Casualties

As I have noted in “News” section of the website, the release/publication date of Isolate has been pushed back another two weeks, along with fifteen other Tor books, because of capacity problems with the printing firm. Those capacity problems result from a shortage of qualified and skilled workers.

For years, I’ve been making several points that most politicians and most of the American public seems unwilling to understand and face. First, credentials don’t automatically equate to ability. Second, a significant percentage of college graduates still can’t read or write effectively and lack basic mathematics skills, skills that need to be taught not in college [because it’s too late for virtually all students to learn those skills when they’re that old], but on the elementary school level. As a result, college undergraduate degrees are an expensive waste of money for at least half of those who enter college every year. Third, very, very few students at any level are being taught to think or solve problems. And fourth, most students are unfamiliar with real work and seem unable to concentrate on work or anything else, except possibly their cellphones and video games, for any length of time.

The result of these factors is that the United States officially has more job openings than unemployed individuals. In reality, those numbers don’t include voluntarily unemployed individuals or those who have given up looking for jobs.

I read a report the other day dealing with these issues, a report that contained the conclusions that businesses essentially aren’t hiring many people without experience except at the very lowest levels in services and sales… and that most unemployed individuals and those entering the workforce aren’t interested in such jobs.

The other day I was tied up with various chores and decided that, rather than head home and fix something to eat, I’d grab something from one of the various fast food outlets that abound in the college town that is Cedar City. Except I ended up fixing a late lunch at home because after discovering that the drive-in facilities at the first four outlets I tried [at 2:00 in the afternoon] were so jammed it would have been a half hour wait – for drive-in service, because they’d all closed their lobbies until 4:00 because of staff shortages, at least according to the signs they’d posted.

We’re going to see much more of delayed production and unavailable services because the generations who knew how to think and work are getting too old to keep doing it, and because too many of the younger generations lack the skills, can’t or won’t concentrate, and want to be paid more than businesses can afford.

The problem is compounded because too many businesses don’t want to invest in training people for a variety of reasons, some valid, and some because of a short-sighted emphasis on short-term profits and because the public education system is failing too many students on the basic level, while overspending on unneeded and unnecessary higher education that isn’t preparing students for the real world while loading them up with student debt.

But, if you think the computerization/ automation of jobs is bad now? Just wait until you’re not only arguing with online and telephone automated systems, but with drive-in restaurant computers that keep telling you can’t get what you want or ordered because of supply chain delays.

13 thoughts on “Casualties”

  1. Ryan Jackson says:

    Another factor to consider. The companies that don’t understand the concept of taking care of their people because it cuts their profits… They do understand that working with a Skeleton crew gets them even more profit.

    Before now that’s been held in check by PR. If you deliberately run a skeleton crew customers will leave because you’re making them wait.

    But now, now with people demanding real wages and demanding better treatment, there’s a loophole. Say you’re unable to hire enough people, say people won’t take jobs. But don’t actually hire. Post those job openings, but don’t get back to people.

    There’s multiple articles and direct experience stories from people showing this to be the case in multiple places.

    So not only are college degrees largely useless and being used to avoid giving some folks opportunities, but many companies just don’t want to have more people.

  2. Matthew Runyon says:

    In my experience both as a hiring manager and the guy who runs the numbers for the other managers, the bigger problem is that we “can’t find anyone to work”, by which we mean we can’t find anyone to work with the compensation options we are interested in offering, because our competitors are offering more for essentially the same work, enough so that our traditional methods of attracting workers aren’t working.

    We’ve run the numbers on this several different ways, and they all tell the same story, which is also matched by the feedback we are receiving from the few who provide it in the hiring process.

    The problem here is that we’re seeing record-breaking profits across the industry, and could certainly afford to improve our compensation package while still improving our profit margins modestly, even assuming a return to something closer to historical norms in the next year or so. So it’s a bit disingenuous to say that people want to be paid more than businesses can afford.

    The devil is in the details, always, and the details don’t bear out that analysis, at least in one substantial industry heavily impacted by the current times.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    Doubtless many restaurant workers are among the underpaid, esp. if they need tips just to make minimum wage.

    Nevertheless, until COVID and higher unemployment payments that were more than they made working, they put up with it. Now they’ve decided they don’t have to – except for those that have the integrity to work rather than not work, regardless of pay or benefits. Integrity SHOULD NOT COME WITH EXPECTATION OF REWARD; either you have it or you don’t.

    Already too many feel entitled; unfortunately all the unskilled and semi-skilled will be in that category in time, as automation increases. Humans should always expect to have to do what only humans CAN do; but most won’t see it that way.

    At some point we won’t be able to afford to subsidize all the useless…

    1. Grey says:

      RH, I want to talk about who is entitled here, as we seem to be moving in small steps towards more worker protections.

      Under the ‘old’ system, we as taxpayers subsidized businesses and enabled them to offer dirt wages by providing healthcare, welfare and other benefits to their workers, who despite putting in an honest 40 each week were still too poor to survive without help. I.e., socialized costs with privatized profits. The workers were not in any position to effect change, bore the costs of this system, and were often trapped in poverty.

      Now in some areas workers are not forced to take those ‘survival’ jobs and can shop themselves for better work. As a result those employers ‘entitled’ under the old system are forced to raise wages to compete for work. I.e., the employers are not allowed as much free riding on our social system.

      I much prefer the latter system to the former. What about you, and why?

  4. Bill says:

    Everyone focuses on wages. That is a real issue. But the bogus arguments that equate being abused so that owners and shareholders make huge profits to meaningful work just obfuscates the other issues. Right now, everyone has post-traumatic stress. Everyone is frustrated and very close to expressing it often inappropriately.
    Many people work at restaurants and other retail locations because of the human interaction. How many bartenders and servers justify working under poor conditions because they like working with people or their colleagues are friends?
    Now that is gone. It is hard to justify working a lousy job when you just get abused by everyone. The managers are stressed and already not known for their leadership are not making it better.
    Until we can remove the stress from people’s lives, this isn’t going to improve. The stress isn’t going to go away until the problems go away. But instead, we seem to want to blame each other rather than finding solutions. The only people winning are our enemies. Right now they are doing very well.

  5. Joe says:

    The UK is running out of everything. The reason is that nobody wants to drive the lorries/trucks. The reason for that is that truck drivers are treated very poorly: not allowed to park in town, charged exorbitant rates to park overnight, not able to clean themselves.

    We basically treat the supply chain as a given, and treat its workers as interchangeable cogs. And then we wonder why no one works there.

    This is what happens when your system has become a vast funnel to redistribute well-being from one set of people to another.

    The fact there is a need for workers, yet those who run the show prefer to shut their businesses rather than improve employee well-being, tells me that this is very different from how it was in the 1960s when the oldest workers started working. By the 2000s, working conditions had degraded. Personally, I consider mandating vaccines to be another example of this. The US health care system is stretched to its limits, people are overworked, the health staff who don’t want to be vaccinated clearly have managed to either avoid getting ill all through last year, or have caught COVID and have recovered… yet, they will be fired if they aren’t vaccinated. So there will be even fewer health care staff. And it doesn’t even make any sense since no coronavirus or influenza vaccine has ever prevented transmission. We seem to have taken leave of whatever senses we had.

    Anyway, so no one wants to be a truck driver. They want instead to go to university and get a “good job”. But few people are capable of doing well in university and most don’t belong there.

    1. Joe says:

      To be clear, the reduction in transmission has been measured to be up to 60%. I would not call that “prevention” especially with R0 hovering around 8.

      1. Joe says:

        I feel I should provide some evidence:

        Transmissions shown in Figure 1 of the following Oxford University paper:

        https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.09.28.21264260v1.full.pdf

        ChAdOx1 is AstraZeneca & BNT162b2 is Pfizer.

  6. Monica Olin says:

    If a job pays workers a wage where they can’t make enough to live on, they can’t afford to take that job. I’ve seen a lot of jobs advertiszed for part time at minimum wage.

    No one with bills can afford to take those jobs. But better jobs want the credentials that really don’t mean much to even look at a canditate for enployment or prior experience in that exact job title.

    The cost of everything has gone up, but until very recently the wages haven’t.

    It seems to me that the whole concept of matching a job to a candidate is broken. Employers want an exact match to their job description, even if it’s not needed to do the job.

    Case in point, I recently saw a job ad for a receptionist that required two years experience. This was for a basic office, not a medical one where the candidate would have to know how to bill insurance. Most people could do this job, but the employer won’t even look at them unless they have that experience.

    1. Tom says:

      “It seems to me that the whole concept of matching a job to a candidate is broken. Employers want an exact match to their job description, even if it’s not needed to do the job.”

      I would have matched the candidate to the job.

      However the employer wanting (an exact) match to their job description is unusual when there are not the workers available from which to choose.

      Somewhat different is the group of young guns I talked to recently who are “looking for jobs” but only want the jobs suiting their “interests” – where pay is not the first or most important factor (not all were fortunate in their family wealth).

      Interesting articles in a few international newspapers seem to agree that some of the younger people available for work are much choosier than the work/employment situation warrants. Another 21rst century conundrum.

  7. Wine Guy says:

    I have a couple Questions and comments:

    1. For businesses, how much is enough with respect to profit margin? 8%, 15%, 30%? Too many businesses sacrifice long term gains for short term margins.

    2. Why should any worker settle for less than what they think they can get? There is no loyalty from companies these days so why should not workers look out for themselves. Hard/skilled workers used to be valued and cherished. No longer.

    3. Workers want to have ‘fun’ and/or ‘be fulfilled’ in their labors. Why? Work. Too many intelligent (or not -so-intelligent) people define themselves by orthrough their work. It is a trap of subtle and monumental proportions that works on a person’s psyche and can be the ultimate pigeon hole.

    4. Managers for white collar jobs need to stop encroaching on employee’s off time. Just because I’m on salary does not mean I should ruin my off time because management failed to plan properly.

    5. On the job training: businesses are not doing their own On The Job training anymore. OJT used to be part of nearly every position. Now, they’re terrified that the people they trained will go elsewhere to use the skills. If you pay well and offer appropriate compensations, why would this be an issue? OTOH, workers getting OJT shouldn’t expect to be paid as much as the 3 or 5 year person who is training them or working alongside them. You’re not as good, you don’t know the trade yet, and effort yields results… so one has to Make. The. Effort. A critique or criticism isn’t a personal attack, though many youngsters take it as such. Conversely, employers should be forgiving of rookie mistakes. Once.

    1. Tom says:

      Late offer. My take.

      1. For businesses, how much is enough with respect to profit margin? 8%, 15%, 30%? Too many businesses sacrifice long term gains for short term margins.

      I believe it used to be about 5% for most small businesses. But the range is larger if one includes necessary research, expansion, and technological enhancements.
      2. Why should any worker settle for less than what they think they can get? There is no loyalty from companies these days so why should not workers look out for themselves. Hard/skilled workers used to be valued and cherished. No longer.

      This is related to the employers character and business sense. Most savvy business people like to hold onto the staff bringing in the money or doing the essential and necessary quality work.

      3. Workers want to have ‘fun’ and/or ‘be fulfilled’ in their labors. Why? Work. Too many intelligent (or not -so-intelligent) people define themselves by or through their work. It is a trap of subtle and monumental proportions that works on a person’s psyche and can be the ultimate pigeon hole.

      On the other hand if a person enjoys their job, specifically the work they do, and they produce quality results, they should be encouraged because that is what the world needs.

      4. Managers for white collar jobs need to stop encroaching on employee’s off time. Just because I’m on salary does not mean I should ruin my off time because management failed to plan properly.

      Agreed.

      5. On the job training: businesses are not doing their own On The Job training anymore. OJT used to be part of nearly every position. Now, they’re terrified that the people they trained will go elsewhere to use the skills. If you pay well and offer appropriate compensations, why would this be an issue? OTOH, workers getting OJT shouldn’t expect to be paid as much as the 3 or 5 year person who is training them or working alongside them. You’re not as good, you don’t know the trade yet, and effort yields results… so one has to Make. The. Effort. A critique or criticism isn’t a personal attack, though many youngsters take it as such. Conversely, employers should be forgiving of rookie mistakes. Once.

      Unions used to work with employers so that, specifically for industrial jobs, the worker progressed step by step from newbie to the maximum level of their ability with recognized compensations levels. The people who used to change employers every 3-4 years were usually in the nonindustrial jobs and earned the least the employer was willing to pay them. Other reasons for changing jobs applied, of course. There are jobs where measure twice and cut once would be single error employments; others where more than one rookie mistake may be allowed because learning is highly dependent upon experience; and there are those mistakes that are due to the teaching rather than the learning.

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