Career Calling

November 10, 2015

Working with Robots

 

I’ve blogged before about the job destroying impact of automation and robotics. Once a machine can do a job, it’s gone. Peter Coy of Bloomberg has a different take. He believes humans and robots will work together in a future society. Robots will do work that is rote and mindless. Humans will perform tasks that require creativity and emotional response.

Hopefully Coy is right, but I’m more pessimistic. Coy talks about the improvements in voice recognition software. How many phone sales and customer service jobs have been lost because of this innovation? How many more will be lost in the future? Similarly cloud storage is enabling companies to cut staff that manages network and IT support functions. Driverless vehicles, when they are perfected (not if), will push many workers out of a job.

I hope the optimists like Coy and many smiling futurists are right in predicting work will become more creative in the age of robots. I’m less sanguine. As Coy states, too many jobs involve rote tasks that can be automated. I grew up near the steel mills in Cleveland. Within ten years, 4 steel mills were closed because European competitors sold cheaper, higher quality steel produced with automated functions. The city was devastated and has never fully recovered. That was industrial automation. Now the service industry and professional services are being automated. What sane employer will pay an employer if she can invest in and profit from a much cheaper, more efficient robot?

 

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November 4, 2015

Graduate Degrees and Tech Jobs

 

I often cite Bloomberg as a great resource to understand the economy and job market. Today, it offers a report on tech jobs and MBA grads. Common wisdom is that Stanford is the MBA that produces the most grads who get jobs in tech (19%). That said, Arizona State, UC Berkeley, and other MBA programs in the Southwest and West are catching steam, producing 16% of new tech jobs. If you’re considering a career in tech, an MBA is one path. However, if 35% of tech jobs are obtained via an MBA (that number feels high to me), most tech jobs (65%) are landed by other means. I respect and value education. At the same time, I recommend that anyone seeking a job in an industry follow a strategy Richard Nelson Bolles talks about in What Color Is Your Parachute:Research how people without the “ideal” degree broke into the field.  Bolles asks this question:  “How did people without a degree in that field get into it?” Is the degree or certification necessary? For certain positions at certain companies, an MBA from a highly regarded school is a good way to get through the door. For other jobs, it is not needed. Think about where you want to work and what you want to do before investing in any kind of education or certification.

October 1, 2015

Another Good Sign for the Job Market

 

Most people look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly employment report to understand the job market. While that is probably the best measure, there are other important signs, including how employers are treating employees and job candidates. A few months ago, I noted that almost every job posting now includes a list of benefits offered to new employees. Some are even listing a salary.

Employee retention is equally important. Bloomberg reports that some employers are now encouraging employees to use PTO and vacation time. A few employers are even paying bonus that employees can use during a vacation. Others offer “unlimited vacation.” These are the same companies who laid off so many workers that those who were spared worked extra hours and skipped vacation days. Now, as the job market tightens and employers still do not want to raise wages, vacation is a perk used to keep employees without increasing labor budgets.

If you’re asking for a raise or trying to negotiate salary with a new employer, think about vacation as a bargaining chip. If an employer cannot give you a higher wage, ask for an extra week of vacation or PTO. This is a good time to talk about time off.

September 23, 2015

Want to Earn More?

 

Bloomberg reports today on careers that offer significant pay increases. Most workers are looking at minimal salary increases even though the unemployment rate has fallen. Workers in technology and finance have seen wages grow between 4-10%.   What can you do to earn more? For most working people, especially those with college degrees, the best way to earn more is to find a new job. In many cases, new employers tend to offer more than current employers. Another way is to try to take the next step up the career ladder. Two clients who are clients in the grocery industry have told me that they have hired department managers with little experience. Why did they do this? Turnover. As the job economy heats up, there is more opportunity to move up because the experience employees are less available. If you’re unhappy with your current income, find a way to make a move.

September 1, 2015

Going Back to an Old Employer

 

Bloomberg is reporting on the rise of a new phenomenon, boomerang employees who return to former employers. The article cites a survey of 1,800 HR professionals, managers, and employees that indicates that 76% employers are more likely to rehire former employees. Other surveys show that one of employers’ biggest concerns right now is retention. These surveys are further indicators that the hiring market is changing in workers’ favors.

If you’re looking for a new job and have good relationships with a former employer, it might be a good place to look for an opportunity. They know you, and you know them. If you don’t like an offer, you can always look somewhere else. Sometimes it’s good to be a boomerang.

August 12, 2015

Challenges for Transgender Workers, Their Co-workers, and Employers

 

Bloomberg often covers compelling issues that affect working people. Today it examines how transgender workers struggle to deal with their transition while on the job. Co-workers often ask ignorant questions or make hurtful comments. While we’re becoming more aware and hopefully sensitive, this area needs to be addressed by HR and department managers. Like any major social transition, it will take time. But three cheers to Bloomberg for helping to remind us of how our actions and words – however innocent – can be hurtful to those who are changing genders. It is that person’s choice, and it should be respected in the workplace.

August 11, 2015

Another New Normal: Low Pay Increases?

 

Jeanna Smialek of Bloomberg reports on a topic that it describes as “depressing” – wages. Despite steady increases in hiring, Smialek notes that wages have increased at a 2% rate since the end of the “Great Recession” in 2009. She cites two other measures that have held back pay increases: low productivity and low inflation. Bloomberg focuses on how this news impacts the economy. I’m more concerned with working people and what they are paid. More people are employed every month, and consumer sentiment remains negative. That doesn’t make sense. It would seem that increased opportunities to get new jobs and change jobs should make workers happier. However, as this fine article notes, too many Americans feel that their income is not letting them get ahead. If that’s the new normal, we’re in big trouble.

 

July 30, 2015

Another Measure to Track Income

 

Bloomberg is one of my favorite sources to learn about the economy and how it affects workers. Dan Moss, Bloomberg’s Executive Editor for Economy, has a short article on a good measure to understand how to gauge changes in hourly earnings. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) is a quarterly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Moss, it “looks at how much employers are compensating the same position over a period of time. In other words, what is the pay of a builder, or plumber, or, God forbid, a journalist for a job over a period of time.” He says the number to watch is 2%, which is where the index has been stuck for a long time. Moss cites a forecast by Morgan Stanley that says the index will move to 2.6%, which he calls “encouraging.” I hope this is good news. In any case, it is good to have another tool to analyze what we are earning.

 

P.S.  USA Today reported the latest ECI data, and the news was ugly.  The second  quarter increase was only 0.2%, “the slowest pace on record dating to the early 1980s.”  The article goes on to discuss how this lack of growth is odd given drops in unemployment.  Employers should have to pay more to hire new employees and keep existing employees in a tight labor market.  I will keep watching this topic and follow up with other news and views about how our very strange economy affects workers.

June 20, 2015

A Full Jobs Recovery?

 

Bloomberg reports what seems to be good news. John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve’s San Francisco bank, says that the job market is doing so well that the central bank might need to raise interest rates. The article cites lower unemployment rates as the reason for the Williams’ statement. Unemployment has declined greatly from its peak during the Great Recession. Even so, many Americans who are counted as employed are only working part-time. Many more are working full-time, but doing so at a low wage. Even workers who make middle class incomes are struggling because they have only received minimal raises over the past 5-8 years.

It’s great to be optimistic, and the Fed should be concerned with inflation. However, most Americans do not feel secure in their jobs and incomes. According to the Consumer Confidence Index of the Conference Board, Americans are not enthusiastic about the current economy. Almost as many people (11.1%) expect their incomes to decline as the small number (17.4). These metrics also show that most American are treading water, not what should be expected in an expanding economy. Politicians and the Fed need to address that concern and not simply focus on the unemployment rate. There will only be a real recovery when Americans feel financially secure.

June 5, 2015

A Way to Understand May’s Job Growth Numbers

 

The news that the U.S. economy added 280,000 jobs sounds great. Bloomberg offer charts that show a more mixed situation. Yes, job growth is up. However, the unemployment rate went up because more people have entered the job market. Similarly, average hourly earnings is up, but that measure has moved like a yo-yo over the past year. The best news is that long-term unemployment is moving steadily down. If you’re thinking about looking for a new job or asking your boss for a raise, this could be a good time to act. Even if the news is mixed, the job market is much better than it was five years ago.

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