Where have all the employees gone?

Empty office with boxes and one chairIn a recent Wall Street Journal Article “U.S. Could Face High Unemployment Through 2030” (Read Here), it argued in part that by the year 2030, unemployment could be as high as 11 percent. If you have followed any of my writing for the past couple of years, you would know that I had already sounded the alarm. In fact, with the current trends forecast out we are facing an unprecedented time in the availability of a skilled and qualified labor force. By one estimate, we can expect less than 35 percent of the workforce in full time positions by the year 2040. The numbers are staggering. With an estimated population in the United States in 2040 to be roughly 382.2 million, we are looking at 65% of the population without full time work. The chart below offers a rough estimate of what can be expected within the next 26 years:

Cohort (2040)

Number in Millions Percentage

0-19 (too young to work)

84.05 22%
Unemployed 42.04 11%
Employed Full time 133.8 35%
Other 94.02 25%
70+ (retired) 28.29 7%

 

You may be asking why this is important today? I can offer an analogy based on industries, government, communities and individuals that did not prepare for the future. If we consider the auto industry for a moment, specifically focused on areas in which large manufacturing facilities were located. Detroit is a good example of how the industry changed and within a short period of time, the regions that supported the factories fell into demise. While there are many reasons why this happened, the fact remains that there was little attention paid to the future much less scenarios asking the question “what if the factory closed tomorrow.”  If you are a business leader you might want to ask yourself what a reduction in your workforce would look like. Start to look at what it would take to run an international, multimillion dollar organization with 50 percent less staff. How will a small or midsize corporation survive if they cut their human capital in half?

There are many pressures creating this reality. Truth be told, this is not something that just started happening in the past few years. In fact, the workforce began shrinking in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We have been on a slow decline for over 20 years. Pressures include a decline in fertility in the United States, a growing unskilled labor force, and a dysfunctional immigration policy that inhibits the entry of skilled labor while freely accepting unskilled labor without question.

How will we respond to these changes over the next 20 years? We can already see the results of this coming crisis. Technology is beginning to embrace robotics. Not just machines, but also software. Technology companies are developing artificial intelligence at a staggering rate. New technologies are emerging such as self-building robots and 3D-Printing just to name a few. Deficits include retooling and educating a growing unskilled labor force.  Organizations will begin to embrace more egalitarian structures in an effort to create efficiencies while maintaining a smaller organizational footprint. We will begin to see the freelancing and consulting as a growth industry. Remote workers will complete their tasks through the “cloud” and via video conferencing. This could have an effect on business travel and how we engage clients face-to-face. Clients will expect quicker response at a lower cost threshold.

While these are all assumptions, the idea is to think strategically about the future. Asking tough “What IF” questions and developing responses to mission-critical threats in the not-so-far-off future.

 

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Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic PIC3Leadership. He is a prolific writer, published author and lectures internationally. His most recent book “The Open Organization” is now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. He can be reached at philip@maximumchange.com or (615) 216-5667.

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