Progressing in the 21st Century: Part One, Saving Jobs

Progressing in the 21st Century: Part 1, Saving Jobs
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Blinded by media attention to politics, we may forget that the private sector drives change today, through initiatives and funding to equalize opportunities.

With planning and commitment, private sector jobs can be steady, providing opportunities for all, even as technology changes at breakneck speed in robotics, communication, education, medicine and more.

For younger folks, these changes will be the norm; however, older workers face three options: they must decide whether to adapt to the new workplaces, to reject them and go jobless, or to retire.

The job market has been in flux for some time; however, rather than plan ahead for impending job losses, some industry leaders have chosen to take their profits and let laid-off employees fall where they may, while others lead their workers into a confident, productive future.

The coal industry is an excellent example of the former. Had industry leaders, seeing the trend away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, arranged to prepare and train workers for jobs of the future, they would have achieved the ideal transition, while continuing to profit from their new initiatives. They did not look to the future, however, allowing coal-based jobs and communities to die. Workers, who succeed in the 21st Century, adapt to changing technology. When 61-year-old Martin Oliver was laid off from his steelworker factory job, he chose to move along with the times. Today, we're functioning on a completely different technological and social playing field from our comparatively recent past; today, it's more like Einstein imagined when, at 16 years of age, he wanted to ride alongside a light beam into galaxies. Today, we are riding a breathtakingly fast-moving cloud through the present, into the future. Numerous jobs in the United States are going unfilled because qualified workers cannot be found, while blue collar workers, who could be trained in technology related to fields from which they were laid off, are suffering. By looking beyond today, educators and industry leaders can get ahead of this rapidly changing technology, and manage it effectively.

Lifelong Learners Are Lifelong Earners

Who will survive and thrive, and who will fall by the wayside? As robotics and other technologic jobs replace traditional forms of work, Oliver and others who accept that their world will never stop changing, commit to preparing for their next step.

Industry leadership is key to providing opportunities for their workers to move with the changes. AT&T is an excellent model for workplace innovation, according to Thomas Friedman, in his Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. “Their deal is you need to take the degrees AT&T has designed with Udacity [an online university] in order to upgrade your skills and acquire the skills you’ll need for the AT&T of the future, which is now much more of a technology company and less about climbing up telephone poles. If you do that, they’ll give you first crack when new jobs open. They won’t go outside.

“AT&T’s deal is we’ll give you the courses, we’ll even pay you tuition — up to $8,000 a year and $30,000 over your lifetime at the company — but you have to take the courses on your own time”, said Friedman.

“If you’re ready to do the learning, they’re ready to do the hiring. But if you’re not, they have a nice severance package. You’re not going to work there any longer.

“That kind of social contract is coming to the rest of the country. And so you have to have more grit, persistence and self-motivation. A lot of people don’t have that.”

Adaptability is Key to Job Survival

We can, and must stay in step with change if we are to survive; and, if we want to progress, we must stay ahead of it.

Martin Oliver, 61, was laid off from his job as a machinist in steel production. Not content to accept his replacement by a robot, he went back to school; now, he programs those machines that took his job. Oliver accepts that adaptability is the key to job survival today.

In addition to job longevity, adapting to change also brings health benefits, according to Sharon H. Bergquist, M.D., Internist and Assistant Professor at Emory University.

“Your ability to adapt requires skills and knowledge,” she says, but your flexibility to adapt is your attitude. People who are willing to try new tools and experiences nurture and reinforce a positive attitude and a greater belief in their abilities.

“These traits of optimism and self-efficacy not only help with career success but translate to tangible health benefits by buffering your stress response. Accepting change, challenging your existing viewpoints, and continual learning also support brain health by building and strengthening nerve connections,” the doctor concluded.

I'm ready, are you? We can take this journey together, progressing in the 21st Century!

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