The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Jan 24, 2019

Part 12: Overcoming Traditional Education Challenges

Happy New Year, everyone!  In our last entry, we shared the traditional educational approach to solving some of the workforce issues being faced.  As part of that discussion, I mentioned a few challenges facing that traditional approach. Today, we will examine how the traditional education system can overcome these challenges.


Some of the challenges faced by traditional education are inherent in the system.  Because the world and its needs are changing at an ever-increasing pace, it is critical for collegiate programs to have curriculum approved and accredited - or at a minimum - reviewed in a timely manner. Because traditional educational systems change slowly, there is every possibility that the curriculum will not change in time to meet the needs of college students.  Additionally, the time it takes to decide and then complete a degreed program is measured in years (and as we shared in Part 11 it is approaching the better part of a decade), and obviously, that timeframe won’t address the current, urgent need for a skilled workforce.   The traditional education system needs approaches to these inherent challenges for it to be viewed as a viable solution to the workforce conundrum.  Later in this series, we will examine more apocalyptic approaches, but today, we will limit ourselves to lesser adjustments, and we will leave the idea of complete overhaul for a later...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Dec 18, 2018

Part 11: Traditional Schooling – Strengths & Weaknesses

Just like there are no simple answers to solving world hunger or perfecting a global economy, there are no simple approaches to solving the workforce conundrum.  As we have discussed in many of this year’s Workforce Conundrum blogs, there are challenges from several different fronts that need to be addressed: demographic differences in generations and gender, rapidly changing information, company loyalty concerns, as well as unemployment and poor alignment of available skilled workers.  It seems obvious to me that there is no silver bullet to resolving these concerns.  We are dealing with multivariable calculus in which the operational rules change even while we are working on the problem.  The solution requires a multipronged approach to ‘how’ we can go about improving this concern.

In this multifaceted approach, we will be discussing several avenues of approach: traditional schooling, ad hoc training, leveraging technology, exploiting shortcuts, and apprenticeships or earn and learn models.  That’s your foreshadowing…now, let’s tackle the first ‘how’ in the list – traditional schooling.

Traditional Education

For this article, we will be defining traditional education as that which takes place after high school: Universities, Community Colleges and Technical / Trade colleges.  These are similar in that they offer courses in...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Dec 06, 2018

Part 10: The Gender Question!


As I mentioned last week, in Part 5: Demographic Differences, we reviewed two primary topics: generational differences and gender differences.  In today’s blog, we discuss discoveries around gender as it concerns the workplace and talk about what companies and organizations might do to enhance their success when confronting any challenges. 

Differences Expected

Again, let me reiterate the danger of generalizations (some of which we are about to report on) when it comes to gender.  Every individual is indeed that – an individual.  What we will be sharing below represents trends, not absolutes, so to get the best results you will need to know your people well.  Really well.  Which leads us to our first point – Communication.

According to research, a woman’s tendency to be more empathetic than her male counterpart makes her a better listener and communicator.[i]  Other communication stylistic differences include assigning projects and tasks and asking questions. “Several well-respected studies have shown women tend to soften their demands and statements, whereas men tend to be more direct.”[ii]  Women also tend to ask more questions and do so with dual purpose: gaining information and to develop a relationship.[iii]  Men, on the other hand, focus primarily on the former.


Similar studies through the years have cited differences in attitudes and...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workplace Nov 27, 2018

Part 9: Generations Unite!

As you may recall from Part 5: Demographic Differences, we reviewed two primary topics: generational differences and gender differences.  In today’s blog, I want to take what we discovered and talk about what companies and organizations might do to enhance their success when confronting these differences.  As these are broad in implication, I expect this blog will be broken into two parts: this week’s blog will cover generational differences while next week’s will cover differences in gender.

What Are the Generational Differences?

There are now up to five generations in the work place.  Business life was complicated enough when there were just two generations in the work place, so this adds several degrees of difficulty to the manager or business owner.  As most of the workforce is dominated by Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials at this time, our “What’s” will focus here, but we will also touch on Generation Z.  The reason for attention to Gen Z - even though there are not many in the workforce at this point - is that if you are going to make a change, you also need to focus on your future employees. Done correctly, a well-designed workplace will be able to accommodate future generations, and you can avoid making major cultural shifts when the next generation becomes dominant in the workforce.

Before I share some typical examples in each of these, let me remind and caution...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Nov 13, 2018

Part 8: Information Off-loading

I appreciate all the feedback on last week’s blog.  This week I will be sharing several different ways that we can offload some of the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us on a daily basis.  As you may recall in Part 4 of The Workforce Conundrum, we talked about just how much information overload we experience.  In summary, the rate of information has changed from doubling every 100 years to about every 2 years per field.  You may recall the quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt below.

With all this information available and constantly finding its way into our psyches and analysis, how can we possibly find time to cover it all? We can’t.  This is important.  We need to reclaim our lives and move forward on the path of skills and knowledge improvement.

Let me offer some thoughts on finding time and managing information.

Finding More Time

I remember watching a commercial when I was much younger in which a child kept asking his dad to spend more time with him.  The closing message we were left with was “Time, I’ve got as much as anybody.”  I remember this phrase vividly.  Yes, we do all have the same 24 hours in a day, but sometimes – it just doesn’t seem to be enough. 

Several years ago, I came home from work exhausted, complaining to my wife about how I just didn’t have enough time to get everything done I needed to get done, never...

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The Workforce Conundrum

eduation skills workforce Nov 08, 2018

Part 7: It’s All about Skills

What a crazy week it has been.  I was honored with an invite to attend the White House Pledge to America’s Workers event last week in response to IPC’s commitment to provide more than one million job opportunities to the U.S. workforce over the next five years.

Because the skills gap is a critical issue worldwide, IPC is also researching ways to see if can we make the same kind of pledge in Europe in 2019.  The primary way IPC will be supporting our European members is by providing training g opportunities to individuals, which leads me right into today’s topic on skills and continuous learning.

We continue to hear fearful prognostications about artificial intelligence (AI), robots and other ways in which we will be replaced in the workplace[i].  A November 2017 McKinsey study estimates that by 2030, 50% of current work activities are automatable by already tested technologies.[ii]  Whether your job is eliminated due to automation, a merger, or something like corporate restructuring, when you are out of work…it is one of the worst feelings in the world.  But we are not helpless beings.  We can prepare for what might be considered the inevitable.  At some point, you either needed to find a job or you will need to find a job.  So, what to do?

The U.S. Labor Department reported recently[iii] that there are 6.66 million jobs available, but only around 6.56 million people...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Oct 31, 2018

Part 6: Mind the Gap

In the first five parts of this discussion, we described many of the “whys” around The Workforce Conundrum.  As we pointed out with Part 1, one of these major influences is the skills gap.  There are and will be millions of jobs that are currently going unfilled because employers cannot find employees with the right skills set to fill the open position.  What do we need to solve this? The answer seems straightforward – we need trained and capable workers.  So, why don’t we have more trained and capable?  Time to work on the “whats.”

Welcome to the Technical Workplace, Welcome to the Future

Today’s workplace is increasingly technical in nature. What may seem to some to be 1,000 years ago, there was a position in the corporate world called a secretary.  A typical secretary would need to know how to take short hand (see Figure 1 for a sample of what may seem to be a foreign language – but is indeed, short-hand), there was a typing speed test (how many words per minute can you type without any errors), and the interactions or desire for hearing a secretary’s opinion on any topic was virtually non-existent.

Figure 1: Example of Shorthand[i]

Compare that with the closest modern-day equivalent – an administrative assistant.  Yes, they still need to know how to type – on a computer as opposed to a typewriter, they manage an electronic calendar, help create...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Oct 23, 2018

Part 5: Demographic Differences

And, we’re back!  In this part of the Workforce Conundrum, we will explore (at a surface level) some of the challenges the workplace faces due to demographic differences. This will be the last major influencer we explore before moving from the ‘Why’ explorations to some of the ‘What’ actions that are needed to address the issues we’ve previously discussed.  Demographic differences by their very nature express trends, not absolutes. For example, if I were to say that cats are lazy and proud creatures, that would not necessarily apply to all cats, but might serve instead as a general observation about their behavior. This insight might keep you from expecting most cats to go and fetch a stick when you throw one across the yard.  So, with that, let’s get on with the exploration of why demographic differences may be part of the challenge of the Workforce Conundrum.

Five Generations: When? How do they Differ?

I expect many of you have heard that there are now five generations in the workforce.  Let me just take a minute and cover what we mean by that.  There is the Greatest Generation (born 1945 and earlier), the Boomers (born 1946 -1964), Gen Xers (born 1965 – 1980), Millennials (born 1981 – 2000), and Gen Z (born 2001 and later).  While I am sure there are members of the Greatest Generation and Generation Z in the workforce, the vast majority are currently...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Oct 16, 2018

Part 4: Information Overload

Welcome to Part 4 of the Workforce Conundrum. As we explore pieces of the puzzle that are at the root of the workforce conundrum, we will be looking at the pressures of the excessive amounts of information exerted upon those striving to fill the skills gap.  In my prior posts, I covered three other pieces of the puzzle: the skills gap; the under or unemployed; and company loyalty, and if you haven’t reviewed those yet, I would encourage you to do so, so you will be able to better understand some of the major influences.  Ok, now, let’s explore the information overload that we are facing.

Just how much information are we facing as a group? 

Let’s take a historical look at the growth of information over the centuries.  Buckminster Fuller described[i] what he referred to as the “Knowledge Doubling Curve.”  Let me illustrate: Until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century; by the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years; our average human knowledge is now doubling every 13 months.  Examples for specific fields show that nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years while clinical knowledge doubles about every 18 months. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1

The rate of information overload increased with the advent of the Internet.  It isn’t just the amount of information available, but the rate at which it changes is unprecedented .  As more...

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The Workforce Conundrum

education skills workforce Oct 09, 2018

Part 3: Company Loyalty

Welcome to Part 3 of the Workforce Conundrum. In these first few parts we are assembling the pieces of the puzzle, so we can provide solutions in the subsequent parts.  Today, the piece we will try to clarify concerns Company Loyalty.  At the close of Part 2, I shared some startling statistics around mergers and acquisitions.  With the rapid growth of these events and the inevitable elimination of duplicate positions, we can understand why employees might not be so loyal to the company that employs them. Let’s review some data proving whether company loyalty is an issue (does it exist? And if so should we care?).

Long gone are the days where most people join companies for life, even those individuals who might, through mergers and acquisitions, realize that they have worked for several companies without ever leaving their desk!  My brother-in-law, a rocket scientist, started off working for Boeing, then he worked for Pratt and Whitney, then he worked for Aerojet.  The only trick – he came to the same office every day for each of those companies.  It is hard to be loyal when the logo changes around you as you work.

Another factor that impacts company loyalty is generational differences (something we will explore in Part 5).  There was an interesting study done last fall by Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business[i]  that describes loyalty or longevity to a company as primarily...

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