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Jobs War

There are many ways to create jobs.  The 2008 stimulus created some jobs directly at the local level at a cost of around $115k each, or an 18 year payback.  We can also simply wait for the “Recovery” that is supposed to occur and hope it all turns out well.  There are also steps that can be taken to transform the economy and speed up restructuring.

All of this would be minimal and possibly wasted according to Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup.  His book “The Coming Jobs War” (which came out last September) outlines how good, meaningful jobs are going to be scarce around the world – and subject to intense competition at all levels.  His proposal is not expensive or even likely to be controversial, but it does require new attention and care from everyone.  It also requires very dynamic leadership, an even scarcer commodity.

The basic premise is simple:  developing nations are rapidly industrializing and their populations are seeing their standard of living increase.  China now has the majority of its population in cities for the first time, and poverty is declining in places like São Paulo.  For this to move forward, productivity will have to continue to increase all around the world and something like 1.8B new jobs will be created in the next generation.  Where will those jobs be? Who will create them?

In essence, the problem in front of us all is a very dynamic global economy that is ours to master, if we do it right.  Failure to do so will likely see us left behind.  And the centerpiece of everything is job creation.  This is critical because the most valuable resource of this or any other nation is its people – their hard work, their brains, their compassion, and their creativity.

That’s where Clifton sees three major changes that will have to occur:

1. “Innovation is not scarce. Entrepreneurship is scarce. We are spending billions and wasting years of conversations on innovation and it isn’t paying off. Great business people are more valuable and rarer than great ideas.

2. A useful way to look at any citizen is this, ‘Can she herself create jobs or does she need a job created for her?’

3. “It is wrong thinking to imagine that Washington has solutions. Job creation is a city problem. There is great variation in job creation by city in the United States. San Francisco and the greater Valley keep pumping away while Detroit isn’t. Austin’s cart works while Albany’s doesn’t. Cities need to look inwardly and say, ‘What can I do to create great economic energy, to bring new customers for all existing companies and start-ups?'”

If you read this and immediately leaped to a conclusion that involved a policy already debated such as “lower taxes” or “more job subsidy”, you are wrong.  It doesn’t matter what politics your assumption came from – an effort like this is not described by our current politics in any useful way at all.

Clifton arrived at his conclusions studying the reams of data that Gallup collects constantly on many things, including job creation.  What he found is something that nearly any of us who are always looking for work have long known – that employment is gained one networking conversation at a time.  Furthermore, the simple fact that around universities and other centers of innovation there are many good ideas languishing because there is no one who can implement them.  Connecting people to people can get them hired, but connecting the right people with good ideas can create a new company – or even a new industry.

What Clifton is proposing is an aggressive effort to redefine how we think about work modeled along the lines of what I have called Connections Theory.  While there are some critical areas where Washington can help change how tax and regulate employment, the real efforts have to come in cities – primarily from business leaders and education institutions.

I strongly recommend this book and Clifton’s way of thinking.  Follow the links to read some interviews and reviews that will shed more light on the topic.

11 thoughts on “Jobs War

  1. “the most valuable resource of this or any other nation is its people – their hard work, their brains, their compassion, and their creativity.”
    That is the gold in this one. Inspiring!

    • Thanks, but this is very much what I believe is at the heart of this. 8.4% unemployment is at least 8.4% of the nation wasted – something we cannot afford.

  2. It sounds like he states the problem clearly and then outlines a solution that does not involve government but instead has people working together. We used to call this ‘civic pride’ and it was the cornerstone of a successful city. I don’t know how you get people to do this once again but I am sure he is right. I will read this book for sure.

    • A very good point! This is old-fashioned and in some ways a bit obvious, at least in terms of the organization that is necessary to make it happen. I think that with such a specific goal an effort like this could be put together in many cities. Shared work does make community more than anything else, and successful work even moreso.

  3. Are there any models of this being done that are pointed out in the book? He says that some cities are working well, it would be good to know just what they are doing & start doing the same things here in the Twin Cities. Or maybe we do have some things in place now we should do more with?

    • I have not read this all the way through but skimmed it and read summaries. I am getting to it. I did not see too many specifics that looked like we could implement them right away, but he does describe in detail the efforts that will be needed.
      I do think we have some things in place to play off of, and I’m going to start lining up those details. There is a good chance the state might have a role in some of the resources as well, especially when you look at the U of MN system.

  4. A lot of things get easier when people decide they are going to work together and just do it. This seems pretty obvious but it does take someone thinking through it to get people moving in the same way so it seems like a good plan. Let’s do it!

    • Well, I think that the implementation is the hard part, as Clifton said about all the good ideas around. So what we really need is leadership. Not sure how we’ll get that in a hurry, but perhaps we can make something happen somewhat spontaneously.

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