I have worked in a variety of industries and businesses over the past 20 years and something profound is happening as of late. The twenty-something analytical wizard runs the show. Due to their age, of course, they are kept in the background but that is going to be changing. In the case of the high tech industry it already has.
Very few fifty something executives fully grasp this digital change in business. Never in the history of our economy have executives had to have the vast digital skill sets needed to succeed. In most cases, they camp out in the cube of the coding/analytical wizard in an attempt to get up to speed but most fall short. In my experiences, many of these twenty somethings should be replacing these dinosaur executives. Again, this is already happening in Silicon Valley and will slowly make its way into other old fashioned industries.
For the most part, executives have no idea how to hire these wizards either. How could they? Their software experience is limited to Microsoft Word and Excel. How would they know about Ruby, Python, HubSpot, Wordpress, Google Analytics, Black Hat SEO, Shopping cart integration, API’s, and so on and so on. Guess who knows this stuff? The under thirty club. I am close to forty and have spent the last seven years getting up to speed on all of these technologies and by no means am I an expert. No one is. I can, at least, speak quite well to them. The corporate board room better get with the Big Data program fast or we will replace them with the generation of change!
This is no thrash the older generation manifesto. It is just an observation of many years and experiences. The older generation can change but never in their lives have they seen anything of this magnitude. In all honesty, I have experienced more change in the last five years of my life than probably twenty of my grandmothers. Speed and change are the way of the business world now. Today, it is get with the program or get out of the way.
I drove by the iconic location of the old Tower Records in San Francisco the other day and thought to myself how many industries in the past decade have become or are becoming irrelevant:
- 1. Compact Disc Sales: Goodbye: Tower Records, Best Buy, Music industry as a whole, Hello: Apple iTunes;
- 2. Newspapers/Books/Print Media: Goodbye: All Major Newspapers, Barnes & Noble. Hello: Amazon Kindle;
- 3. Video Rental: Goodbye: Blockbuster. Hello: Netflix;
- 4. Film: Goodbye: Kodak. Hello: Digital camera makers;
- 5. Cell Phones/Blackberry: Goodbye: Nokia and Blackberry. Hello Apple, Samsung;
- 6. Desktop Computers: Goodbye: Dell and HP, Hello Apple;
- 7. AM/FM Radio: Goodbye: Local DJ. Hello: Pandora, Sirius/XM Radio.
These are just the big ones. I am certain I am missing twenty or so. There has never been a decade quite like this. Literally overnight, a product or service can be rendered irrelevant after dominating for a long or even a short period. MySpace is a great example. Facebook came along and just smashed them and we never hear about MySpace after it was a ubiquitous website for a short hot minute. Disruption is a term you hear often these days especially in tech circles. Right this very moment, some kid in a dorm room is writing code for some disruptive technology that will revolutionize an industry. Consistent innovation for a large enterprise is very difficult and in this day and age it is a must!
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Since 2008, the job skills gap has been an important topic as the world economy has suffered through its worst recession in decades. While the “Great Recession" helped accelerate job loss, a myriad of other reasons have contributed to high unemployment and a new class of American worker. This new class is the perpetually unemployed who are finding it nearly impossible to enter or re-enter the workforce. According to Forbes, “As many as 39 percent of people under 25 are either unemployed or underemployed, according to a recent article predicting a dismal jobs picture for the newest members of the workforce.” A perfect storm has created this new class with three major factors being cited as culprits:
Number 1: Technology
We tend to think our technology boom in the last quarter century has created jobs. In reality, it has actually assisted in the elimination of jobs. Software and automation results in more efficient companies which in turn produces less need for human output. Software is utilized in every facet of business and for every software program rolled out the fewer workers a company needs. However, what a company does need are highly skilled workers to implement and maintain these systems. We will address this issue in more depth under factor three. According to TechCrunch, “Better software and better robots are already beginning to replace lawyers, bartenders, burger-flippers, even surgeons, and countless other workers, including those poor souls in technology who haven’t kept up. The new law of the economic jungle is this: either write the software that eats the world, or be eaten.”
Number 2: Globalization
American companies no longer enjoy the market share domination of the post WWII global economy. Detroit learned this lesson the hard way as Japanese imports arrived and disrupted their decades long monopoly on the world car market. A safe job lasting 40 years at General Motors is no longer a reality and much of that is due to globalization and more efficient assembly lines created by technological progress. China, India, and Brazil are rising economic powers and American companies have been forced to take notice. Competition comes from all corners of the globe and while this benefits consumers, American companies must evolve in order to compete. This has resulted in the dreaded word in American lexicon: outsourcing. We all want our 401K to produce stellar returns yet we also want good paying jobs with great benefits. In an increasingly global economy, it has become increasingly difficult to produce both.
Number 3: The Skills Gap
The skills gap, as it is called, is very apparent in 2013 America. Since the 2008 market crash, millions of jobs have gone unfilled due to lack of skilled workers, namely in the technology sector of our economy. Many jobs that have been shed the last decade are not coming back and workers must retrain and retool for the 21st Century workplace. Workers now have to be constantly learning new skills and software in order to keep pace and this is a monumental challenge. Cloud computing, software development, and computer security are areas that are rapidly evolving and these jobs require highly skilled workers.
How do we solve these challenges? Corporations and employees can work together and employees can take some initiative. Companies can implement training programs and motivate workers to attend classes, get certifications, and learn new skills. There are some fantastic examples here in Sacramento of companies fostering local talent. Hacker Lab, a local technology incubator, has partnerships with Intel and VSP in which the companies support Hacker Lab and the lab in turn assists in developing future employees. A variety of classes are offered ranging from welding to mobile app development. This program is a creative win-win situation for both employee and future employer. Online training websites like lynda.com offer assistance to workers in upgrading skill sets for the internet age. Classes include how to develop a digital marketing plan to Python coding instruction and are available online for $40 a month. If employers and employees work together we can overcome this challenge.