Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Time for a Career Change

I take the Ashland bus to work everyday. On my way to work, I notice people performing various jobs. In years past, I wouldn't have given a second thought to a guy selling newspapers or someone washing car windows. However, as a Human Resources professional, I am on the front lines of the skills deficit that has the potential to lower America's economic standing in this Brave New World of global markets.

Rather than being yet another talking head, writing a eulogy for the death of American exceptionalism, I''d like to talk about how we can give some of the low-skill jobs that I see everyday a 21st Century makeover.

Newspaper Salesman

In the age before there was wide use of radio, television, and before the Internet was invented, newspaper salesmen were an integral part of the communication infrastructure of our burgeoning nation.

Now, with newspaper sells in a free fall, the move towards online content, and the prevalence of news from alternative sources such as Twitter, seeing a newspaper salesman in like watching a walking, talking, dead end career

Alternative Career: I envision a day when newspaper salesmen will be at kiosks on street corners and in airports. There will be little to no paper. There will be nothing but newspaper and magazine covers, with bar codes. Patrons pay scan the bar code of the newspaper or magazine that they want to read, the cashier is paid electronically, and the patron walks away with their reading materials.

Car Window Cleaner

We've all been in traffic when "that guy" rolls up on our car with his bucket, window cleaner, and rag. Before you can hit the gas and get out of this situation, the guy has sprayed your windshield, wiped all of the dead bugs off, and comes around to the driver side for payment. You throw him a couple of bucks and zoom away.

How a person gets into a situation where they are washing windshields in the middle of the street is a topic for another post. With drive-in and do-it-yourself car washes, as well as the ever present window cleaner at most gas stations, the random street window washer is not a sustainable career in the 21st Century.

Career Alternative: On demand car washing. Americans are sooooooooo busy these days, that we can't be expected to wash our own car, let alone drive somewhere just to have someone do it for us. Let's meet in the middle. How about a business model where you download an app, schedule a car wash and cleaning at your residence by a trusted "Car Beautician", all pre-paid. The only thing you have to do is leave your car outside and have a reliable source of water. All the car washer has to do is show up and collect his or her money.

Grocery Store Clerk

Ah, yes, the Grocery Store Clerk. That friendly, smiling face that manages to miss the bar code on your loaf of bread, so they squeeze the whole loaf so that the bar code "emerges".

The grocery store market is already one with low margins, high overhead, and fickle customers with an ever increasing array of products to separate customers from their dollars.

To increase these margins, and to improve the customer desire for a fast, accurate experience, grocery store chains are going to self-service kiosks, where customers scan, bag, and pay for their own groceries. In the much the same way that ATM machines are making bank tellers extinct, self-service kiosks will eventually make grocery store clerks a thing of the past (remember when you didn't have to pump your own gas?).

Career Alternative: Personal grocery shoppers. Yeah, I know, services like Peapod and Amazon's new grocery delivery service are already in the market. Not so fast! You tell Peapod and Amazon specifically what groceries you want. What about a person that knows your diet and your tastes, and does your grocery shopping based on these preferences. They do the shopping, drive the groceries to your residence, and load them in your refrigerator.

Whether it's the guy by the Dunkin Donuts that knows that you always get a iced coffee and you always pay with cash, or the guy at the bus stop, with a 40 oz. beer in one hand, and a cup full of $1 bills in the other, we've all had the experience of making the acquaintance of a random person using empathy to separate us from our hard earned dollars.
From the perspective of the panhandler, it's an unenviable place to be in when you depend on the kindness of others for your survival. With unemployment at an all time high, empathy on the decline, and fresh new crop of homeless veterans set to return home from America's latest ventures in nation building, the average person will encounter more and more people in need of assistance. This will be unsustainable, for the individuals that depend on our charity as well as for the future prosperity of our nation.
Career Alternative: Crowd Source Funding
I know, you're like, "DeAngelo has officially lost touch with reality." Have I? Look at how many people walk past the StreetWise guy or the homeless woman on the street, but they are more than willing to give massive sums of money to a random family in a Third World country, to build irrigation wells or mosquito nets to prevent malaria.
I think that a savvy homeless person could use the power of the Internet to raise significant sums of money around a cause, such as training and education for returning vets, clean needles for intravenous drug users, or blankets and warm clothes for the homeless during the winter months. Take 10% off the top to cover your "overhead", and now you've got a career that helps those in similar circumstances to yours.
As you can tell by now, the vast majority of this post was written tongue in cheek. The people that I described above annoy me just like they annoy anyone else. However, they are human and they weren't born into that situation.
As a society, both domestically and globally, we have to begin to find creative ways to meet our most vulnerable citizens where they are, gauge their skills and talents, and transform those skills and talents into careers that can move the poor and unemployed into gainful employment, and move the working poor into jobs where they don't have to choose between health care and food.
In my opinion, bureaucratic job programs are a part of the solution, as long as these programs foster independence and self-sustainability in the people who benefit from the program. Many of the people that I mentioned above already have business acumen, all be it in a non-traditional sense. Let's cultivate this latent business acumen and bring these folks put of the shadows of our society.
If we can successfully do this as a nation, America will continue to be a dominant economic and military power on the globe while nations such as India, Russia, and China continue to carry the yolk of a society where all people are not allowed to pull their own weight, and the benefits and responsibilities that come along with this freedom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Interview with an Aspiring Human Resources Professional

Below is the transcript of an interview that I did with Elizabeth De La Torre, a Human Resources student at Roosevelt University. In the interview, Elizabeth and I discuss the traits that a student looking to go into Human Resources management should have, what their expectations should be, and how Human Resources professionals can leverage their skills to become leaders in their organizations.

EDLT: How did you get to your current position?  What was your career path?

DBJ: I got my current position after being an HR Representative at United Way of Metro Chicago for 2 years. I majored in Organizational Psychology as an undergrad as well as a grad student, so a career in HR is on my career path.

EDLT: What skills or knowledges did you find most helpful when getting started in the HR/HRD field.  What academic courses did you find most useful in preparing you for a career in HR/HRD?

DBJ: As a professional in HR in the 21st century, it’s important to have good analytical skills and be able to effectively use programs, such as Excel and SPSS, to provide leaders with meaningful HR metrics. It is also helpful to have good customer service skills. HR is a people industry, so you have to be able to talk to different people across an organization. Think of the times that you have received bad customer service. Did it make you want to go back to that company or recommend it to a friend?

The courses that I found most helpful were Statistics, Organizational Psychology, Consumer Psychology, and Marketing.

EDLT: What are some obstacles that I should be prepared to face when getting started in HR/HRD?  How might I overcome these obstacles?
DBJ: The main obstacles that you will need to overcome are:
  • Being the point person for every HR related law, policy, or procedure in the organization. You become the expert on these subjects when you work in HR.
  • Being patient with employees, many of whom will be older than you, who will look to you to explain their benefits, paychecks, tuition reimbursement, and other employee relations issues.
  • Be prepared to find creative solutions to problems, due to a lack of funding. The more you can do with less, the better prepared you will be for a career in HR.
  • To overcome all of these obstacles, learn as much about employment law as you can. Also, set your vision high, but set your expectations low. In corporate America, you will quickly learn the difference between being an optimist and a realist.
EDLT: How would you describe a “typical day” in the life of an HR/HRD professional within your organization?  What are the routine assignments in your job?

  • Typically, I come in about an hour before my scheduled start time, to catch up on emails and voicemails.
  • I typically have 2-3 projects that I’m working on outside of my day-to-day job duties.
  • I answer phone calls and emails throughout the day, from employees who need assistance with a system that HR manages or who have questions about HR related functions.
  • I make it a point to take lunch every day. This provides the fuel that I need to maintain peak performance all day.
  • I also use my lunch period to read the newspaper, magazine, and journal articles pertaining to HR related functions.
  • I try to speak to each member of the HR team at least once a day, because we rarely have time to speak when it gets busy.
EDLT: What are some of the things that motivate or inspire you about your work?

DBJ: I’m inspired by the employees that I work for and with. Many of the employees live in Humboldt Park, where my hospital is located. Many of the employees also receive their healthcare services here. This is truly THEIR hospital, and I want to do as much as I possibly can to make sure that THEIR hospital is the best in the nation.

I’m also motivated by the work that needs to be done. It is challenging work and, in my opinion, that’s the only work worth doing. If I can find a way to make my work in HR more efficient, maybe it will save the hospital money that can then be used to increase pay for our employees.

EDLT: What are some of the things that you dread or dislike about your work?

DBJ: I dislike the bureaucracy in the organization. It seems like you have to go through several layers of management just to get a poster approved. I understand that every organization needs leadership, but I would also like the autonomy to produce work on my own, especially work that doesn’t cost anything to create, but could potentially yield more revenue for the organization.

I also dislike employees that just show up for a pay check. I understand that nearly 70% of all U.S. workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. However, there are many more Americans who don’t have a job. Get out of the way and let the people who want to work, and who appreciate working, work.

EDLT: What are some of the typical entry positions in HR/HRD in your organization?

  • HR Specialist
  • Recruiter
  • Administrative Assistant
EDLT: What are some of the short-term goals that you have in your career?

  • Complete Masters of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology
  • Gain more advanced understanding of HR metrics
  • Obtain PHR certification
  • Enhance skills in Training & Development
  • Gain managerial experience
EDLT: What are some of your long-term goals you hope to obtain?

  • Obtain Ph.D or Psy.D in Organizational Psychology
  • Become VP of Human Resources or Chief HR Officer
  • Become a consultant and thought leader in the areas of organizational development and leadership
  • Retire with enough money to live on, with enough left over to pass on to my descendants.
EDLT: Any career advice or guidance you can give me?

  • Do what you love to do. Don’t study something just to get a job. Do what you love, and the money will follow your passion.
  • Build your social network.
  • Use tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to connect with like-minded people, even if they’re not in your chosen profession.
  • Also, use social networks to build your brand. Become a thought leader in the area(s) that you’re most passionate about.
  • Don’t forget about in-person networking! Go to committee meetings and social events, both related to your profession and related to your interests, if the two differ.
  • Cater your resume to accentuate what you’ve done, not what you hope to do. Use specific details and metrics to paint a picture of your previous contributions.
  • If you have limited work experience, accentuate your volunteer experience.
EDLT: There is a general definition of what HR/HRD is. How would you define HR/HRD?

DBJ: My definition of HR is providing the best service, to all employees and applicants, in a respectful and courteous manner, in support of the mission and vision of the organization.

EDLT: If there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share? Something important you feel all future HR/HRD students should be aware of?
  • Make sure that you have a passion for people before entering a career in HR. If you don’t like people, you should choose a different career.
  • Wear as many hats as you can in HR. Learn recruitment, employee relations, compensation, and counseling.
  • But specialize. Once you’ve worn all of the various HR hats, find a specific area that you’re passionate in, and become an expert. Experts get paid, not generalists. For example, I’m passionate about HR metrics and technology, so I am positioning myself as an expert statistician and HRIS administrator.
  • Look for crossover opportunities. Many of the skills that you learn as a HR professional are transferable to other jobs. Don’t box yourself into HR. Instead, use the expertise that you learn in HR to make paths to other areas of the organization.