone has to do it.

It’s that person’s job to fundamentally change their work world and … They. do. not. like. it.

It’s a scripted drama really, and there will eventually be some third party intervention.

Now there are those who’ve decided to learn and acquire.  They are a joy to watch.

Thing is, I love these people.  All of them.  It’s devastating to watch and I’m glad it is.  Woe to me if it wasn’t.

And it won’t last forever like this; it’s not sustainable.

So I’d offer advice to any generation to comet because a chunk of my generation either never had it or never heeded it:

Never stop acquiring life skills.

Never get comfortable with what you think is important to know or to do.

If you even think you see a dead-end ahead, take the steps, side-steps, back-steps, over-steps, whatever .. to avoid it.  Because a real dead-end is hard.

Proverbs 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

I’ve read that many times and I know that skill is not static.  It is the result of an ongoing pursuit of one’s craft as it applies to the world, which changes all the time.  If that’s hard to hear, I will say what I say to myself – get over it, and get used to it.

Tuesday – strength on a weak day

I know, today it’s Wednesday.  Which means yesterday it was … Tuesday!  There probably was a time when I rejoiced at the knowledge of the weekdays – their names, which one followed the other, etc.

But they didn’t teach us much about weak days – those on which the weight of life would fall.  Or how devastating a long sequence of days like that would be.  I think they didn’t want to depress a bunch of first graders (or was it Kindergarten, I completely forget).

Yesterday was a cold, cloudy November day around here.  I think my friend Judy, who has amazing perspective and enduring joy ( and that, not of her own devise) would call it a “blurky” day.  I like “blurky”.  It really should be in the dictionary even if Judy is directly attributed in its etymology

Blurky – adj. from Judy \bler-key

:  overcast and depressing

:  gross and disgusting

But I had a pretty cool idea for a song on the way to work – I get those from time to time.  It’s one of the reasons I want a portable recorder for Christmas, so I can retain those ideas.  But I did retain this one, and managed to put down some basic tracks on my Cubase software last night.

The song idea was a biographical sketch of a suffering woman.  She had cancer.  It was Tuesday, and cloudy.  The beautiful thing was that her perspective was so transforming that the clouds turned into a warming blanket and her fatigue from the previous day’s chemo was comforting sleep.  She was fighting this thing with grace and with faith that goes deeper than the lesions that have invaded her body.

The song has a slow, jazzy style, starting with a major 9th chord, one of my favorite tonalities because of the delicious overtones.  And it’s doleful to start.  But joyful to end.  Kind of like a psalm.

I’ve been reading a lot of books about doing one’s art, following through and escaping the life owned by industry.  Seth Godin’s Icarus Deception is a really good book like that.  And I’m fighting to do that because I’ve been taught and encouraged and bludgeoned into burying my art.  Not to blame anyone else, but no one has this all going on quite like me.  But we can all say that and it’s no excuse.  Point well taken, Seth.  So .. in a way, the Tuesday song is for me, glaring into a blurky day with eyes that see over the clouds to what can be, WILL be, if I only persist and believe.

Hiding dysfunction; protecting the lie

I know someone who recently made a foray into an organization that is doomed.  When we spoke, it was clear that he meant the people,  There is a real and present danger to their gainful employment in their present jobs.  Several have already been laid off and it’s likely there are more to follow.

They had been hired to do a set of tasks that morphed into another and now they are morphing into another.  Many, many haven’t even made the first morph.  And they’re hiding it.

Now, progress has always forced the acquisition of new job skills.  The Industrial Revolution automated people right out of their manufacturing jobs – or into new ones if they could make the leap.

Not all could.

In this day of outsourcing and off-shoring, it has become increasingly more stressful to “look good” to management.  Like the Luddites of old, people will say and do all manner of manipulating, lying and nay-saying to preserve a world and a job that is passing away whether they like it or not.

As we have spoken, I have been convinced my friend has solid empathy for the people caught in the transition.  But, on the other hand, we are all caught in the transition and we need to figure out what to do and do it.  It’s heart-wrenching but it has to be done.

When I speak in church, I talk about progress in terms of the construction business because everyone (except me!) understands it and the analogies I try to bring.  If a construction company showed up outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country with only hand tools to frame a set of walls in 2013, that company should probably be sent packing.  Hydraulic hammers are twenty times more efficient to put nails into wood.  And they look like fun to use.

But imagine a new hydraulic hammer design that required its user to know algebra.  Those who had math skills could now be 500 times more productive than those using the old hydraulic hammers.  The implications of this development are profound:

  • Most framing carpenters would lose their jobs.
  • The algebra-mastering craftspeople would demand much higher wages, which employers could and would pay.
  • Builders would pocket more cash because their costs would decrease

Now, we can say that the profits of the builders and the new higher living conditions of the mathematician/carpenters were made at the expense of those laid off, but that implies defying progress and it makes us Luddites.

So what do we do?  My friend is asking the same question.  And the best he can come up with is what we don’t do.  We don’t

  • pretend progress hasn’t been made that obsolesces people’s job skills
  • run roughshod over people’s lives
  • protect the lie that things are working well for them in the new, more productive jobs
  • ignore the need to make a best effort to retrain people, knowing that some won’t make the leap
  • hide the fact that more layoffs will be coming.

So it’s rough and unpleasant for my friend.  He’s catching a lot of wrongly-directed ire; it’s a good thing we talk.