US Government Hiring?

Anne Fisher writes a column for CNNMoney and Fortune (I think its all the same, but there must be a subtle difference) and on Thursday (7/26/07) she cites a website called Partnership for Public Service. It is a great resource for anyone looking for a job in the public sector. The Partnership for Public Service says that the US Federal Government is hiring almost 200,000 by 2009. The huge hiring push is partly because of the baby boomers retiring. I don’t know about the benefits for the federal government, but that number can’t be as high on the private side. Big business is enticing their potential retirees to hang on longer but that is a blog for another time.

Fisher pulls out a few areas that are hiring:

  • 62,863 security and law-enforcement including 27,243 new border patrol agents, customs officer, immigration agents,
    food inspectors, criminal investigators, and airport screeners.
  • More
    than 23,000 nurses and nursing assistants, along with physicians,
    pharmacists and physical therapists to fill a total of 35,350 medical
    and public health jobs.
  • Biological scientists to
    address the threat of bioterrorism. In this field, the Department of
    Agriculture projects 2,462 hires and the Department of Homeland
    Security nearly 1,000 more.
  • More than 8,300 contracting experts at the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and other agencies.
  • Accountants,
    tax examiners, auditors, and budget and financial analysts to fill
    21,248 openings at the IRS, Treasury, and other agencies.
  • Information technology experts for at least 11,562 positions.
  • Attorneys, paralegals, and other legal professionals for 9,691 jobs at Treasury and other agencies.
  • Air traffic controllers to fill 15,004 jobs at the Department of Transportation.

That is a fantastic list. One area I  would have liked to see her pull out though is the Department of State. It is believed by many that improving the State Department would do wonders for the war on terror. Here is the Agency Mission:

Creates a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. Conducts the nation’s foreign affairs and diplomatic initiatives; oversees the Nation’s embassies and consulates; issues passports; monitors U.S. interests abroad; and represents the U.S. before international organizations.

Anyway, the Department of State is hiring about 1,400 for the Foreign Services and between 1,400 and 1,600 for Civil Service work. That is about 3,000 new hires. That number is smaller than most of the others she mentions. Of the Civil Service jobs, most of them are for processing passports because they are now needed to go to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada. So potentially, these are temporary roles. In an era where the world is finally mounting a serious challenge to the US in many aspects, but especially, economically, the Department of State is taking a back seat. Shouldn’t this be a time of renewed interest in sending bright Americans around the globe? Shouldn’t this a time of allowing the brightest foreign minds to come to the US? 27,243 new border patrol agents, customs officers, immigration agents,
and airport screeners jobs say that it might be but we can’t risk it.

Top Earning Towns

Money magazine does a feature about the best places to live every year. I noticed this year that they did one section on the top earning towns. The magazine might have done this in the past as well, but I paid attention to it this year. Number one on their list is Hillsborough, California at $263,456 as the median income. Number 25 on the list is Southlake, TX at $152,991. So about $110,000 separates number 1 from 25.

Two questions spring to my mind and I’m pretty sure the first one isn’t mentioned anywhere.

1) What does the line look like and when does it start to flatten out? For instance, Hillsborough makes about 42% more than Southlake, but it is only 24 spots removed. Well, number two is Scarsdale, NY at $219,317, which is 16.75% less than Hillsborough. Number three on the list is Los Altos Hills, CA at $199,370, which is 24.33% less than Hillsborough. Number four on the list is Winnetka, Illinois at $195,879, which is 25.65% less than Hillsborough. So the flattening starts between three and four. But it is pretty amazing that number three on the list is a town that makes almost 25% less than number one. Of course you can manipulate medians and the numbers themselves are a little suspect. What I mean by that is a business owner has more worth than income most of the time. So Hillsborough is number one on this list, but a list that calculates net worth might have a different outcome.

2) What does the list look like you if you include cost of living? I currently live in the south where several expenses are cheaper than their counterparts in the northeast. Using a COLA Calculator from Money magazine here are the stats:

Wage in Atlanta, GA – $100,000
Wage in Stamford, CT – $153,222

That is quite a difference to maintain the same standard of living (about 34% difference).

Wage in San Francisco (closest I could get to Hillsborough), CA – $175,299 (about 43% difference).

Now lets compare number 1 with number 2

Wage in San Francisco, CA – $100,000
Wage in Nassau County, NY (an approximation of Scarsdale) – $87,131 (about 13% less)

Now the difference between number one and number two in earnings was 16.75%, so it looks like with cost of living adjustments that they are about the same (16.75% higher earnings, but 13% higher cost to live there). However, I used approximations, so I can’t say that definitively, but it at least deserves some thought. There may be a town that isn’t a high income town, but it is extremely cheap, making it a greater value place to live.

!!! I just saw that the article does include Buying Power, a component of Cost of Living, but the list doesn’t seem to take into account that aspect. I will have to review it and update this entry !!!

Motivating Work

There is a saying that goes “I work to live, not live to work” and what that implies is that there are more important things in that person’s life than work. It is a reasonable statement. It also hints that the person isn’t completely fulfilled, in a professional sense, with the work being performed.

In the ultra competitive environment of today’s world there is great focus on math and science programs, with engineering being an output. The US is often criticized for falling behind the rest of the world in those areas. Tests prove that out. However, I rarely read about the significant progress the US has made in the arts. For instance, several renowed contempory writers are US based. Historically, the US has lacked in the area of art. Also impressive is the use of the internet to express oneself. The US is falling behind in a math and science regard, but leaping ahead in social connectedness. It is almost as if the generation of teen agers and early twenties is developing a new form of digital awareness.

I bring this up because as the international community becomes greater at specific process oriented work, the US is becoming more specialized in the arts. Work that is the most rewardng and satisfying (and more likely to get the workers discretionary effort) is heuristic in nature. It requires autonomous creativity that results in improving the relevant community. Work that is algorithmic tends to have a step by step associated process. These jobs tend to have low satisfaction levels over the long run. They tend to be mundane. If the educational system is succeeding it might be because of the stubborness that I’ve riducled in a past post. The media and big business tend to harp on the lack of engineers being produced in the US, but to the credit of the unchanging educational system, art programs haven’t disappeared. To really develop a work force, you need an art baseline to do the heuristic work required to innovate and create unique change. Otherwise, you only get incremental adjustments. Finally, every so often a report comes out that says that the US workforce is working longer hours. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, especially if the work performed is challenging and interesting. It is a bad thing if it is “I work to live, not live to work.”

Earning Season

We are currently in a period where corporations are reporting their year end or second quarter earnings. I expect most companies to do well, but what I’m not sure of is how well? I’m probably oversimplifying but in my opinion two factors pulled the US out of the poor economy in 2001 and 2002: interest rates were lowered creating a housing bubble and the job market tightened. The later is mentioned because big business was able to create outstanding productivity returns without having to increase payroll. The old “you are lucky to have a job” situation. That propped up the corporate world enough to start seeing the stock market reflect that value. Unfortunately for the little guy, the profits weren’t shared. Most went to the executive levels and since President Bush’s tax system doesn’t apply at the same rate to the rich as it does to the middle class, those executives were able to take advantage of the low interest rates to invest in real estate. Granted the low interest rates helped many people, but second homes were being built on the backs of employees who didn’t get large raises. So, now that the employment market is swinging back toward the every man (although, not entirely in the US) it will be interesting to see if productivity gains keep pace.

What also is happening is that businesses are tucking away compensation costs into variable forms – bonuses. This is great for the books because it doesn’t show up as a fixed cost, but I have to imagine the analysts sooner or later devaluing that number. They aren’t naive. Besides, the best employees are going to eventually want their compensation to be distributed more frequently and assuredly. The uncertainty of a bonus loses its appeal. The best employees don’t want that anxiety, especially when they get to be anxious about the health care cost increase that is inevitable.

Self-Determination Theory

In the June ’07 issue of Men’s Health magazine is an anticle by Tom McGrath called “Unleash Your Potential.” It focuses on the subject of people that are self motivated and how that translates to their success. Since it is a men’s fitness magazine the subject leans toward hitting the gym and being active. What really hit me is this line “… The more self-determined we are – that is, the more we’re doing what we want to do and aren’t being forced to do – the happier and more successful we tend to be.” That says a lot. It plays right to those people that always say to follow your dreams. Most of the time that rings hollow because the average person is too risk averse to follow their dreams. Unfortunately, not everyone that does take that risk realizes their number 1 dream either. So playing it safe does avoid the pitfalls that come with trying and failing. But the cost of not trying is doing a job that isn’t what you desire to do. According to the earlier quote, it suggests that your success could be limited because of it.

This blog and probably the majority of all blogs fall into this self-determination theory. No one is paying me to write what I think about the job market. I simply like that topic and want to share my thoughts. There are many other blogs for different topics that doing the same thing. Articles like this one provide further motivation externally for me to continue. Writing this does make me happy and if success is a bi-product then that is great too.

I will follow up on the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in a few more posts. I want to read some of the material out there from Richard Ryand and Edward Deci. You can find more information from them by going to their University of Rochester website.

When Discipline gets in the way

Discipline seems to have a Ying and Yang orientation to it.
For instance, to be good at something you need to practice. It takes discipline
to learn something because you not only have to practice it, which takes
energy, you have practice it with focus on a particular improvement.
Memorization is an example. Everyone, either to their delight or their dismay,
can remember going over the multiplication tables in grade school: 5 times 5 is
25, 5 times 6 is 30, so on. Or it might be dribbling a soccer ball and you just
run with it to increase your endurance while maintaining touch with the ball.
But simply practicing only makes you good, not great. So what makes you great?
Creativity. Once someone masters the basics, two paths usually unfold. One is
that the person wants to become superb at running the practiced routines faster
and faster. But the other path is that the person gets very comfortable with
their ability and begins to tweak the practiced routine. I once watched a soccer
game where a player drove the ball to the baseline and began to take the ball
to the goal. This is the practiced play, but the defender played the ball
handler very aggressively. The ball handler merely retreated back toward the
sideline and allowed the defender to continue to play up close. At a certain
point, the ball handler suddenly stopped, pivoted on the ball and completely
turned around, going back toward the goal. This wasn’t a practiced play. It was
a very surprising move to the defender who was now completely out of the play.
No goal was scored, but you can tell that the defender learned to respect the
ball handler beyond the normal practiced routines. Also, more scoring
opportunities presented themselves throughout the match because of the move.

Why do I mention the Ying Yang of discipline?
Because it seems to be happening in regards to outsourcing in the US. In an
article in the New York Times by Steve Lohr titled “At I.B.M., a Smarter Way to
” Lohr talks about the fact that rules based jobs are doing very well
in places like India. The education and training there produces people that can
do jobs that require lots of practice. This is the path where someone wants to
be superb at doing the routines faster and faster. As the work becomes more
commoditized, the problems that people face become more complicated and less
about the known rules. Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
is quoted as saying “People are doing more custom
work that varies case by case.” The end result is that people with the skills
to advance beyond the rules and get creative, have an advantage in this day of
outsourcing. So much advantage, that Tata Consultancy Services, an Indian firm,
is hiring US based personnel to fill this skill gap for them.

On more thought on this. One of the 20th
century’s greatest minds was Albert Einstein. He, according to a column written
by Thomas Friedman called “China Needs an Einstein. So Do We” was able to do
the work he did, not by just knowing the current physics, math, and logic, but
by using his imagination and creativity to see something that wasn’t already
known. One of the hardest things to do in this world is come up with a unique
thought. Most good ideas are cobbled together from other ideas. But what
Einstein did was remarkable because no one had that thought and the ability to
see it through like he did. Just like the soccer player, they each deviated
from their discipline to come up with something greater, but neither could have
done so, without the discipline in the first place.

Just-In-Time Employees?

The job numbers came in this past Thursday and the market looks to be on the uptick, however, an article by Chris Isidore called Attention shoppers: No jobs here on CNNMoney says that it isn’t happening in the Retail segment. Chris hits on several themes as to why there aren’t any jobs in retail.
    a) Retailors are simply not hiring
    b) A labor shortage is making candidates hard to find
    c)Internet shopping is increasing
    d) Better scheduling

I found the part about better scheduling interesting. Software is enabling the merchants to have personnel on the floor only during times of peak sales. So if a big box store is selling the Nintendo Wii, then the entire staff will be there for that day, since the store should be filled with potential buyers of additional merchandise. The software must do a great job predicting when buyers will be present and what their needs are. So I assume it tracks normal buying times, and then says that Fridays or the 1st and 15th of the month after 5:00 PM are more likely to have potential shoppers. But what happens during slow times? I know there is staff there because there must be enough sales to cover operational costs. Otherwise, you would just close the store and only open during optimal sales time. But you know that can’t happen – shoppers would not have clear expectations for the store. But isn’t that happening as a result of the staff reduction? I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a big box store and haven’t been able to find something (unfortunately, when help is present, they seem to only have a 50/50 shot too). Another assumption I will make is that many retail store workers (excluding commission based employees) don’t have high salaries or hourly rates. I would guess that the opportunity cost would surpass the hourly rate. Maybe the problem Wal-Mart is having with selling more high end products is that they haven’t trained their employees to act like high end salesmen. I know several people, including myself, that consider Wal-Mart a “get in and get out” store. Their employees, either too busy because there isn’t enough of them or not interested in helping, don’t prevent that mentality.

So what is the alternative? Commission sales? Too many sales people that end up getting in the way? I guess I would do some hybrid. Have an employee in a specific section. Have that employee be an expert in that area. Then let commissions come into play. But have the commissions be some sort of voluntary system that is two fold. For instance, if I need a hammer, I go to the tools section. All I want is a hammer, but the sales person asks for what type of work. I answer that I’m hanging alphabet letters for my new born. He can recommend a hammer and the appropriate nails. When checking out I get the option of identifying my sales rep and answering the question of whether I would engage him again if I were to purchase something similar. Simple Yes or No. Wal-Mart can compensate either by providing a percentage additional to the work check or some other meaningful way, but more importantly, it changes the perception of the store being an in and out store. Eventually, I would buy more than just nails.
But what happens when there are more shoppers than sales reps? Obviously, the software isn’t perfect… yet.

Why No Changes?

Several recent articles (I need to track a few down and link to them) have talked about how the US for the first time is experiencing an era where children are not guaranteed a greater quality of life than their parents. There are many reasons for this, but the one I feel is most prominent is the lack of change in the education field. The world has had many forces reshape it over the past 40 plus years – some are good, but many are bad for teaching. Yet, the public education system has remained similar to what it was post World War II (and maybe even before that, I’ll look it up). Not much in the US has that much staying power.

There are also several recent articles describing the amount of the compensation package to hedge fund managers. If you hold one of these lucrative positions then there is a good chance that you are now one of the richest people in the world. You accepted a large amount of risk and the market has rewarded you for it. When the market is up, that tends to be the result. When it is down, I doubt we will see any articles, but that is not where I’m driving this. The growth of the number of hedge funds is accredited to the ease of amassing credit. This allows the manager to take volume gains on investments that are traditionally risky or long term. Since the taxes don’t disincent this investment activity then it is worth the risk. But what bothers me is that there isn’t anything innovative about this. We are in a positive market, so the results bear out.

This mentality of avoiding risk and going with what works is what is bothersome. The public education system is largely the same as it was for the past 60 years. Over that time, especially in the recent past, the margin between the rich and the middle class has widened. Normally, that is a ho hum story, but if the reports are true, that this is the first generation that won’t have an improved standard of living, then we have hit a new threshold. So in a positive market the ultrawealthy will get richer and the educational system won’t advance. What happens in a negative market?