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.

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