The Workforce at Fifty

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    etilley
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    Offices have changed quite a bit over the past 25 years since I began my working career. Back then, I took a programming job at a whopping $22,000 per year at Imperial Optical over at Adelaide and Jarvis – fresh out of school, in order to fast-track my way into my first job.

    My engineering buddies stuck to civil engineering careers and some took years to get their first jobs, so technology was a good way to start out at the time. Within six months, I was pulling my weight and then some; my salary was doubled and then some, and I was off and running in a new career. The  three-year-all-in cost to build and support a custom ERP that ran a growing $500 million company very well on an uber-reliable mainframe – $1 million.

    I changed contracts annually as complex projects usually ran on 6 or 12 month deliverable cycles, and the market for good engineers was ravenous back then. I was working six days a week and up to eighteen hours a day; and I loved it. Toronto was like a gold rush town and my steady income let me make up for the head start that my high school grad pals had on us. You see, in 1982 when I entered College, starter homes cost $32,000, and four years later, $85,000; it would be years before we would be able to catch up with the high school grads who went to work and bought up income properties for 30 cents on the dollar.

    There were more jobs than workers and offices felt like they were genuinely glad to have us aboard. There was no HR department to speak of, finance took care of finance and engineers took care of engineering, and MBAs may as well have been unicorns for how often one could be found. I was called upon by directors and VP decision makers to build ever bigger and more complex and interesting projects in rapid succession; I built the federal network for the Canadian Government, put Canada Post on Email, took Ontario Hydro from 200 IBM XTs to 20,000 desktops, and toured North America by Security Auditing AmEx Data Center partners.

    After a couple of years, I was able to buy a house, start a family, and make it home to see my three kids most weekends and evenings. Not too shabby – Canada was well ahead of the US in Technology Project work, and Toronto was a terrific place to start a family.

    Fast forwarding 25 years to present day; Toronto offers fewer jobs than there are local candidates, a Recession and possible Depression, loom as a very possible reality, and the office experience has changed its feel dramatically. The workplace is a more fearful one now – a little like musical chairs for grown-ups.

    For doers, it’s a leaner and meaner workplace where people work longer hours, with less mentoring support, less lateral mobility, far fewer benefits, and as I will explain – no real pensions either.

    Our universities cheated we Canadians quite a bit, when they pumped out very large numbers of business ethics graduates with the message that social costs are perfectly fine to externalize because “stronger businesses mean stronger societies”. If Business Grads didn’t oil-change the ambulance fleet for a year (a metaphor of course) but then turned a record profit, those shortsited and irresponsible managers were bonused and promoted. When Engineering Ethics students caused harm to society, alternatively, they lost their license and were not allowed to continue working in the field.

    I don’t think I will ever forget the SVP at ScotiaBank explaining to a workforce town hall meeting of 300 people, that the important KPIs (KPIs like “Successful Projects per Employee”) were improved year over year; and – that profits for the bank were at record highs; and – that because benefit costs had risen, pension & dental programs would be reduced and salaries capped as per last year. She almost said it in a single breath – and with a tone of entitlement that made it clear that all listening were lucky to still be working at all after all. I had heard the same tone used on a large audience of employees just one other time in my career – by HP’s CEO Carly Fiorina in 2003 to an audience of 600. I could have told you that that Carly destroyed the entire company back then and now business schools study how this woman actually did destroy Hewlett-Packard today.

    Twenty years ago, that auditorium full of IT engineers could have walked out the door at the very moment of the TD Bank SVP’s words – and found jobs the next day; the SVP would have been released within a week or found herself in a more appropriate book-keeping role. My point here is simply, that things in the office have changed today.

    I can even remember back to when a business lead’s number one concern was not investors – it was the customers; but now I am really showing my age – which was the original reason that I sat down to pen this blog.

    The last of my 50-ish year old long-time working colleagues lost their job last week. I say – the last, because all others were released by risk-management algorithms well in advance of their pension liabilities kicking in – just over the past two or three years. The ones that made it back into the workforce weren’t many or they returned to lower pay and rank, and they learned quickly that speaking up at work, got them fired quickly again. Some of these people opened business, others live off their savings or refinanced homes. I was President of Oakville Minor Football for several years, and so I saw many dozens and dozens of men and women who went through similar experiences.

    In Oakville, the divorce rate is 70% and divorce seems to hit most couples in their early to mid-40s, so – many of these men and women had just bounced back from devastating family change – right into devastating change at work as well. The baby boomers, fortunately, just missed this layoff pattern. Most of them were employed for life, and live from full pensions; many in the same $20-30,000 house they first moved into as a young family. They seem fine by and large.

    So, to raise awareness and invite discussion, there are two age groups who appear to be struggling with unemployment in Canada at this time. The 46-60 age group – and new grads. My five kids are among that later group, with little experience, and they are often offered only part-time jobs only within large companies because that skirts legal requirements for benefits in Canada. The 46-60 age group has experience – but is often called too expensive, too old, or unskilled by unqualified hiring managers – and some of the rehiring reservation is due to concerns for pension liabilities as I mentioned above.

    At the time of this writing, I do not have the hard stats on long-standing government programs that protect employment for new immigrants, veterans, aboriginals, and minorities. I believe that these programs consistently meet their goals. I am aware of programs for new grads but I am not aware of programs for 46 to 60 year old workers at this time.

    Offshoring of our Engineering capabilities and talent, is certainly at an all-time high in Canada, but the US, UK and Europe really do seem to be turning this around and hiring locally.

    In Canada, not only are our struggling Small and Mid-Sized companies offshoring, but so too are our largest Crown Corporations and richest Financial Institutions and Monopolies – companies like Canada Post, Royal Bank, CIBC, IBM, Disney, ScotiaBank, Pearson Airport and most others – are either Offshoring directly,  or through service partnerships, and often this practice saves nothing and even costs more as we have no engineers on the ground to run these migration programs cost effectively – recalling my example above for the Ambulance Fleet oil-changes.

    Many of the Offshoring decisions made by our major corporations originate in finance-heavy and engineering-light Boards of Directors; P3 Contracts and Procurement Teams add a level of separation and are to blame as well; a balancing act that is usually given to the CEO or Board Chairman to manage.

    Canadians are the best educated population in the world (according to Wikipedia in 2015) and we learned more on the job than we ever did in a classroom. Unemployment statistics do not help the problem, as these are not rated by age, and are not adjusted to correct for the unemployed who have given up job hunting altogether, or for those who had to step down from a $100,000 job to take a $30,000 job after 18 months of job hunting.

    Workers who give-up job hunting without sufficient savings create a risk to Canada’s Pension Plan in the coming few years – again, just like the ambulance discussion above.

    For Discussion:

    Are 46 to 60 year old workers the latest inequity problem and “disadvantaged” Canadian employment group?

    As always, in blogs I’m trying to keep discussions smart and academic – so bring supporting research when you can. If you find that these accounts must be “dead-wrong”, then by all means share the story of how your 20 year old graduated University and purchased a home in his or her home town. Or explain how your 50 old co-workers, friends and family members easily move from job to job here in Canada.

     

    ———————————

    Edward Tilley is the Author of CSQ Common Sense 101, the CSQ 100 Year Plan, World Peace – the Transition, and is a CEO and founder of Six Canadian Hi-tech Startup Companies; an 18 year C-Level Technologies Exec; and as mentioned was Founder and Past President of Oakville Minor Football, the fifth largest Minor Football organization in Southern Ontario by enrollment.

    Read about Leadership, Economics, Creating Wealth as a country, Business, Ethics, Social Planning, and CSQ at http://CSQ1.org.

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