Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Anxious with Reason Panel at New America Foundation

This was a most interesting panel discussion featuring Carl Van Horn and Cliff Zukin from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. David Kusnet, author of Love the Work, Hate the Job, also contributed to the discussion. Kusnet's book looks at events in 2000 at four Seattle workplaces. Tech industry is well represented in the book with Boeing and Microsoft.

The conflict at Boeing was between technical people and financial people. Technical people were focused more on quality, financial people more on control. After the conflict company headquarters was shifted from Seattle, where the company is located, to Chicago. I will say this does not appear to be a good move. It isolates top management from the people who do the work and lessens communication between the groups.

Kusnet reported that workers liked the work they were doing, but hated the job. He described a breakdown of the old social contract where loyalty was rewarded with security and commitment to work in return for respect.

Zukin and Van Horn discussed research performed at Rutgers about The Anxious American Worker: New Work Trends Survey of U.S. Workers Reveals Deep-Seated Concern About their Futures.

Some of the things that Zukin stressed included:

  • On the job training is valued most.
  • Americans think they need more training for their jobs.
  • There is lots of dissatisfaction with employment and levels of training.
Van Horn made a number of points as well:

  • Unemployment is getting longer and longer.
  • To create a competitive economy we need competitive workers. I will note that this means not workers who will spend lots of time at work, but people who are actually good at what they are doing.
  • Education and training are misdirected.
  • College is not for everybody. I think this needs to be stressed today. Van Horn noted that vocational training is of considerable value.
  • We need more focus on employer based training.
  • More accountability is needed regarding the educational establishment. I will note that all too often ideas are rolled out and then not checked. Failure is too often blamed on students and parents, not schools or educational doctrine. That might be changing.
Van Horn noted that large company CEOs don't think they have a workforce problem. HR does. Small and medium sized companies see the problems up close.

I will note that we need to see greater connections between those at the top of hierarchies and people at the bottom. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board report on that disaster noted that people further up the hierarchy did not listen to people lower down. This is a classic reason why highly authoritarian organizations fail.

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