Reflecting on a Job Market – Employee and Employer

To gain significant wealth in the US you have to take significant risk. Usually that means starting your own business or being on the ground floor with someone who is. The individuals who put their neck on the line deserve the spoils of that risk. The last three years proves the fittest survives in business.

We can somewhat reflect now. The once in a generation economy is behind us, so it’s time to see what the new world looks like. It’s lean and flexible. But a chasm is growing between the employer and the employees. Here are some stats from a Mercer survey I read about by Ben Rooney on CNNMoney called  Half of Workers Unhappy in their Jobs:

  • 32% of US workers are seriously considering leaving their job. Up from 23% in 2005.
  • Of the age group 25-34, 40% are seriously considering leaving. Within that number is 44% of employees who are 24 and younger. The cheap labor is ready to bolt.
  • And more alarming, 56% of senior managers are considering leaving. This compares to 34% of managers and 30% of non-managers. The experienced are also looking to jump to other opportunities.
  • A slightly different take, but 21% have disengaged from their employer, meaning they are not looking for a new job, but they are apathetic toward their current one. This could be burn out and it could mean the productivity gains via personnel has reached it’s limit.

Workers are getting disenfranchised by the circumstances of their employment. In addition to that, there are business owners who have moved away from the proper perspective. They’ve had leverage for over three years. Chances are they laid off some people. Those that remain should have a debt of gratitude. It could be worse.

The business owner who has survived is entitled to some fun, but they need to realize no one does it alone. I was out to dinner with a friend in the industrial fabrication and installation field of work. He had an exchange with his boss similar to the one in the movie below. I embellished it for effect, but much of this exchange is true, particularly the part about the water skis
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/12155321/a-resignation-story

6.5 Graphs Outlining the US Economy

I’m in a room that’s 8 feet by 10 feet. It’s just me. There’s a small box playing loops of TV shows, but I’m ignoring it. The temperature is 95 degrees but its cold in here. And I have a lot to think about.

I know I’m going to pay for it. Situations like this require penance and it’s going to cost me. It’s part of life though and inevitably I’ll be back.

The bill was a shade under $200. Frankly it could have been a lot worse. My car hasn’t been serviced in a year; it needed an oil change, inspection, tire rotation, and the radiator hose had a hole in it. I paid for the car, but I got time to think.

This cycle of activity drove me to consider the business cycle. It normally looks like a sound wave with peaks (good times) and valleys (recessions).

Are we still in a recession? Are we in an initial recovery? Maybe even an early upswing? Chris Stuart wondered the same thing in his write up Why We’re At The Early Upswing Stage In The Business Cycle.

I predicted the recession after observing a lack of income appreciation and buying patterns changing in October 2007 and although this is a classic supply and demand cycle where aggregate demand is lacking it feels more structural. Structural means the skills needed in the employment arena are lacking in the environment, so a transitional period of training is required. Instead of a sudden shift in skills we have an elongated one. Globalization dramatically changed supply chains and created liquidity in the job market. Goods producing jobs like manufacturing are now feasible almost anywhere. And the education advantage of the US is no longer prevalent.

This is forcing the US to consider it’s jobs strategy, or at least create one in the first place. Many of the assumptions about the viability of the US worker are no longer true. And think about the US consumer. Will they always buy? Like an alarm clock introducing the morning, the US worker and US consumer realized better days are not guaranteed. People are starting to slowly de-leverage. It’s a huge adjustment in the way people live their lives and it will take time. The debt burden is simply too great.

So if this cycle is a classic supply and demand recession and the US consumer isn’t going to buy (low demand) then isn’t this going to take awhile? Yes, the rest of 2011 and 2012.

Here’s my outline of the timescale:

Jobs will be tepid but consistent for the rest of the year and next. Companies large and small are getting creative with their resources. Many are investing in equipment rather than people (you don’t need to buy health insurance for an industrial printer), but the gains will be positive. There is no double dip recession.

The best workers are beginning to jump to other opportunities. They’ve installed micro-innovations for their current employers, but since volume has been low these improvements haven’t knocked anyone’s socks off. But they will.

So after a period of discipline, brighter days are ahead.

——–

I wanted to pull together some graphs showing what’s happened since the beginning of 2008. Below are four time-scaled illustrations showing the situation with jobs.

  1. The first one is the overall jobs report. It shows how far we have to go to balance out the lost jobs.
  2. The second one is a growth rate of jobs for the private sector as they relate to Service Producing and Goods Producing industries. Goods Producing encapsulates manufacturing and construction, two of the harder hit industries. 
  3. Since the ratio of Service Providing jobs and Goods Producing jobs is 5 to 1, I wanted to show the relative impact and that is what the third graph depicts.
  4. The last one the Dow Jones during the same period. It’s the index that most people focus on as a reflection of the stock market.

Lastly, Wired did some research with Linkedin.com about what terms people were using in their titles after they changed jobs. The results below reflect a pool of 7 million linkedin users and a good indication of what jobs are in need in this day in age. But remember, people still need an oil change.

Working Thoughts 6/15/2010
We Respond To Cues Very Effectively

Working Thoughts 6/15/2009
Resilient Attitudes are Rare

May 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for April 2011 (based on the job report):

Net gain of 54,000 jobs in the month (revised to a gain of 25,000 jobs)
  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 180,00Private sector payrolls increased by 83,000
  • Private service producing industries added 80,000 (194,000 last month and 154,000 the month before
  • Goods producing industries gained 3,000 (38,000 last month and 40,000 the month before)
  • The US has added 908,000 private sector jobs this year and 2.1 million since the start of 2010
  • April was revised to a gain of 232,000 from an original reading of 244,000
  • March was revised to a gain of 194,000 from an original reading of 216,000 and a revision of 221,000
  • Revisions subtracted 39,000 jobs from earlier readings
  • Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 38,000 in May
  • downwardly revised 177,000 increase in April
  • economists’ expectations for private sector job growth of 170,000 for the month.
  • the manufacturing sector cut 9,000 jobs
  • the financial services sector lost 6,000 jobs
  • the construction sector cut 8,000 workers
  • the broader services sector added 48,000 jobs overall
  • McDonald’s hired 62,000 workers, which are part of a subcategory called food services. Without this hiring spree, the report could conceivably be a neutral report (no jobs gained or lost)
    In April, the number of job openings was 3 million, down a touch from 3.1 million in March
    About 13.9 million people were out of work in April
  • 6.2 million had have been jobless for six months or longer
    45.1% of the unemployed are long term unemployed.
  • Employers announced plans to cut 37,135 jobs in April, down 4.3% from May 2010
  • 1.8% increase over April’s 36,490 planned job cuts
  • comparing the first five months of 2010 to 2011 shows 2011 has 21% fewer announced job cuts (things are bad, but not as bad as last year)

Unemployment rate rose to 9.1%

  • Analysts predicted it would remain at 8.9%
  • The labor force
    participation rate is 64.2% (66.5% is average to good) – unchanged for the fifth straight month
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.4% – No change
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), rose to 15.8% from 15.9% last month
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 53.5% and the 22nd consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running. This is a significant drop from April’s reading of 60.4%
  • Service sector activity rose to 54.6% (52.8% last month and 57.3% before that and down from 59.7%). It was the 17th straight month of growth


Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 5,000 jobs
  • Construction gained 2,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 8,500 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 6,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 29,000, 28,000 was in local government
  • Education and Health Services grew by 34,000 jobs
  • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 27,200
    • Professional and Business Services grew by 44,000
    • 1,200 jobs lost in Temporary Help

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.43 – up six cents from last month and 11 cents over the last two months
  • Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.6 hours, no change again

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Split Personalities – Tax Breadth and Tax Depth

We seem to have split personalities when it comes to the news and our politics. In the news we hear about natural disasters and the sour economy. In politics we hear about the failings of the President and the deficit. Why are these two voices talking about different subjects?

The truth is they are talking about the same problem, just different ends of it. The US is maturing. A large portion of the population is entering their retirement years. Every day, for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65. By 2030, 18% of the U.S. population will be over 65, compared with today’s 13%.

This is important for several reasons, but here are two:

  1. Federal tax collection is based on income. Those that are retired usually don’t make significant income, so the taxes they contribute are very low. A change or decrease of 5% is a huge impact to the revenue of the government. Or said another way, 10,000 people, who have a high average income, can drop out of the tax pool everyday.
  2. The baby boomers have been in leadership positions for two decades. The groups behind them, smaller in numbers, will need to fill the void.

The first reason is why you hear about Medicare and the budget. The second reason is why you hear about stimulus and silicon valley.

– When we talk about the deficit and paying down the debt we are talking about the inevitability of time. Our demographics show an aging population who will not be contributing to tax rolls. Less income means less spending. Tax Breadth.

– When we talk about innovation and stimulus spending we are pushing for investment and hopefully an improvement in future wealth and the standard of living. This would offset the loss of tax income from those no longer in the workforce. Tax Depth.

Both of these are concerns. I tend to be more transfixed with the latter. Many young professionals are either not entering the workforce or they are at compensation levels below the norm of 5 years ago. This lag in pay is not easily overcome and tends to persist for a career. Smaller income means smaller taxes paid. In addition to that, younger professionals are not moving into challenging roles as they would have in the past. Opportunities for learning experiences are reduced. Plus what they’ve been taught in school isn’t applicable e.g. China has changed dramatically since 2007, but the text books didn’t.

The 18% not in the workforce is unavoidable, but what should be asked is what’s to come of the under employed?

There will always be some number of the under employed, but we are currently looking at a devastating mix of long durations and loss of skills. The recession as it began in 2007 was a supply and demand recession, meaning nothing out of the ordinary occurred. But the last two years has led to a structural recession. This means that the skills and knowledge the US worker has isn’t quite matching up with what labor is needed. If this is more than a blip then high unemployment will continue for a few years as education and training requirements sort themselves out.

But I also feel like the 16-24 group, or more broadly the under 30 age group, is pioneering a new track. The way the view the world is much different than their older counterparts. As a consumer group they can influence the creation and offering of products and services. The next 24 months will be telling about the future of this country.

Using Data as a Predictor of Sports Success

There’s a huge celebration going on this week – a celebration of decision making. You see the NFL Draft starts Thursday (4/28/11) and runs through Saturday (4/30/11) and fans tune in to see who their team selects. No games are played, just people’s names being called.

Why do we care? The simple answer is hope. We’ve entrusted the future of our favorite teams to a room full of guys with spreadsheets. We want to believe they have the magic formula for selecting the players who succeed in the NFL. They’ve studied film, measured height, weight, speed, interviewed the candidates, and surveyed other experts. They’ve quantified all these inputs and ranked the candidates. Most of the time they tier them for purposes of trading up or down. Teams win Super Bowls because of these three days.

It’s a lot of data and yet every year mistakes are made. As a General Manager, the person ultimately making the decision, you need the hits to be proportionally more successful than your misses. And you need to learn from your data year over year to see which inputs pan out and which ones do not. From there you can use heuristics to simplify the ranking order and reduce the risk of missing on a selection.

Below are two videos. One is from the Sloan Sports Conference and it features Peter Tingling. I’m a fan of Mr. Tingling and his company, Octothorpe Software (this is not a paid endorsement). Peter provides a presentation about how how successful NHL drafts are.

The second video is from the most famous sixth round pick ever – Tom Brady. He is your classic case of not using the data correctly.

http://www.kaltura.com/index.php/kwidget/wid/_203822/uiconf_id/1898102/entry_id/1_bukfpvkn/

Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart – A Book Review

Quick Take: Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart is a collection of academia based essays proving the comparative value of decision making based on good enough information. The examples and anecdotes are good, but there is complex math to wade through. It isn’t a leisure read. However, each section can be consumed on it’s own. If you’re a student of decision making, whether it’s group dynamics or individual situations, then this book is a good heuristics reference.

Detail Review: Many of us have a comfortable chair which serves as our place to relax.
Its great for 40 winks. But why do we relish peacefully falling asleep
in a chair? Most of the time it’s because we are mentally exhausted. Everyday we are faced with an ever changing list of choices to make and each has a list of known variables and all kinds of factors which are unknown. We try to streamline choices that have worked so we don’t need to concentrate on it. I take the same route to work everyday even though there are probably another ten ways to get there, for instance.

I wish I had a computer in my head to compute all the different inputs into making a decision. I could continually collect data and analyze it practically to a 100% decision certainty. But I don’t have a computer or unlimited time, instead I rely on heuristics. Heuristics are simple methods for using particular cues and constraints to make a choice. Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter M. Todd, and The ABC Research Group authored this tome as a study of how accurate specific heuristics are.

Here are a few heuristics covered in the book:

Recognition
Definition – If one of two objects is recognized and the other is not, then infer that the recognized object has the higher value with respect to the criterion.
Example – If I ask 100 Americans which city in Germany is more populated Berlin or Saarburg? The results will be close to 100% correct – Berlin is more populated. Of the 100 people few, if any, will recognize Saarburg as a city, but practically all of them will have heard of Berlin. Because of that recognition they will answer Berlin even though they know little about the actual number of people who live in either city.

Take the Best
Definition – When making a judgment based on multiple cues, the criterion are tried one at a time according to their cue validity, and a decision is made based on the first criterion which discriminates between the alternatives.
Example – Suppose we ask the question about population again, but instead of Saarburg we use Frankfurt. Berlin and Frankfurt are both recognizable so we must use other reasons to discriminate population. We pose a list of usual indicators of large populations – historical relevance, it’s a capital, tourism, sports teams, and so on. From that list we rank the list based on which ones usually are more of an indication of population and try to separate the two. We compare Frankfurt and Berlin for tourism and realize that Berlin is much more of a destination than Frankfurt is. We stop there and don’t review the other reasons. We take the best separator – tourism – and decide to invest no more time in evaluating. Berlin is the answer.

Take the Last
Definition – When making a judgment based on multiple cues, the criterion are sorted according to what worked last time. It uses memory of prior problem solving instances and works from what was successful before.
Example – I’m now comparing Frankfurt and Munich in population. I’ve heard of both so I can’t use Recognition. I use Tourism as the candidate since it worked with Berlin and Frankfurt. This time I go with Munich because they’ve hosted an Olympics and is more of a destination than Frankfurt. This answer is correct and time and energy was saved because I didn’t need to sort through all the other criteria.

In addition to those there are:

  • Franklin’s Rule – calculates for each alternative the sum of the cue values multiplied by the corresponding cue weights (validaties) and selects the alternative with the highest score.
  • Dawes’s Rule – calculates for each alternative the sum of the cue values (multiplied by a unit weight of 1) and selects the alternative with the highest score.
  • Good Features (Alba & Marmorstein, 1987) selects the alternative with the highest number of good features. A good feature is a cue value that exceeds a specified cutoff.
  • Weighted Pros (Huber, 1979) selects the alternative with the highest sum of weighted “pros.” A cue that has a higher value for one alternative than for the others is considered a pro for this alternative. The weight of each pro is defined by the validity of the particular cue.
  • LEX or lexicographic (Fishburn, 1974) selects the alternative with the highest cue value on the cue with the highest validity. If more than one alternative has the same highest cue value, then for these alternatives the cue with the second highest validity is considered, and so on. Lex is a generalization of Take the Best
  • EBA or Elimination by Aspects (Tsersky, 1972) eliminates all alternatives that do not exceed a specified value on the first cue examined. If more than one alternative remains, another cue is selected. This procedure is repeated until only one alternative is left. Each cue is selected with a probability proportional to its weight. In contrast to this probabilistic selection, in the present chapter the order in which EBA examines cues to determine by their validity, so that in every case the cue with the highest validity is used first.
  • Multiple Regression is a statistically analysis of how the typical value of the dependent variable changes when any one of the independent variables is varied, while the other independent variables are held fixed. This is beyond the capacity of a normal human and usually requires a resources like a computer.

The book uses the city example to run a test against a few heuristics and Regression testing (computing intensive). The results are startling when you consider the number of cues needed to reach the decision (a low number for Take the Best and Take the Last and a high number for the other three).

Here’s a chart showing relative performance for this particular case study:

As you can see, Take the Best and Regression Analysis are very similar in performance. This means if you pick the right Heuristic to use for the situation you can save time and resources and still get the performance that is comparable for the trade off (time and energy).

So what does this mean? Sometimes it’s the difference between life and death.

A
man is rushed to a hospital in the throes of a heart attack. The doctor
needs to decide quickly whether the victim should be treated as a
low-risk or a high-risk patient. He is at high risk if his life is
truly threatened, and should receive the most expensive and detailed
care. Although this decision can save or a cost a life, the doctor does
not have the luxury of extensive deliberation: She or he must decide
under time pressure  using only the available cues, each of which is,
at best, merely an uncertain predictor of the patient’s risk level. For
instance, at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center, as
many as 19 such cues, including blood pressure and age, are measured as
soon as a heart attack patient is admitted. Common sense dictates that
the best way to make the decision is to look at the results of each of
those measurements, rank them according to their importance, and
combine them somehow in to a final conclusion, preferable using some
fancy statistical software package.

Consider in contrast the simple decision tree below, which was designed
by Breiman and colleagues to classify heart attack patients according
to risk using only a maximum of three variables. A patient who has  a
systolic blood pressure of less than 91 is immediately classified as
high risk – no further information is needed. Otherwise, the decision
is left to the second cue, age. A patient under 62.5 years old is
classified as low risk; if he or she is older, the one more cue (sinus
tachycardia) is needed to classify the patient as high or low risk.
Thus, the tree requires the doctor to answer a maximum of three yes/no
questions to reach a decision rather than to measure and consider 19
predicators, letting life-saving treatment proceed sooner.

To wrap up, the book has many interesting essays as chapters, ranging from bicycle races, hindsight bias, ants, mate selection, and bargaining. It’s a solid 365 pages with small font. The math and the science can be dense, but the applicability of the results are real. It doesn’t sugar coat what goes into making heuristics worthwhile – a lot of up front analysis. It does however show how powerful those paths or decision trees can be once they are implemented.

Gerd Gigerenzer has other books that are probably more digestible for the heuristically curious (Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious and Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You) but if you’re into behavior and why particular decision paths are more economical than others, then this book is a good educational read.


Other Reviews:
The IBM Data Governance Unified Process: Driving Business Value with IBM Software and Best Practices – A Book Review / How Pleasure Works – A Book Review / Why We Make Mistakes – A Book Review / Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates US – A Book Review / Rules of Thumb – A Review / I Hate People – A Review / The Job Coach for Young Professionals – A Review / A Review of The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You’re the Only One Like You / A Quick Review of Johnny Bunko (a manga story)

Your Greatest Weakness

I’m the type of person who relies on metaphors and analogies. It’s just the way I absorb information. So as the sun shone on my face this past weekend, I couldn’t resist comparing the first warm up of the season to the optimism of a reborn employment market. Just like Chance the gardener said in Being ThereIn the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

With hiring thawing out, the inevitable uptick in interviews will commence and we’ll see more media stories about the topic. For instance, over to HBR.org Priscilla Claman has a great blog entry called The Worst Interview Question (and How to Answer It). The focus of the writing is on the question:

 “What is your greatest weakness?”

The question from an interviewer standpoint is intended to show how the interviewee handles uncomfortable interactions. If an interviewee has prepared well, then it’s hard to gauge whether the interviewee can perform when unknown circumstances come up, which is bound to happen in the workplace. This type of awkwardness can paint the picture of how this person would react.

But as noted in the blog article, there’s downsides to the question. The first is that it can be embarrassing. And starting off a relationship with embarrassment is not usually a good idea. There’s lots of movies like this. The second is that strengths and weaknesses change depending on the culture and function the person is involved with. For instance, I love analogies is that a weakness? It depends. Because of this grey area interviewees create work around answers like “I’m a workaholic” so they don’t paint themselves into a corner.

However, as the blog states, there are a few good ways to reply. Check
out the cheesy xtranormal video I created this weekend while messing
around for an example.

 

 

http://www.xtranormal.com/site_media/players/jw_player_v54/player.swf

Working Thoughts 2/15/09
NatGeo Has Me Hooked Lately

Working Thoughts 2/15/08
Teachers Who Have the Creative Freedom to Teach