At the time, IBM believed that if you hired talented people, you should keep them for life. Even wiser was the belief that all IBM employees were valuable enough to be given free education and training if they wanted to do a career change within the company. During the course of my time there, I saw secretaries become managers and executives, salespeople become engineers, engineers become sales or support people, writers move into QA, and countless other moves. The possibilities were endless.
As an employee, the fact that I could change the direction of my career and that it would be fully supported made me a very loyal, motivated employee. Carrying this philosophy into other companies I worked for and into my own startups, I was rewarded with decades-long loyalty from some incredibly talented people. I tried to offer a sense of security and value, allowing them to change projects or jobs within the company, and to receive company-funded education.
And in spite of the rigors of multiple startups, I believe my team was truly happy.
Plus, as research has shown, this ability to learn and do new things not only makes us happier, it's critical to our longevity. It staves off dementia and helps keep us physically and mentally healthy. Without it, we stagnate. Our life becomes mundane. We become depressed and often spiral downhill, becoming resentful of those who are better off.
I'm going to make a leap here from this somewhat microscopic point of view to a much larger one. As many of you know, my wife Karen and I spend quite a bit of time in Europe, particularly France.
With changes in technology, lifestyle, and social interaction, many jobs have disappeared in Europe just as they have here in the States. Contrary to the opinions of the right-wing parties, these jobs are lost to the evolution of the economy, not to immigrants. Like everything else, economies must adapt and grow to survive.
But what about people who have lost their jobs? Shouldn't we try to save them? According to our President-Elect, we can do that. We can turn back the clock. The fact that we now drive automobiles shouldn't stop us from maintaining manufacturing of horse and buggy transportation. Right? And what about jobs going overseas? Shouldn't we stop the bleeding and protect our jobs here?
Although it's become a dirty word, globalization is a reality. Most modern economies need to trade internationally. Initially, this lowers costs for us, while simultaneously improving the economies and standards of living in the poorer countries. Ultimately though, those countries do better and eventually end up on equal footing. For me, this became evident in the tech industry with India. Years ago, many Silicon Valley companies moved much of their engineering to India to save costs. Today, the costs in India are often equal or higher than they are here. As standards and costs of living equalize globally, we'll see much less 'offshoring'.
In the meantime, though, people here are losing jobs. As the recent election has shown us, many of these were in manufacturing, mining, and some now 'obsolete' industries. What wasn't well-known is that US manufacturing output is at its highest level in years - we're manufacturing more with fewer people. Automation is making manufacturing processes more efficient. We don't need people to do the manual tasks anymore.
I'd like to think we'll continue moving forward to sustainable clean energy. Unfortunately, this means that industries like coal mining will suffer. What about the people who worked there?
The fact is, many parts of our economy are growing and have a shortage of people. We do need people who are trained and educated to program and operate the new automation equipment. We do need people who can work in the renewable energy field. If the manufacturing and energy companies were like IBM back in the seventies and eighties, they would retrain their people rather than laying them off. Unfortunately, companies have been pushed to increase profits and reduce costs at the expense of their loyal employees and of longer term company success.
So, what should we do? Is the President Elect correct? Can we turn back the clock and reinstate jobs that we don't need anymore? I don't think so.
Instead, we should follow the lead of the 'socialist' countries in Europe.
By many US definitions, France and of its sister EU nations are pretty socialistic. Taxes are high, but you're guaranteed retirement and healthcare. And, if you lose your job, not only does the government provide a basic income, they pay for education and training for your next job. True, there are people who abuse the system (like most systems), but those people are the exceptions. The vast majority learn new skills and live increasingly productive lives.
Education is an investment. I'm probably dating myself when I bring up the space race. In the 60s, President Kennedy had the vision to fund education programs emphasizing math and science. The results are the advanced technologies we now use every day.
Yes, this costs money. But it is an investment in the future. It's an investment in our most valuable resources - our people. It will more than pay for itself in future productivity and will reduce burden on the social support systems of the country. It will build people's confidence in themselves, and in our country. We just need the vision to look a bit beyond the immediate, knowing we must spend now to see a greater return in the future.