I've been increasingly dismayed by the much-heralded and little-resolved skills and experience shortfalls in The Great Supply Chain Management Race—the so-called talent gap.
The "gap" terminology obscures the depth and severity of the challenge. It's a chasm, a gaping crack in the infrastructure. We don't have enough warm bodies to perform the simplest execution tasks, with a further dropoff in adequate numbers when basic arithmetic and/or communication abilities are added to organizational expectations—and needs.
When higher skill levels are requirements for analysis, planning, coding, data management, and other such esoterica, the situation becomes downright embarrassing—and dangerously vulnerable in global competition. In this more demanding arena, we do a most commendable job of education and preparation, but we can scarcely hope to produce enough working talent to meet needs (especially when manufacturing and other sectors would poach our best and brightest without the merest twinge of conscience).
Of course, our managers at various levels are oblivious to factors of time and change, and what it takes to be effective in the 21st century, wedded as they are to discredited models of yesteryear. That old practices and shopworn tactics serve to drive off otherwise enthusiastic and engaged staff only makes things worse.
And our greatest deficiency remains, imho, the yawning abyss of the authentic leadership we crave and have little chance of finding. That shortfall creates a domino cascade of talent shortage throughout an organization.HOOVERVILLE REDUX
Meanwhile, unemployment is pervasive enough that accounting trickeration is necessary to disguise that a pleasingly plump image is actually morbidly obese. The almost-always-ballyhooed unemployment rate is a pleasant fiction that has little genuine meaning or utility. It, for example, does not recognize the underemployed or the discouraged who no longer bother seeking employment. The portion of the population able to work that is actually working is a frail 62.7 percent and continues to drop.
Politicians, unable to restrain themselves, are what we might politely call nonspecific about creating new jobs, "well-paying jobs," that will restore American prosperity. What they don't talk about, and most likely are clueless about, is the reality that jobs have changed, in numbers to produce given quantities, in content, and in basic skills requirements. Steelmaking, for instance, now requires a few hundred people to make the same steel that took several thousand a generation or two ago.TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE?
We have all kinds of mobile, wearable, multicapable technologies to help us do our jobs better—faster, more accurately, and more transparently. In a somewhat static environment, this must translate to reduced, or more slowly growing, work forces.
The march of robotics is under way. Can some robotics applications actually add jobs, or a least avoid cutbacks? Sure. In healthy organizations with open needs, growth potential, and an appetite for investment in retraining. But in the larger case, I suspect, the Bean Counter Brigade is looking for, and rewarded for finding, ways to reduce costs, a code phrase for reducing headcount.
This desperate clinging to last-century paradigms is a refuge for those unable to innovate and motivate at a new-century pace. I fear that the dinosaurs are not going to wade into La Brea willingly and are likely to be with us, in uncomfortable numbers, for another generation (one hopes not two).
What will almost surely make this worse is the move to elevate minimum wages. Here's my not-always-popular position: Every adult working at a full-time job should be receiving a living wage. Part-time jobs should pay an hourly rate equivalent to a full-time living wage. Full-time is neither permanent nor year-round. Lower-wage "job lite" options should be available as learner positions for younger employees.
However, we define these things, the minimum wage is trending—fast—toward $15 per hour. Time to get real. A capable lift truck operator or a speedy, versatile order selector is worth more—lots more—than someone asking "Would you like fries with that?" But the industry has been paying execution staff at fast-food levels for a long time, with increases coming in response to competition for a diminished labor pool. The result? Rapidly rising wages in supply chain execution will make it even more attractive to pursue robotic and automated material handling solutions, pushing more experienced employees out on the street.A GLIMPSE INTO A BRIEFLY ILLUMINATED DARK FUTURE
So, where does all this lead us? So few leaders that they can't spare themselves to lead the country for a while. Managers who have yet to master managing but are persuaded that they are leaders, to the detriment of people and enterprises. Highly rewarded and prized technogeek employees. Well-compensated staff, who have developed and maintain relevant skills. A few functionaries who excite their leaders by seeking, adopting, embracing, and even creating change as (or before) environments and requirements evolve—or erupt.
And then, the rest. An army, easy to stir to mindless action with time on their hands, limited skills, less knowledge of what it takes to be a part of a functioning society—and no money to do much with, save stock up on Kools or cannabis, try to keep up with Anheuser-Busch's production, and some vague notion that their plight is all the fault of Carlos Slim or an Ethiopian cab driver working two jobs to feed his family.
We stand at the precipice of a gap of our own collective making, a gap that deepens and widens with every failure to address root causes of our talent woes. A merit-based class system is nearing open class warfare, made increasingly more possible as the divide between haves, have nots, don't wants, and can't dos grows without much serious effort to realign those who might be salvageable, re-educate those without the most basic tools, and retrain those who have a usable foundation.
Those robots are going to be needing programming, maintenance, and repair. We all have a lot at stake in restoring balance within the economic ecosystem of the nation.