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

Defining the Future for the Class of 2011

Congratulations to the class of 2011. You’ve earned the gratification of moving your tassel from one side of the cap to the other.

What does the future hold? What is out there? You’ll be told to find yourself, follow your passion, and chase your goals. And many of you will wonder what those are. There’s debt, perhaps an entry level job, and monthly bills. Before you can commit to your boundless dreams you already have these torments and everything that goes along with it. Chances are you’ll be figuring out credit cards, bad bosses, and hung over early morning meetings. Every day is a new day.

If you learned anything in school, I hope you’ve learned how to think. To ask why? Anyone can follow directions, good thinkers are people who understand why they exist. Great thinkers design the instructions. What is the path? What are the steps? “If this happens, then do this” and the decision tree associated with it. Working through these scenarios develops an ability to cope with complexity. Said another way – for greater enlightenment, do you want a happy meal toy or a jet engine?

And I beg you to create something. The world is a better place when people work to assemble rather than tear apart. If you’re a business person I’d start with thinking about value proposition. Think about a situation and how things work together. What is the context for which a transaction operates? Consider the decisions people are making and the information they are using. What drives them to act and is the desired behavior? Is there a status quo? Have people accepted things as they are?

The world you experience is very different than the world I know. And that is good. There are generally two types of knowledge explicit and tacit.

  • Explicit Knowledge – is knowledge that has been or can be articulated, codified, and stored in certain media. It can be readily transmitted to others. The information contained in encyclopedias (including Wikipedia) are good examples of explicit knowledge.
  • Tacit Knowledge – involves learning and skill but in a way that is difficult to transfer from one person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. Tacit knowledge can consist of habits and culture that we do not recognize in ourselves. I can tell you how to ride a bicycle, but you won’t know how until you learn to balance.

Graduation means you’ve probably spent close to $1,000 on books over the last few years acquiring explicit knowledge. You’ve studied in your dorm room and memorized facts about amortization. You’ve read what the top of Kilimanjaro looks like.

Now is the time to look yourself. It doesn’t have to be the top of a mountain, a high point works just fine. Experience the edge and feel the risk. Trace the path you’ve taken to this simple point. Once you’ve climbed one high point, you’ll climb another and another.

Nothing worth doing is easy and life isn’t fair. Your experience is unique, always ask why, and focus on creating something, anything. And remember, every day is a new day.

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.

April 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

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


Net gain
of 244,000 jobs in the month

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 185,000 (200,000 for private sector growth)
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 268,000
    • Private service producing industries added 224,000 (199,000 last month and 152,000 the month before)
    • Goods producing industries gained 44,000 (31, 000 last month and 70,000 the month before)


  • The US has added 800,000 private sector jobs this year and 2.1 million total over the past 14 months
  • The last three months have averaged a job gain of 233,000- this is the fastest rate of growth since early 2006
  • February was revised to a gain of 235,000 from a revised 194,000 and an original reading of 192,000
  • March was revised to a gain of 221,000 from an original reading of a 216,000 gain
  • Revisions added 46,000 jobs
  • There are 6,955,000 fewer total nonfarm jobs since the recession started in December 2007. Although 244,000 jobs added is good, it will take 29 more months to dig out of the hole
  • Payroll processor ADP reported an employment gain of 179,000 jobs
    • 47% of the 179,000 ADP reported gain came from small business (firms with less than 50 employees). It was 49 last month and 46% the month before
    • Large businesses (greater than 500 employees) hired 6.25% of the 179,000 gain


  • McDonald’s hired 62,000 workers, but those hirings missed the survey window and will be more associated with the May Jobs Report
  • About 13.7 million people were out of work in April – however, in a positive move many newly unemployed people are not getting fired.
    Instead they are leaving voluntarily, presumably because they think they
    can do better.
    The number of people unemployed because they lost jobs fell to 8,144,000 in April, the lowest figure in two years
  • 5.8 million had have been jobless for six months or longer (a drop of 283,000 from last month, which is good) down from 6.5 million in March 2010

    • 43.4% of the unemployed are long term unemployed. Down from 45.5% last month
  • Employers
    announced plans to cut 36,490 jobs in April, down 4.8% from April 2010 when the economy stalled

Unemployment rate rose to 9.0%

  • Analysts predicted it would remain at 8.8%
  • The labor force
    participation rate is 64.2% (66.5% is average to good) – unchanged for the fourth straight month
    • Lowest since 1984
    • The participation rate was dropping before the recession began due to changing demographics of the US population
    • Every day, for the next 19 years, 10,000 boomers will turn 65. By 2030, 18% of the U.S. population will be over 65, compared with today’s 13%
    • Job expansion to account for population growth (keeping the unemployment rate steady) is estimated to be 150,000 and 200,000, but the partially delayed retirement of the baby boomers is moving these numbers to 75,000 to 100,000

  • The employment to population ratio is 58.4% – No change
  • Normally the unemployment rate moves in lock step with changes to the participation rate and the employment ratio but the diverge this month because the household survey is finding a reduction of employed people by 190,000 people. With surveys there tends to be noise and the drop from 10% to 8.8% was probably too quick so a little rise is natural to sort things out
  • 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 15.9% from 15.7% last month
  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 60.4% and the 22nd consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running
  • Service
    sector activity dropped to 52.8% from 57.3% last month and down from 59.7% in February. A dramatic drop when compared to other improvements (lowest level since August 2010). It was the
    16th straight month of growth
  • GDP, the most widely used measurement of the the American economy grew at a lackluster 1.8 percent in the first quarter,
    according to the government’s estimate for the first quarter
  • Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 1.6 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2011

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 29,000 jobs
  • Construction gained 5,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 57,100 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 46,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 24,000, 22,000 was state and local government
  • Education and Health Services grew by 49,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 41,800

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 51,000
    • 2,300 jobs lost in Temporary Help

Wage (can be revised):

  • The
    average weekly paycheck (seasonally
    adjusted) is $650.83
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.37 – up a nickle from last month
  • Corporations set a new record for profits: $1.68 trillion annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2010
  • 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

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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/

The March 2011 Silicon Valley Positive Outlook Update

The focus of my last post was on whether or not I believe Silicon Valley has inflated like a 1999 bubble. I don’t think it has, but the stock valuations are still pretty high. If I were to guess, I’d say the apparent investment upswing is a byproduct of cash sitting on the sidelines. Investors have it and big companies have it. Investors plant the seeds and companies like Google buy the fruit at the first sign of flowering.

Silicon Valley is an interesting place though. Many of the companies there don’t want to be viewed as uncool. Once that happens it means a particular culture has set in. Which of these companies seem more exciting: Facebook or Yahoo? Google or Microsoft? You get the picture.

Earlier this week there was an article on cnn.com in the Tech section about the hiring on Silicon Valley. Here are some quotes and stats from the article “Silicon Valley experiencing new hiring boom” by Dan Simon:

  • Silicon Valley: 10.6% unemployment rate
  • Last month’s (March 2011) national average was 8.8%
  • Silicon Valley produced 1,200 jobs last month and expected to add thousands more in 2011.
  • According to SimplyHired.com, a search engine for job listings:
    • nearly 40% of 130,000 open positions in Silicon Valley are for software engineers
    • Since July of 2009 there’s been a 245% increase in openings that have “Facebook” as a keyword
    • Over the same time period, a 421% increase in “Twitter” job postings
  • Innovations in social media, mobile and cloud computing are driving the growth, said Dion Lim, SimplyHired’s president.
  • LinkedIn, the social-networking site for professionals, hired nearly 500 workers last year — almost doubling its workforce.
  • “As we grow the company, we’re always on the lookout for top talent,” said Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO.

Differentiating Using Strategy and Technology

The Academy Awards were a few weeks back and the popular movie The Social Network was nominated for Best Picture. It didn’t win the award, but it did elevate Facebook into a cultural phenomenon. It’s no longer another website – it’s Facebook. People care about it like their Nike running shoes, Apple iPod, and Starbucks coffee.

Each of these brands has used slight advantages in their products to become the dominate company in the space. How or why does this happen? Well, first I’ll mention luck. It always plays a role. In addition to luck, it’s the people.

Individuals and teams within these companies differentiate their offerings. They do so within a cost structure that maintains competitiveness and they do so with an eye toward value. Most people think of value as what Wal-Mart offers. One product 10 cents cheaper than a competitor and that is true in a commodities evaluation. Paper towels are paper towels. Value becomes much more abstract when the offering – product or service – has an association related to it. Starbucks originally pulled people in because the coffee was stronger. The association was that it woke up better than other options. And Apple combats technophobia because they create electronic devices that are easy to use.

This value is marginal at first, but then it snow balls. Getting it to snow ball is the key and then building on that is paramount. Facebook used exclusivity as the differentiator and then opened up the site to ride the network effect. Now it can exploit it’s pure numbers for monetary gain.

Earlier this year Goldman Sachs in a backroom deal valued Facebook at $50 billion dollars. Valuations like this have some to speculate that there is another tech bubble. Groupon, Google, Facebook, and others are the poster children.

In the world of the internet, small differences in your products can be the difference in sinking or swimming. Because of that Silicon Valley is leading the way in an escalating war for tech talent. Google is offering $20,000 more than average to the people they’ve targeted. Some firms are teaching their employees how to be entrepreneurs. In Silicon Valley it’s an inevitability, might as well make it a perk.

Do I think its a new tech bubble? I don’t. How engineers are using the internet now is very different than 15 years ago. Now it’s used to implement strategies that were inconceivable just three years ago. New approaches can separate and new technology can accelerate. What goes into the making of a Best Picture? It’s more than just film, it’s artistry.

A Dan Pink Speaking Experience

A couple of weeks ago I was staring at my computer screen and in comes an Instant Message asking if I knew Dan Pink was speaking in Charlotte? The IM was from Jill, a work friend for over 10 years. I had no idea about the event, but I was excited. She sent me the link to the UNCC NEXT Speaker Series and I promptly bought a $40 ticket.

The day of the event arrived, but I wasn’t sure where to go. The Blumenthal has several stages and the one I was looking for was the Booth Playhouse. Luckily, there was an event before hand for networking, so I figured I could follow the crowd. It was easy. There were several people standing in the hall welcoming Dan Pink fans and pointing to will call for picking up tickets. I was in extrovert mode and introduced myself to several other attendees, but the response I got was uncomfortable friendliness, forced smiles and all. After a few of these interactions, I realized the people I was trying to chat up were college professors. Maybe they aren’t used to networking in a real business world? Undaunted, I bought a beer and spotted someone who wasn’t part of the school clique. I introduced myself to Darren and we discussed Pink’s books.

Although we are standing in the lobby of a small theatre, it sort of feels like a post modern fashion store. There are doors at the ends, but the entire area is visible through clear windows. I wasn’t at the mall, but I could have sworn I saw some t-shirts on sale for $250. Thankfully, Jill arrived and we discussed our day of work.

We decided to head in early to get a good seat. I heard it was interactive so I wanted to be near the front. However, when we walked in I was very stunned to see the first eight rows or so were reserved for VIPs. It isn’t a big venue so this preferential seating situation was a bit much. For $40 I should be able to sit close.

I met another friend as we were deciding where to sit. My inner voice was screaming “yea!” that this friend showed up. There’s always a rewarding feeling when someone else tries out music, a book, or a restaurant you suggested and this was the same appreciation.

The lights dimmed and the last few seats were taken. I noticed Peter Gorman, the Superintendent of the Charlotte-Mechklenberg schools, sitting across from us – not a VIP either. I’m not sure who kicked it off. It was either the Chanceller or the President of UNCC. He was kind of funny. The Dean of the Business School then introduced Dan to the audience.

I’ve viewed most of the videos for Drive and was nervous that Dan would stick to the script. He mostly followed the themes but he certainly was able to ad lib. He did his homework and talked about the local area some. He quizzed the audience about motivation and interacted with a few different guests. Throughout the session some slides were used to highlight the research that reinforced his points. Time flew by and it felt like it was short, but he spoke for about 70 min.

Overall, I enjoyed my first Dan Pink speaker series. I went with friends and made some connections. Next time I’m going to penetrate the inner circle though 🙂

Working Thoughts 2/10/09
Sustaining Large Economic Growth is Key for the US

January 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

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


Net gain
of 36,000 jobs in the month
(revised in March to a gain of 68,000)

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 149,000
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 50,000
    • Private service producing industries added 32,000
    • Goods producing industries gained 18,000


  • December was revised to a gain of 152,000 from a revision of 121,000 and from an original reading of 103,000
  • November was revised to a gain of 93,000 from a revised reading of 71,000 and an original reading of 39,000 gain
  • October was revised to a gain of 171,000 from a second revision of 210,000 a revised reading of 172,000 and an original reading of 151,000
  • Payroll processor ADP reported an employment gain of 187,000 jobs (a revised 247,000 jobs in December, 2010)
    • The ADP survey and the Jobs Report survey aren’t usually this varying in their results, which, coupled with other data, makes people think the economy is shifting and the models used in the Government report are not currently effective

  • The Labor Department estimates there were 886,000 workers who had a job but couldn’t get to work due to weather (5th largest account of this situation) – if true, this means the real gain in jobs is estimated to be 200,000
  • 6.2 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term
    unemployed) – down from 6.4 million last month

    • 43.8% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – down from 44.3% last month and up from 41.9% in November, 2010
  • Employers announced plans to cut 38,519 jobs in January, a 20% increase over December, according to outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. This is a really low number because it usually averages just over 100,000 for the month of January every year
  • Benchmark revisions were made for April 2009 to March of 2010 and show combined additional loss of 215,000 jobs during that period
  • Overall, it was a  confusing report – the numbers seem to contradict each other

Unemployment rate dropped to 9.0%

  • Analysts predicted it would rise to 9.5%
  • The 0.8% drop in a span of two months is rare: only 4 larger two month declines on record and those were in the 1940s and 1950s
  • The unemployment rate has been at 9% or higher for 21 months
  • Normally, when a decrease in the unemployment number happens without a very large number of new jobs it means people have dropped out of the count, but that isn’t the case this month – this is odd (504,000 people did drop out though)
  • The labor force
    participation rate is 64.2% (66.5% is average to good) – relatively unchanged
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.4% – relatively unchanged from 58.3% last month
  • 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), dropped to 16.1% from 16.7%.
    This reflects an even greater decrease seen in the overall unemployment rate (9.0% from 9.4%)
  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 57% and the 20th consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running
  • Service sector activity rose to 59.4%, up from 57.1% last month. It was the 14th straight month of growth and the highest reading since August 2005
  • 2010 fourth quarter productivity is reported at 2.6% and annualized at 3.6%

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 49,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 32,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 27,500 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 3,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 14,000, Federal lost 2,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 13,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 12,900

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 31,000
    • 11,400 jobs lost in Temporary Help (had been gaining for several months)

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $645.96 – an increase of $1.42
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.34
  • Average
    weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on
    private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is
    33.4 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

Picking the Best Team

“You wouldn’t believe it.” he says, although I’m sure I not only would believe it, but I can top it. “I was in first place in my league until Aaron Rodgers has a concussion and has to sit out. My back up was whoever the guy is from the Lions.” I pretended to listen, but I’m really thinking about my own team. These fantasy football stories aren’t for the person hearing the story, they’re for the person telling it. Occasionally it’s about how they won the league, but much more often, the tale is about a loss. “If Rodgers didn’t get hurt…” There’s always an “if.” He’ll be back next year.

The beauty of fantasy football is every year you get to pick your team. Most of the elite players – the A players – are taken in a draft or auction. The handful you select become your guys, your team. You then get a chance to pick up free agents during the season to supplement the team. It’s fun to look over the team and watch on Sundays.

Robots

Something similar is happening in the business world. We’ve hit a sweet spot with demand and productivity and it’s creating a Fantasy Football type of workforce.

Suppose for simplicity sake there are five types of employees – A, B, C, D, and F.

F
- Isn't skilled for the job
- Doesn't show up on time
- Doesn't care
D
- Isn't skilled for the job
- Shows up on time
- Training doesn't work
- Tries hard
C
- Skilled for the job
- Doesn't do anything beyond what is asked
- Performance is adequate
- Must be trained for every part of the job
B
- Skilled for the job
- Performance is good
- Quickly learns new aspects of the job
A
- Skilled for the job
- Performance is excellent
- Quickly learns new aspects of the job
- Can proactively expand the scope of the role
- Able to streamline or automate aspects of the job

 

Normally a big company, and for shorter durations, a smaller one too, will tolerate D employees in the hopes that they can become at least a C employee. But when the economy is tough F, D, and many C employees are let go. The business just can’t support them. This is your basic business cycle economy or put another way, aggregate demand for goods and services is down. When people stop buying, revenue suffers and revenue pays the bills like payroll and health care.

But what’s weird is corporate profits hit an all time high in the third quarter of 2010. A staggering $1.66 trillion. Up from $1.61 trillion in the second quarter and $1.30 trillion in the third quarter of 2009. A tremendous growth rate. Well, when you look closer at it, much of the third quarter growth was from the financial industry and the value of those gains tend to be theoretical or only materialize over long horizons.  But either way, profits are out there and cash is sitting on the books of many large companies. So why aren’t they hiring?

The reason is because of demand and the A employees. Demand is just enough to keep the machines running and creating economies of scale opportunities. But demand isn’t too high to hire extra workers (temporary hires are filling the gaps when needed) to pick up the slack. Meanwhile A employees are reviewing how the processes work and identifying inefficiencies. They are re-engineering their companies without causing disruption. Productivity goes up and meets a slowly improving demand level. The cycle continues.

A employees are talented and are getting raises. And just like in Fantasy Football, they are carrying their teams. If the raise isn’t there, they are being cherry picked by other companies.

This somewhat sounds like a structural economy issue as well. The demand is there, but the skills for the D, C, and B employees aren’t. This is an effect of globalization. The demand is there, but it’s being met not in the US, but in countries like India and China – manufacturing jobs particularly.  This doesn’t spell doom for D, C, and B employees because the scales tend to even out. The rising tide (cheap labor isn’t so cheap) in countries like China will make companies look again at the US, but while that is happening, education – learning how to problem solve – needs to take priority. Otherwise, their skills won’t be differentiated from other workers and other countries. We need more A employees.

This isn’t about labor anymore. It’s about talent. Elite performers get picked and others just fill out the roster or so the story goes.

Working Thoughts 1/11/2008
Examine Each Job as One of Many Crime Scenes

Working Thoughts 1/11/2009
Different Paths to Owning a Professional Sports Team

Working Thoughts 1/11/2010
Job Creation in the 2000s?