Wednesday, October 05, 2011

On Steve

Annapolis Apple Store - June 24, 2010

In 1984 a business executive asked me to help him with his new computer, an Apple Macintosh. I took it out of the box with him right there and a few minutes later told him, "You won't need my help. This computer is the easiest computer to use that I have ever seen." I had been using NEC, IBM, Sperry Univac, Bull and other types of computers and teaching others to use them since 1975 at that point in my life.

In 2004 my very old mother asked me for help with the new Macbook I just gave her. A few minutes later she told me she did not need my help any more.

In June, 2010 I handed my little nephew a new iPad. He had never seen one before. He took it and never asked me once how to use it. An hour later he knew more about how it worked than I did, and I had it for a month before I gave it to him.

Steve made technology fun and easy to use for people of all nationalities and ages, that legacy will never stop being true.

Buddha said, "What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind." Steve understood this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Earth Provides Sorely Needed Economic Stimulus

Earthquakes and hurricanes, along with the other expensive disasters of 2011, are going to put many people back to work.

Death of a Tree, Annapolis Ice Storm 70265

A major storm is bearing down on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. A drought is raging in the Southwest. Floods, blizzards, earthquakes and tornadoes have ripped apart large swaths of the landscape in the world's wealthiest country.

An economic storm was already upon us before all these natural emergencies. Wealthy business owners and investors have mostly stood by enjoying some of the lowest tax rates in decades. They will not hire people until somebody else go first. They will not invest in their own land, preferring instead to send any profits to China, to build new factories overseas.

Against this backdrop U.S. politicians, mostly of the GOP species, have decided the most prudent thing for the government to do is also stop investing in America. Their strategy this summer was to undermine world trust in the U.S. by promising, not just threatening but promising. to allow the U.S. to default on the national debt. Their technique almost worked as the markets crashed in response.

Then came the earthquake and Irene.

It is not fun to ride out a major tropical depression. I rode out Hurricane David, the eye of the storm passed over my home in Caribbean in 1979. But I learned that even these terrible storms have a purpose. They cleanse the earth, prune the weak limbs and cause people to spend money rebuilding. Hurricanes, floods and earthquakes reveal weak spots in public infrastructure.

The lines at grocery and building stores near my current home outside Washington, DC were hours long yesterday. Yes, people waited hours to check-out. Stores were not ready and staffed for such crowds. Millions were spent on items deemed necessities, including power generators, bottled water and toilet paper.

Soon the storm will pass over and billions will need to be spent on bridges, building repairs, and other storm damage. Much of this will come out of the accounts of insurance companies but also the rich and the poor will be forced to spend any savings. It is an unpleasant experience all the same but it will amount to a needed stimulus. A stimulus the politicians can do nothing to avoid.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How To Get People Back To Work, and Keep Them Employed

(Another work-in-progress article that I just felt like posting anyway.)

Maryland Avenue Fire 0109724

The newspapers are again filled with White House statements about efforts to create jobs. The politicians echo themselves but seem to offer few concrete plans. In the meantime business leaders wait almost silently for the inevitable tax breaks they will be offered in exchange for hiring certain categories of people. For example:

  • Hire somebody that has been unemployed for more than 52 weeks and you get $1,000 in tax breaks.
  • Hire somebody and keep them employed for 6 months and your business can deduct the first $1,000 in new hire costs.
  • Hire some one just released from prison, just off welfare, just out of drug rehab. and your business gets...

I'm sure you get my drift. These incentives are so predictable there must be hundreds of employers holding off on hiring just in anticipation that the tax breaks will soon arrive.

At the same time there are other advisors no doubt touting job training efforts, something along the lines of "Teach a man to fish..." Hundreds of vocational education centers are already salivating at the thought of such programs they can use and abuse to defray the costs of training more bricklayers or network admins.

What we really need, however, is for consumers to start spending more money on the few American-made products left on the markets. Beyond vegetables, microchips, and esoteric parts for things like aircraft, the idea of American-made products is almost becoming an oxymoron. Most new jobs in the U.S. seem to involve services like health care, sales, and mortgage refinance. I often see offers for pizza delivery men, grocery clerks, and wait staff in shop windows or local paper classified sections.

I get to sit down and talk with young and old people on a regular basis. Some are waiting for customers to come in and take a table at a local (often empty) establishment I frequent. Others sit with me on their lunch breaks at the huge call centers I support. I listen to their hopes and dreams and offer suggestions from my long and storied job history. A single trend seeps through all the small talk.

America is in dire need of qualified career counselors.

That's right. There is no shortage of people willing to learn new skills. There is no lack of initiative when it comes to taking classes at the local community college. People will stick with new hire training programs if they are allowed in the front door. It's what happens next that is the basic problem.

People who did far more interesting work just a few years ago seem to have great difficulty translating those efforts into some new industry. Employers are reluctant to put an unknown person into a position beyond entry-level drudgery. Many applicants fail to see the benefits of taking an entry-level job just to get a foot in the door. I've taken entry-level jobs on so many occasions that I now relish the opportunity. It's like sampling the entire menu at a restaurant while getting paid a little something to do so.

Applicants fail to do their part to describe their true talents. A small but consistent group of applicants overstate their skills thereby instilling a sense of doubt about all applicants in all hiring agents. Human resources people these days seem to start off with the opinion that the applicant sitting before them is not telling the truth about anything. Thorough background checks are too time-consuming and expensive. In addition, many employers are reluctant to say much about a former employee for fear of lawsuits.

One solution to the problem of job creation is to train people precisely how to honestly sell themselves to a potential employer. It is an age-old challenge that demands patience and understanding but the fruit of the effort could be thousands or even millions of people placed in jobs that are right for them.