It’s All About Jobs

A few years ago every time I got together with friends the conversation touched on stock prices. Then it was house prices. If I was talking with a woman it gravitated to diet and exercise. Now everybody wants to talk about jobs, and why their kids can’t find good ones, and what should their grandchildren learn to be able to make a living in 10 years.

This is actually a topic I’ve thought quite a lot about—not as much as baseball—but enough to blog like I know something.

1) Globalization affects everybody and it is not going away. Your X-ray is being read in India. This Web site you are reading has been prepared in part by an outsourcer in the Philippines. Your coffee came from Ethiopia or Peru or Indonesia. I’m selling British made screw machines to companies in Brazil, which are making product for Chinese auto companies. This connection will become more profound in the coming years. Kids need to get in step with the trend. Look for every opportunity to get your children to learn foreign languages at an early age. And it does not need to be a popular one—Chinese, Hebrew, Swedish, Czech, Portuguese, and German can all be useful. Having a world perspective at a young age is a big edge. I believe the Mormon mission experience gives the Mormon kids an edge because they have to do something hard in unfamiliar surroundings for a year or two before resuming a normal life in the States. The Israeli kids who travel for a year after military service get a similar boost.

2) You have to do something really well to get paid well. The gold standard is 10,000 hours of practice. Malcolm Gladwell discussed this in his book The Outliers. He used the Beatles as an example. They labored in little clubs in Germany for five years honing their sound and skills before going back to England for fame and fortune. There is no substitute for the experience of doing things badly, and gradually improving. It’s why we have minor leagues. Look for good supervision and don’t be afraid to jump ship to expand your knowledge.

3) Get yourself known. Network like crazy. People like to hire the people they know or their friends know. And it may have nothing to do with credentials or professional expertise because the perception of a good work ethic and ability to play with others often trumps resumes or skills. Go to conferences, lectures, book signings. Join a singing group, a flag football league, a charity—anything that gets you connected with more people.

4) Be willing and eager to freelance. This is the “new work.” I look at our small used machinery business and Today’s Machining World. We use a freelance National Acme rebuilder, a part-time Hydromat specialist, part-time machine cleaners, a freelance art director, and a half-time editor. And then add me to the list—as a part-time article writer. We are living in the gig world, the project-hiring world. The world of no company health insurance. Adjust to buying your own.

5) Learn to live with lean. Productivity improvement is endless in business. Less is more. Automation, doubling up tasks, outsourcing, downsizing, working from home. This is the trend and it will continue to proliferate. Financial institutions, government, the Post Office, have been late to this game, but they are being forced to catch up fast by economic reality. One of the main reasons the press is so gloomy is that New York and Washington have been spared the productivity ax until recently. Now that it has hit the financials and government it has become real to the Wall Street Journal, NY Times and NPR, and soon even the elite colleges. Education, the Post Office, and the government are just starting to be struck by the job ax.

But this trend also offers an excellent work opportunity for the people who can efficiently deliver things, for banks that treat people like human beings, and for improving the quality and productivity of educational efforts. Today’s schools are failing students and communities. It will be an enormous opportunity to add value and get paid for it in the coming decade.

This blog is an introduction to the topic. I welcome your observations and suggestions for kids and adults who want and expect to add value with work in the decades ahead.

Question: Would you want your kids to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry?

Working from “home.”

Working from “home”

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9 thoughts on “It’s All About Jobs

  1. Miles Free

    I think that your thinking is exactly calibrated to the transformation of work we are seeing all around us.

    I think that Manufacturing will continue to be a great place for great people with great skills.

    I am happy that my son has started working as a CNC operator to get introduced to our industry. Manufacturing has been the basis of the “Free Family Economy” for 4 generations. I’m pleased to see this trend continue.

  2. eric fox

    As Buffet says, businesses need a moat to keep the competitors out….therefore only think of manufacturing in areas that do not face the international competitor, railroads, jet eingines protected by the gov’t. Under no circumstances have your kid compete is just a regular machine shop set to do higher production parts on a planned basis, competion beating the price and wages for their entire life. Go into road building, construction, garbage pick up, anything that does not face international competition or the price moves to the cheapest end over time.

  3. Joe Landry


    The problem is not only the manufacturing climate in the U.S. Part of the problem is that our citizens want what they have had, and it is not available anymore.

    Much of our manufacturing workforce wants easy, low skilled jobs that pay high wages. Well those jobs may have been available in the past, but they are gone, and they are not comming back.

    My partner and I started DM Squared seven years ago. We concentrated on work and processes that other just did not want to do. We have been very sucessful even with the poor manufacturing environment in the U.S. today. I encourage young people to join our organization, and learn more about high tech manufacturing.

    Being a manufacturing professional for nearly 40 years, I never pushed my daughter in that direction. The reason is more that I abore nepotism than that I thought she could not do well in a manufacturing environment. She chose a law career, so she is doing fine.

    Anytime we blame someone else for what is wrong in our lives, we miss an opportunity to improve ourselves. I don’t care what career path one chooses, hard work, knowledge and persistence is what it takes to be successful. Manufacturing in the U.S. is not dead. Our government seems to be trying to kill it, but as hard as they try, we still make much of the “good stuff” in this country. We don’t make cheap clothes and metal dish drainers here in the U.S any more, but I find that our most advanced aircraft, electronics and medical manufacturing customers need what we produce, and they don’t go to low cost regions to get it.

    Joe Landry
    Dynamic Machining x Manufacturing, LLC

  4. Charlie

    I think you are right on. So much so that I copied this and emailed it to my children and other family members. The world is very small. So much has changed and yet so much is the same. We still need machines to manufacture product but the art of turning the dials has changed to the science of programming the machine and linking them all together.
    Think the basics Food, Water, Shelter and Medical care.

  5. Marc Klecka

    Regardless of whether their chosen profession is manufacturing, medicine or teaching, I hope that my children know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

    Quoting a classic Warner & Swasey ad from 1975:
    In the South is an old man who ferries passengers across a mile-wide river for ten cents. Asked, “How many times a day do you do this?”, he said, “As many times as I can, because the more I go, the more I get. And if I don’t go, I don’t get.”
    That’s all you need to know (all there is to know) about business, economics, prosperity, and self respect.

  6. Bill Lukens

    Four kids, all degreed, none live in Ohio and none are interested in my company. All worked here at one time or another during college, but they heard me bemoaning the “rust bowl” of the late 70’s and early 80’s. We have 2 teachers and 2 in marketing with big firms.

    I still believe in manufacturing, but there is a difference between working on an assembly line and working in advanced manufacturing company, ala a CNC job shop. There certainly are opportunities in our industry. A machining background opens the door to many areas: quality, design and engineering, management and ownership. Having said that, a business degree 2 or 4 year will help open doors / opportunities.

    Starting a small shop has got to be a challenge today. I’m not sure I would recommend that to anyone, BUT, if you have an edge and you have the desire, go for it. Just remember, it will take more money and longer than you think to get established. As a professor of mine said, “you don’t do it for the money, you do it for the thrill of writing checks with lots of zeros.” I’m 70 years old. With the exception of a couple of weeks in 2009, I’ve always looked forward to the challenge.

    The Europeans seem to have more respect for skilled craftsmen than we do. Here, nobody wants their kid to work in a factory.

  7. Jim Rutkowski

    Absolutely. It is one of the best professions for someone who wants to start at the bottom, work hard and continuously improve himself with daily challenges.
    Looking at the job curve, we are seriously lacking folks in this field. Especially with education system for last two generations teaching how to take tests not learn how to apply what they learn to make something. I would not give it a second thought.

  8. Lloyd Graff

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful and perceptive remarks. This is refreshing.

    I am actually heartened by a lot of what I see in the marketplace. People are sobering up. They are more serious, less complacent. I see smart kids beginning to turn away from aspiring hedge fund gamers to more meaningful work. The glumness in the media is probably a good contrarian indicator of a tilt in atititude toward productive work and away from the sickening day trader mentality of the last decade.

    What does concern me a lot is the widening chasm between rich and poor in America. The success dream still lives on but the path out of poverty seems more distant to me. Frankly, I am surprised we have not seen more demonstrations of angst and anger. The Tea Party has been relatively polite on the right and the Lefties seem disorientedvand despondent. No strident candidate has any traction which seems odd if we are in such a bad place.

    Perhaps the government safety net has assuaged the rawness of popular opinion. Foreclosures get pushed back by legal maneuvering and unemployment benefits keep getting extended. Maybe we need more pain to move the needle.

    American public education appears to be in a mess and we have nobody to blame except ourselves. We have tolerated mediocrity for so long we barely know what quality is. In manufacturing I see possibility primarily from small and midsize firms whose owners are willingbto train smart kids with a glint in their eyes even though they may well leave them for future opportunity. The survival of family businesses is also hopeful. Immigration despite the idiotic hurdles government throws up still lives and rejuvenates the workforce and small business. The upward mobility of Hispanics is a very hopeful happening. The black underclass which sadly grows is extremely discouraging.

    Foreign competition increasingly feels like yesterday’s issue. Yesterdays enemies are today’s partners. Sushi is now America’s grits.

    God willing I’ll be blogging about this topic a lot more in the days ahead.

    Happy, healthy New Year. Look at every day as a fresh beginning.


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