A young man, recent graduate in physical sciences approached me recently on some advice for career development. After graduation he liked working in a bicycle shop and later got a shop floor job at an aerospace Co. Now he is laid off, wants to pursue engineering and wants to work with hands on projects. Now he wants to know if he should invest in education for a four year undergraduate degree in Engineering? Such adhoc choices in education and career options may be the thing of the past. Today everyone needs to be more strategic and systematic in their plans and career choices.
Let us review the evolution in the changing nature of jobs and careers. Then we shall discuss how they can be tailored to meet individual needs.
Jobs and Career: What is the need in the 21st Century?
The traditional pyramidal organization is now getting divided into four separate and distinct layers as show in the figure below. These figures and the figure no. are in the reference book: Thriving in the 21st Century Economy – Transformational skills for Technical Professionals.
In this changing organizational structure we can identify a group of workers called “Professionals”. These professionals add substantial value to the products and services – the output of any company. Much of the information work of these professionals can be augmented now using plug and play solutions readily available to any company or competitor. The labor aspect of these professionals is also readily supplemented through outside resources. They can also be augmented through automation. The abundance of small and medium sized suppliers, independent consultants and service providers can displace the in-house professionals on demand. Hence the professional ranks in companies – which are seen as head count or over head – have been diminished over the past three to four decades. The depleted “Professional” workers in the companies need gradual and careful rebuilding for the sustenance of the Co. today and also for its long term success. Below we address some of the reasons and how to address this critical need.
HR development for any company becomes a challenge targeting professional workers and their unique capabilities. This does not imply ignoring information workers or Labor pool. But unique value addition for any company will depend on the cadre of professional workers in every department.
Take for example any Design Department. In the past Design work involved concept development, drafting the part drawings, develop detailed manual analysis, select the materials and vendors, follow up on design alterations, support and overcome the production hick ups, etc. All of this involved some critical thinking but also required substantial attention to details, paper work and physical engagement for documentation, meetings, coordination, etc. These tasks were divided between many people with “expertise in each task”. Today the critical thinking has to result in identifiable new solutions that are implemented as a final solution. As an example the “design professional” with a new machine concept or new machine features has to carry these ideas from Concept to a fully commercial product to meet customer needs. These professionals need to be entrepreneurial, capable of handling a variety of jobs/ tasks and problems. This is in total contrast to the standardized task oriented capabilities and activities which was the forte of the large body of workers in the past.
The idea of “Professional as a solution provider” is not limited to Design Department alone. In fact such professionals are needed in every department and business function. The traditional “9 to 5 jobs” are no longer in place. You can no longer do what you are asked to do and be satisfied with it. Instead, today professionals also have many opportunities to integrate knowledge from various sources on a 24 X 7 basis, from other workers, knowledge available across departments, with the suppliers as well as from the customers or end users. Even the view of “Customers” need not be one outside the company buying the products and services. Instead any user of the “solution” of the professional is his/her customer.
The advent of smart phones, Facebook, Google and other search engines also augment the ability to aggregate information from across the globe and convert them into new knowledge. The result is a “new solution” of high added value. Through these new solutions the professional demonstrates the use of their higher skills. They are also constantly on the lookout for new skills and resources to augment their capabilities without being prompted by any one. They are the risk takers to usher in new stream of solutions and heralded as “entrepreneurial”. The new term used for such entrepreneur working inside a company – as opposed to a startup operation – is “intrepreneurs”! https://stimsinstitute.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/stims-cover-story-mmi-jan-2018-issue.pdf They are able to spread their wings to cover a wide range of issues as well as dive deep to address advanced technical or business or problems (on their own or using resources from anywhere). Because of the entrepreneurial nature of the work, risk taking and responsibilities the “New Solutions” wing of any department will have only a few highly skilled workers, with very few layers in the organization.
At the same time, once developed and implemented these new solutions have to be replicated in large quantities to generate the volume and to meet the revenue needs of the company. The jobs in this section will be highly standardized but the volume of work flowing through will be high. Since the work is more task oriented there will be more organizational layers. But, even in this replication wing the workers will have to be capable of handling wider variety of tasks than the traditional workers with narrow and limited responsibilities (See Fig. 2.2.)
The professional workers can be divided into two modes with distinct difference in their skills as illustrated in another manner as shown in Figure 3.9.We can call this as the Binary Economy. https://stimsinstitute.com/2018/11/08/it-is-the-binary-economy-stupid/ In this binary economy the New Solutions and Replication Solutions are two independent clusters, business models or operational entities.
HR Development Strategy for the employers:
The HR development in every department in each of these two entities have to be managed as two parallel strems.
For example the HR management for the new solutions organization must also be entrepreneurial, creative and distinctly different from the traditional HR management for the task oriented organizations. The same applies for Research, Design, Purchasing, Production, Sales and Customer support. But, the new solutions entity will also have the obligation to refine and standardize the product in such a fashion that the Replication entity can do so with large volumes of reproduction without any hick ups. In this binary economy the middle portion of the “learning curve” no longer exists. This is shown as the dotted line – the gap – in figures 3.9 and 3.10. Consider for example the release of I – Phones by Apple. In the very first few weeks Apple sells millions of units of a new model!
Their reward will also be substantially different as shown in Figure 3.10. The “New Solution Providers” in all business functions across the company will be few in number but they will command higher salaries and incentive pay consistent with their contribution to the top line and bottom line of the company.
But the workers involved in the replication solutions most of whom are low wage workers are stuck in a flat wage economy. In fact the large body of these workers have not seen much rise in their wages, because the skill level required of these workers have not substantially increased thanks to automation and IT driven plug and play solutions. https://stimsinstitute.com/2016/05/23/do-americans-really-miss-the-unions/ This situation will only continue to worsen further thanks to Robotics and AI.
Skill requirements of the people d for the “New Solutions” capabilities are described as Transformational Skills. For details, please see: https://stimsinstitute.com/2020/05/08/post-covid-19-an-assessment-of-jobs-and-careers-need-for-system-thinking-and-transformational-skills/
There is a legitimate question to be asked: Who cares for the long term economic health and well-being of the large body of workers engaged in “Replication Solutions” inside the company as well as in the nation (or the world) as a whole. This sector of the working population cannot be neglected for long. Frankly speaking it is this neglected generation of workers without any prospect for change that we see as the angry and disgruntled segment of the population in USA. They are also described as the “neglected middle” of America. Companies will need to sustain this work force through strategies that are equitable and also humane. Universal living wage is being discussed as a national policy for this in the USA and a few European countries. Guaranteed higher minimum wage must also be looked at seriously for this segment of the working population.
Skills and Strategy for sustainable employment of job seekers:
Three dimensions of talent: We started this white paper with the request from a fresh graduate seeking advice on Jobs and career. We have already seen that the well-paying jobs are now clustered in a narrow category of workers called “New Solution” providers. In this narrow set, each person creates his own career path. But to fill the opportunities in “New Solutions” it is not just sufficient to go to school and get a degree. It is not even important if the degree is in Engineering, Physical Sciences, humanities or arts and sciences. But what is important is to develop a skill to conceive and develop a new solution and reduce it to practice. This requires a “talent” which is a sum of Knowledge, Experience and People Skills. The details of these capabilities are tabulated in the Table below. Education in the broad sense of the term must comprise of accumulation of competencies that are readily deployable at will among all these three capabilities as required in a given situation.
|Core Capabilities of Professionals||Description||Tools or Enablers|
|Knowledge||Deep and extensive learning; Well informed; Comprehension of various aspects of the subject||Formal Education, Reading, Learning from peers, Data driven, searching the data base, Observations|
|Experience||Skill derived from actual participation or direct involvement; Accumulated wisdom from real life.||Hands-on Activities, Involvement, Experiments, Risk-taking|
|People Skills||Ability to seek out others and receive their support, help, and cooperation; Willingness to reciprocate, to achieve mutual benefits||Honesty, Integrity, Communication Skills, Collaboration, Team Spirit, Results driven, Emotional Intelligence.|
As we have described earlier every professional is a knowledge worker. They develop and implement new solutions. Every solution requires a collection of inputs. When brought together in a logical and orderly manner, the inputs change into outputs of use to someone for something. Meeting such needs of someone by transforming the inputs into outputs is what we call as a “solution”. Hence every solution is an “Input/Transformation/Output system”. Keeping this point of view relentlessly in everything we do is the beginning of system thinking,
Here is a check list for system thinking assessment:
- Are you looking at the big picture (the solution) or operate blind folded? Are you able to focus on the picture on the screen as a whole (the solution) or are you fixated on the pixel?
- Do you look before you leap?
- Do you have a comprehensive view of the problem (or solution) as an input/transformation/outputs system? (See Figure 4.1)
- When you are told “What?” you have to do, do you ask “Why?” this is important to do, for whom, how it will be measured for the success and make sure there is agreement before jumping into the solution? — Awareness level of system skills.
- Are you driven by data and its analysis or by opinions and “rules of thumb”? Remember a good carpenter measures twice and cuts once? — This is the Analysis level of system skills.
- When asked “What is 2 +2?”, do you instinctively answer 4 or say” Why is this question? Value or benefits? What goes “into the 2 and the other 2?” Then follow up on the questions until a new solution is developed and implemented? — This is the highest (Synthesis) level of system skills.
IT Skills for knowledge aggregation, data and its use and IT automation of everything you do more than once!
If customer was the king at the end of the 21st century, “Data” is the king in the 21st Century. You can efficiently deploy the data through your “Knowledge”, “Information” or “physical work”. How you aggregate and manage the data determines if you fall into the “New Solutions” projects or “Replication” activities. These largely depend on your IT skills to use search engines, communicate through social media platforms as well as extensive use of standard plug and play software tools. You need not be a computer whiz or IT genius. But you should be conversant and proficient in using every available and readily accessible software tool. The old proverb was “Pen is mightier than the sword”. Today the Digital Technology (through computers, network, search engine, social platform tools, etc.) is mightier than any pen and academic education!”.
Life Long Learning:
We have addressed this need in detail at: https://stimsinstitute.com/2018/01/24/stims-strategy-for-life-long-learning-for-intrepreneurship/ In summary it requires constant learning and upgrading of skills outlined in the figures above as well as the Transformational Skills outlined above in Figure 4.4.
Figure 7.10. Progressive evolution of Skills for 21st Century Technical Professionals.