Saturday, June 2, 2012

We have Recruitment, Retention, Retirement, and Education Wrong

I should have called this blog "DOing" so that I could just brag about my accomplishments. Alas, I must discuss the things that I learn, and my failures. There are more similar articles in the pipe along the lines of my personal failure the next few weeks. Okay, here we go with this topic.

I always thought that one goes to school, gets an education, gets a job based on that education, I suppose gets promoted several times, and if one lives long enough, retires. Ah, the simplicity of childhood! Now that I have a few years in the post-formal-education ("real") world I see it is not like that, it's all over the place! If you want to make billions drop of out college and start a company. If you want to make millions go into investment banking, no particular degree required.

First of all, an education is not a guarantee of economic employment. That's a big issue to wrap your head around. It took a fair bit of unemployment for me to understand that. What does that really mean? Employers are not looking for you. The people who stand to economically benefit from your skills aren't searching for you. Day to day business continues and the business is not getting new people to fill new roles, it is producing a product or a service. Instead of education and recruitment being related as it seems wise, they are mostly unrelated. It is ludicrous, that the ability to have a job once you graduate is not based on your education. I mean, what's the point?

In other words, companies rely on resumes of people who have been self-developed and self-motivated coming to a website or the human resources department. That way they can be screened and some of the best ones can be offered an interview. I say self-developed and self-motivated because that is how you get an advanced education. You have to be motivated to struggle for the standard four years in college. Up until about age 22 or 23 the model in society is to, seriously, do what you want. What one does during that time does say something about one's motivation.

Unfortunately, once you join the post-formal-education world an impersonal business economy directs your monetary success and your most possible opportunities. There is still a disconnect between the education that is provided to the next generation, the opportunites provided to the next generation, and a third factor, future economic opportunities. Part of the reason for the disconnect, I feel, is the lack of recruitment from one generation to the next. For example, I came up with a possible model of corporate recruitment. What if companies would offer prospective high school students something like, 'come work for us over four 10-week summer internships and we'll give you $10,000 per year, then work for us two (or three or four) years after you graduate and we'll pay whatever student loans you have left, contingent on satisfactory performance reviews. No contractual obligation, you can leave early if you want, but if you stay that is what you get.' Kids are so influential that over six or seven or eight years you could develop precisely the set of skills that you would want for a promising 25 year old.

That brings us to another issue, retention. How do you get people to stay? After all, I did jump ship twice in the last 18 months and I am sure that both of my former employers would have liked to keep me. Well, amazing 401(k) matching that doesn't vest for three years is one incentive. It is good to have a certain amount of turnover to get new ideas in. Still the cost of losing an employee and all of the extremely relevant experience is not something that any profitable business would look forward to. In the past I feel that compensation, for the most part pay, was all that was needed to retain most employees. In other words, everyone looked at their neighbors and looked at themselves and decided life was good and everyone lived pretty similar lives and nothing needed to change. Unfortunatly for companies, the Internet came along and people's horizons were expanded. It is not that everyone wants more money to be in the 1% or to travel the world or have three months of vacation, but there is a slew of interests and desires that are unfulfilled in the working population. I realize I just alienated everyone over 40 and you are all thinking that I am a lazy free loader, but take an example of a man in his upper 50s. He is a social worker who works with disadvantaged people. He helps several dozen people every week and does pretty well at it. Unfortunately, you can't sustainably help a couple score of people emotionally every week. Half a century ago he might have muscled through it to the detriment of many, especially those close to him, but now we recognize it's an unsustainable situation. So how does his employer retain this employee? Hire another employee?

I feel that one strong method of retention is recognition. I don't even mean public recognition, I just mean letting employees know that they did well on something. I feel that unfortunately, managers often don't know what their employees are doing. That is the consequence of having subordinates, one person can not do all the work or know everything everyone is doing. I am very fortunate that recently I received a three sentence email from a senior engineer I work with complimenting me on my progress the last year. It feels pretty good. On another note I have been trying to take notice of other people who are doing their jobs well and telling them that when I notice. The results are often surprising. People respond thankfully and very graciously, and a little shocked. It is as though people are waiting for a complement subconsciously, but certainly not expecting one.

Another way that I feel employers can encourage retention is to offer diversity, and I don't mean hire people with different skin colors to fill some quota. If that is solely how our culture judges diversity than how shallow are we? No, I mean exposure to experiences that are alien or uniquely interesting to an employee. For example, I work on forestry equipment, I would love to take a trip to the Southeast or South America to visit a logging operation. The people I would interact with would come from a somewhat different background than myself, I assume. Their perspective on the final result of my work would enable me to make more appropriate recommendations in the future, I assume. Plus, it would show them I care about doing the best work that I can.

Switching subtopics we get to retirement. This modern invention is ridiculous! No one is entitled to live 20+ years golfing, eating at restaurants, taking trips, and doing the things we put off the rest of our life. The entire concept of delayed-life makes me cringe. What are you waiting for! One possible solution to the retirement issue and how to afford pensions is a solution that would likely increase retention as well. For example, a 35 hour work week with a retirement age of 75. There is so much knowledge and experience and capabilities wrapped up in the 55-65 year old crowd that more or less disappears from the economy every year. How many thousands of mistakes could be prevented if those people simply listened to our ideas every week and commented?

What I am trying to convey is that I feel it would be possible for people to contribute to the economy at a younger age similar to an apprentice if companies would recognize that future needs 10, 20, 30 years down the road will require the adolescents of today instead of focusing on the next quarter or next three years. At the same time we could have more time throughout our lives with family and friends and pursuing interests outside of work and continue to meaningfully contribute to a much later age, at least well into our 60s and even 70s. I also feel that with more freedom to pursue those topics most interesting to us including at work it will enable greater productivity and to quote a friend from college "revolutionary innovation". It is all just an idea. Take it and run.

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