HR ruins everything

Todays Globe and Mail had an interesting article about the growing mismatch between jobs and applicants — . Just another instance of the ultimately destructive trends that have been seen elsewhere.

For starters, the article suggests that roughly 1/3rd of the people employed in manufacturing and processing have not finished high school. But the new jobs that have been created are looking for high school graduates with some college. And to make matters worse, the cost of education is soaring — so fewer people can even afford to get these advanced levels of training. And companies no longer make lifetime hires but look for interchangeable people that require no training and can just be dropped into a position, used as required and then discarded.

Education requirements are escalating everywhere — jobs that have been done by regular college graduates now require a masters just to answer the phone. And behind all of this are human resource departments that have been telling business that they understand better than the business units what each job requires and will ensure that only the best candidates will get through. ‘Trust us… we know better than you what is really needed.’

The problem is that they don’t. And are substituting advanced credential-ism for being a help to the hiring departments rather than a controlling force. But it is worse than that — change is the only constant. But rather than investing in internal training and development  the emphasis is on hiring folks with exactly the right certifications for the current needs. The existing people gradually get phased out — so their knowledge of company process and customer needs gets lost as well.

But it is much worse — the employment market and the societal services that prepare people for it are growing increasingly out of step with each other and with society as a whole. The requirements for employ-ability are going up together with the costs of the necessary schooling, but employers have largely abandoned the internal development programs that helped so many in the past. And the low education jobs that sustained so many in the past have been successfully exported abroad — well done, folks!

So the rolls of the unemployed and homeless expand, jobs go begging and taxes go up. Do we introduce soylent green as a way of dealing with all these folks? Or can our brilliant human resources folks come up with a better way to match the available people with the available work? I hope so, but fear that like other groups of overly self-confident, highly educated and totally out of touch people it will always be someone else s’ problem. If so, then we are probably finished as a society and it is just a matter of time before we go the way of Rome.

People and Jobs

One of the things that bothers me about the current economic crisis is what is going to happen with all the people who have been displaced by jobs that have ceased to exist or have been exported elsewhere?

At one time, the eager but (perhaps) undereducated could find work pumping gas or working on an assembly line. Or perhaps they stayed home and worked on the family farm — though I am not so naive as to think that agriculture is a function for those less intellectually endowed. But many of these jobs have been pushed out of the system or moved elsewhere. North America no longer makes its own electronics and fewer people are involved in making furniture or assembling cars.

So where do the displaced go? Not everyone can go to night school and become a computer programmer. And (thankfully) the military no longer absorbs so many young men and women and marches them off to distant killing fields — removing them from the equation.

So as a society, what is our responsibility to those displaced by economic and technological change? Can we recreate the low level jobs that once absorbed so many? Do we need a new civilian conservation corp like the one that took my father off the streets during the Great Depression and put him to work building park trails in Oregon? Or do we follow the conservative view that it is their problem and society has no responsibility for them — so I guess that mass starvation is the logical end?

I would like to believe that everyone should be capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and not need public assistance. But the plain fact of the matter is that there are a lot of people who just cannot do that. So should my tax dollars go to support them? I don’t know — I would rather not be party to a welfare state. But that may be because of my own good fortune as opposed to any real thoughts about the welfare of others. I have seen the misery that conservative cutbacks have caused and it bothers me.

But the problem is much broader. I can see that as computers become more capable and automated factories become more prevalent, that many of the jobs that have occupied my contemporaries will become obsolete. There may come a point where the vast numbers of humanity do not have jobs in the conventional sense to occupy them. What do we do then? Do we build a society of bread and circuses to keep the masses distracted? (It has been done before…) Do we try to reduce populations so that there are fewer mouths to feed? Do we find a way to provide a basic sustenance for all? Or do we let the less capable die off — specters of an African famine or form roaming gangs to prey on the rest of us?

Over the long haul this may be one of the larger challenges we as a society face — up there with water shortages and climate change. As a society, are we willing to take responsibility for the welfare of our brothers and sisters? And if not, are we really condemning all of us to extinction?


There seem to be (at least) two kinds of relationships in use. The one kind is the caring, sharing (rare) type that O`Henry wrote about in the ‘Gift of the Messiah’. Then there are the exploitive relationships — where one partner describes the other in terms of how much money they make (never enough) and how much unquestioned slave work they do, for which they are never thanked, of course. And the other party is always complaining that their ‘partner’ never does enough (for them) and treats whatever is done with dismissive contempt.

This has been on my mind because I recently read an attempt at humor that came across as a very nasty encapsulation of an exploitive relationship. There was regret about the loss of a relationship because now the author had to do the slave work that was formerly done by the now departed ‘partner’.

This hit a nerve because I have been in both kinds of relationships, and know first hand that the first kind just goes on and on — while the second kind end badly with an unevenly distributed amount of suffering. Pity, the world would be a better place if there was more of the first and much less of the second — but then the divorce lawyers would starve, and we could not have that…