The Real Skills Gap

Telesope Seeing the Invisible - DelightabilityThere is a pervasive issue that plagues our economy yet it is mostly invisible, unless we look for it. I’m going to help you to see it. It is the Skills Gap.

We’ve all heard media, politicians, and pundits refer to the skills gap in this country. It’s true we do have a skills gap. But it isn’t the one they’ve been referring to, where people are trained for the wrong jobs, lack technical skills or a college education. All of that is simply not true in a universal sense. It isn’t anymore true than the statements all dogs are ferocious or all email is spam.

Each of us knows family, friends, and colleagues whose personal economy has suffered in spite of their college education, skills, and experiences. You probably also know people that are super-employed by greedy corporations that work their employees tirelessly, refuse to hire more people, while stockpiling more and more cash.

No, this skills gap is of a different sort. As a society, we’re becoming less empathetic to those not like us. This is making us less human. This is our real skills deficit.

The decline in empathy is all around us. It is a fact. You can find studies that show the decline over the last 40 years. But, you don’t need to. You need only reflect on your own experiences.

Examples of Empathy in Decline

Over Labor Day weekend I experienced a lack of empathy when I re-entered the U.S. at the Canadian border. I had my keys taken away and my car searched. I guess I look like a smuggler or terrorist or my backpacking story triggered some false instinct. Of course I did nothing wrong. It’s just that we are at war with ourselves. I think I would have felt more empathy from a bear encounter than I did from the border agent interaction.

If you’ve traveled aboard a commercial airliner in recent years, you’ve no doubt been treated as a dangerous object by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Even, in our own communities, we’re ruled by red light cameras.

When the police outfit themselves in combat gear and appear as robocops they look and behave less human. They also further insulate themselves from the communities they are supposed to protect and serve. The events in Ferguson displayed a lack of empathy in all directions.

Some municipalities have gone so far as to outlaw homelessness. Police and firefighters have been ordered to destroy the donated tents of people experiencing homelessness. They didn’t merely dismantle the tents, they actually destroyed them with box cutters. What a horrible misuse of power by the mayor and what a horrible thing to have to do as a public servant. The lack of empathy in all directions can be witnessed by reading the comments on the video posted on YouTube, St. Petersburg Police cut tops off homeless people tents. The war against people “not like us” rages on.

We have systematically been reducing our own empathy.

We are communal by nature yet when we don ear buds and bury ourselves in front of screens of all sizes we avoid real discussion and face to face interaction. We no longer visit video stores or interact with bank tellers. We buy online and pay at the pump. We are having less and less human interactions.

Think of your own conversations and those you hear around you. How many of these conversations actually matter on a human level. Too many would be meaningful conversations are not happening.

We are increasingly isolated. We have technology that connects us to each other more than at any point in human history, yet we are connected in less authentic ways. It is much easier to ignore or exit a conversation that is only online. Internet and social media bullying are sadly commonplace. Unfriending and the “conversations” that precede that act are inflammatory and lack components of a healthy dialogue. Few would have the courage to act this way face-to-face.

So, yes, we have a skills gap. We are forgetting how to be human. We are becoming less empathetic. Technology and our busy states of mind are our allies for ignoring what’s wrong in our communities and in the world.

We Pay Homage to Things that Don’t Matter

Newspaper Showing World Closing Prices - Delightability Blog PostMaking matters worse, as a society, we are paying attention to the wrong things. These things further harden us and make us even less empathetic.

I think each of us does want a more humane and just world, where people are genuinely peaceful and happy. But, those things are hard to measure and don’t carry headlines, so instead we measure things like GDP, the DOW, and the S&P 500. We measure things that tell a story that media and politicians want retold – and we in turn, pay attention. Even American Public Media’s Marketplace that purports to present news on business, economics, and money for the rest of us, chants the numbers as though they mean something to main street America. Imagine if we were listening instead to, “HumanPlace” or “ProsperityPlace” or the like.

Unfortunately, the larger human story is going untold. We do have a prosperous nation, if you measure it by GDP and the DOW. But, we have poverty in this prosperous nation. We also have droves of educated but unemployed and underemployed people. And, of those that are working, most are largely disengaged.

These things are not part of our national dialogue or priority, but they should be. Instead what is heard is, “If you don’t have a job, it is your fault. Skills gap, remember. If you don’t have enough work, get more education. If you are suffering from poverty, again, it must be your fault. If you are a college educated fast food worker, just try harder. Pick yourself by your bootstraps and just do it.”

This is all hogwash and only serves to polarize and distract all of us. So, what can we do?

Platform for Human Progress

I imagine a Platform for Human Progress. The platform would be about two things: 1) We’d relearn empathy – we’d systematically restore empathy in schools, in police departments, in the workplace and dare I say it, online; and 2) we’d develop human potential – we’d have a people first agenda.

What would a Platform for Human Progress look like? Technology would be involved.  So would forums and events. Institutions of all types and sizes, and of course government. In fact, the employment security department would morph. It would become less about policing benefits and more about helping people to reach their potential, irrespective of education, experience level or industry. No longer would people automatically become invisible or be labeled as discouraged workers, no longer looking for work, simply because their unemployment  benefits were exhausted. A human centric side project of Delightability that has debunked both the skills gap and the notion of discouraged workers is Please Count Me. This website gives Americans the opportunity to self report their employment status no matter if they are unemployed, under-employed, fully-employed, or super-employed.

We’d want the Platform for Human Progress to scale while at the same time being careful not to concentrate more wealth and control into the hands of a greedy few. Maybe we’d embrace small as the new big.

There is No Innovation or Progress Without People

I think investing in people should be a national priority. There is too much idle wealth and talent on the sidelines in the U.S. and in the world. Yet, there are many problems to solve and opportunities to explore. There’s no innovation or progress without people. This is important work for all of us.

Let’s return the keys to the kingdom to the makers and remove them from the takers, speculators, and manipulators. 

If we can build vaccines for diseases we cannot see, and build fabric winged airplanes that can carry us to other continents can’t we also build systems that help humans that are negatively affected by public policy, technology changes, and corporate greed? Of course we can. If we did, we’d be a real superpower, not simply a military superpower. Maybe, as a country the U.S. would then rank as high, or surpass Norway or Denmark as having the most prosperous and happy people.

In all that we do, we need to start asking the question, “What about the people.” Repeat that 100 times, “What about the people.”

We need to measure the success of the platform and our nation in terms of: Can individuals secure food and a future? Are they achieving their potential?

Maybe we can learn from the work of the Grameen Foundation’s Progress Out of Poverty Index. Hopefully, we’d replace it with Prosperity Index; the Legatum Index might be a good place to start. The Legatum Prosperity Index™ is an annual ranking, developed by the Legatum Institute, of 142 countries. The ranking is based on a variety of factors including wealth, economic growth and quality of life. In 2013, the U.S. dropped out of the top 20 for the Economy sub-index.

We collectively need metrics that matter to human progress and prosperity. We need to communicate these metrics and hold ourselves and others accountable to improving them. This would be a shift much like John F. Kennedy’s Man on the Moon speech that sparked a nation to action.

In Conclusion

Humanity is a big subject and even though each of us play a tiny, time limited role, each of us can make a bigger impact with our conversations and the challenges we put on others. I challenge every reader of this article to be more human, more empathetic, and to hold others to a higher, human standard. Maybe pose the question, “Is that helping or hurting humans?”

A New Conversation

I don’t have all of the answers. I think the answers are spread across all of us. But, we’ll need better conversations to draw them out. I hope you’ll share this message with others so that we can close the most important skills gaps we face, being human.

I’m going to leave you with a little quote from the universe.

“When you understand, that what most people really, really want is simply to feel good about themselves, and when you realize that with just a few well-chosen words you can help virtually anyone on the planet instantly achieve this, you begin to realize just how simple life is, how powerful you are, and that love is the key.”

Fly little bird,
The Universe (Sign up for Mike Dooley’s Notes from the Universe)

 About the Author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. His latest book project is l’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

Learn more and connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.  Already read it? Please connect and let me know.

Four Great Resources for Humans in a World of Work That Has Changed

Sushi Thai Seattle closed - middle class income disappearing in world of work that changed - DelightabilityThe World of Work Has Changed
The world of work has changed and it isn’t coming back as we once knew it. Once we accept these structural changes as individuals, organizations, and as a country we can go about our business to maximize opportunities for Americans to make a living, make a difference, and make an impact. Full employment for those that want it should be a national goal and priority for any great nation. But, sadly this isn’t part of our national conversation and it certainly doesn’t dominate the media headlines.  SushiThai Seattle, a place I enjoyed in my neighborhood recently closed. Your community has probably felt similar closures. Each restaurant closure or other business that shutters their doors, citing a lack of demand is a symptom of our world of work that has changed. Incomes of many ordinary workers have been decimated. This is a solvable problem if we think differently and work cooperatively.

office building world of work has changed - Delightability

Few Are Insulated in a World Changed
Whether your office is on the 70th floor, in a basement, in mahogany row, cubicle bay, the kitchen table, the operating room, the local coffee shop or a coworking space, you have to agree on this: The world of work has changed. Of course it has, because the world has changed. If you don’t see this, then you are not looking very hard or you are very insulated.

Three Major Forces Changing the Nature of Work
There have been three major forces in play for a while now that continue to shift the nature of work, employment, jobs, careers, etc. They are:

  1. industry consolidation;
  2. advances in technology;
  3. and trade policy.

And yes, there are other forces at play as well like accounting rules, tax policy and loopholes, and plain old fashioned human and corporate greed. But, I’ll leave those discussions for another time.

The Great Costs of Being Idle
Aside from the very visible restaurant and store closures, the ramifications of sidelined talent and organizations unwilling or unable to engage talent is decreased innovation, stalled human progress, and stymied organizations. Problems persist and opportunities go unaddressed. That means more broken experiences and poor service quality for us as consumers, citizens, customers, members, owners, passengers, travelers, etc. For those courageous leaders that do move forward, new possibilities await, in terms of products, services, market share, new ventures, brand loyalty, consumer habits, partnerships, etc.

Stop Waiting and Start Creating
But, you can’t mind meld with your future self or look through the prospectiscope and see future possibilities very clearly. When we do look forward, we tend to actually obsess on looking backwards at earnings, GDP, and the stock market. It is very easy to get quickly trapped by history, paint the future with the past and not see new possibilities. If you rewind the clock to look at iPhone sales and Android devices before those had been invented you’d see zero, 0, zed, nada. No revenue, no profit, no possibilities, especially if you were in an industry or market that was displaced as a result of the more open marketplaces that both of those ecosystems enabled. How wrong you’d be today. But, in your own industry, you may also be wrong. What if you are? How costly will that be?

It takes a special mindset to see what what you are not looking for.

Bigger Thinking is Needed for Larger Possibilities
Steve Jobs had vision. The Open Handset Alliance that collaborated to bring us the Android operating system had a vision and purpose. Kennedy’s man on the moon speech sparked a nation to action. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across a range of industries and institutions were the result. That would be a whole lot of employment today; it was an even larger percentage of workers in its day given there were fewer workers. We benefit from innovations of that era, to this day. Imagine the possibilities of our collective future if we only nudge our attention in the right direction. Imagine if the corporations sitting idle on a collective $1.95 trillion offshore were to put that money to innovative and good use in local communities, the nation, and in the world. Oh, the possibilities.

Each of Us Has a Role to Play in Our Collective Future

Whether you are an independent worker today, become one tomorrow, or hire independent workers, here are four resources to hopefully inspire and educate you on a World of Work that has forever changed:
image of The State of Independence in America report from MBO Partners - World of Work has Changed - Delightability1) The State of Independence in America report from MBO partners is a treasure trove of facts and figures that are sure to educate, inspire, challenge, and maybe even validate some of your observations and experiences. Chances are you won’t simply have a J-O-B as most have been accustomed to in the past. And, you won’t solely interact with others that have J-O-Bs. If you look around, you’ll notice this to be very true already, and getting more true.

Freelancers Union A Federation of the Unaffiliated smaller - The World of Work Has Changed - Delightability2) Freelancers Union is a website dedicated to being a Federation of the Unaffiliated. Founder and Executive Director, Sara Horowitz, participated in a panel discussion with Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and President Bill Clinton, among others on June 24th, 2014 at the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver, Colorado. Sara represented the humongous and growing collective of freelancers and independents working in America. This is very important since most of these people are largely invisible. They don’t show up in unemployment or under-employment numbers. By the Bureau of Labor Statistics own admission in their Technical Paper 66 – Design and Methodology of the Current Population Survey, “The labor force concepts and definitions used in the CPS have undergone only slight modification since the survey’s inception in 1940.” Ah great – so basically the methodology for measuring labor force participation was invented shortly after the great depression and has yet to embrace a new reality that includes the internet, mobile phones, co-working spaces of all shapes and sizes,  liberation from land based telephone lines, social networking, etc. This is very wrong and why at Delightability we’ve taken a step in a new direction with number 3 on our list.

Please Count Me - Human Centered Community Project for Americans to Self Report Employment Status - Delightability3) Please Count Me is a community website for Americans to self report their own employment status whether fully-employed, super-employed, unemployed, or under-employed. This is a human centered community project we started at Delightability to shine a light on some of the structural changes in this country and the need to have a better conversation, reduce ignorance and rhetoric, and hopefully affect policy and lawmakers to do the right thing for the entire country not just the wealthy and influential that finance campaigns. Add yourself to the workers in more than half the states that have already added themselves to the count. Read the alternative jobs report.

book cover image - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT  by Gregory Olson of Delightability 4) Another resource is my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Aside from practical tools, exercises, and recipes that can be applied to any size and type of organization, the book specifically has a chapter with prescriptive guidance for large business, small business, underemployed, unemployed, coworking spaces, congress and other policy makers to work cooperatively toward full employment, human progress, and reaching our collective potential.  See Chapter is 14. The World of Work Has Changed.

Continue the Conversation
While these four resources I shared are US centric, my friends in Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, and other countries will no doubt be sparked by localizing the concepts in these resources as well. Comments are closed here but please email me or message me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook with other resources you find inspiring. Thank you Sabine for making me aware of 400 Euro “mini-jobs” in Germany. More on that in a future post.