Become Part of the Solution

April 1, 2004
Perhaps the most important book that I’ll read this year is “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse,” by Gregg Easterbrook.

The book is very readable, even though Easterbrook cites extensive research to support his thesis.

Just stop to think about this, especially if you are older than about 40. We grew up in three-bedroom houses with one car. Many people dropped out of high school and few went to college. Now, we live in four-bedroom houses and have two or three cars, one of which is some sort of hog like an SUV or mini-van. More people are in school. Despite the media hype, test scores really have improved over time and a greater percentage of people than ever are taking the tests.

That last comment brings in one of Easterbrook’s pet complaints. That is, how the media feeds on people’s perception that everything is bad. Even the Weather Channel joins in. Once, they gave us the weather and the forecast. Now it’s “Storm Stories.” Recently Meteorologist Jennifer Lopez turned to Jim Cantore (OK, so I need to get a life) and asked breathlessly, “So, Jim, how bad is it going to be tomorrow?” Every general media outlet and even some trade publications dwell on the negative.

Recently I saw an article about information technology (IT) jobs outsourcing to India. If you only read the first two paragraphs, you’d think that there wouldn’t be any IT jobs left in the United States within five years. Turns out that the “experts” think that maybe 10 percent of today’s jobs will be sent overseas. That’s a lot less than the hype of the lead paragraphs would lead you to believe. Plus, in five years there should be many more jobs created at a higher level. Many of the IT jobs going over there are simply for coding databases. That’s not so high tech any more. The more value-added jobs are those that involve working with customers to design databases and portals, and then managing the projects.

The April 2004 issue of FastCompany magazine puts a human face on the outsourcing debate by chronicling the stories of 40 people who either lost jobs in IT or saw their income drastically reduced. So even if the overwhelming majority of “high tech” people keep their jobs, there is a down side to this transformation.

Speed of dislocation

One aspect of the situation is the speed with which this dislocation of high-tech jobs has happened. Manufacturing jobs paid well enough for a person (usually a man) to earn enough for a family to maintain a middle-class standard of living for more than 40 years. The dislocation there started in the mid-1980s, when laws enabling employers to hire replacements for striking workers combined with a burgeoning workforce willing to take unskilled jobs at half the price. In fewer than 20 years, high-paying programming jobs are finding that same fate. Within one generation, good jobs have become more the exception than the rule.

The answer to the problem is not to hide your head in the sand and moan, “Woe is me.” It is also not to dwell on negative press. Like Rick Peters, Timkin engineer and SME president, and columnist Jim Pinto detail in this issue of Automation World, people must continuously upgrade their skills, both technical and personal, in order to fill these new positions. Honing creativity and innovation skills are essential to finding the higher paying jobs.

That’s why you’ll continue to see stories of what works and who made it work in this magazine. We want to be part of your solution. This month, you can read the thoughts of one of the manufacturing industry leaders, see how companies are competing more effectively by using real-time information and learn how managers are taking action to gain real returns on their investments in automation.

Do I feel for all those people who have been dislocated? You bet. But I don’t think that we’re going to see the clock rolled back. We’re just living in an age in which things don’t stay the same for very long. We all have to reinvent ourselves every few years. Here’s to being part of the solution.

Gary Mintchell, Editor

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