By Roger E. Herman

For 30+ Years Frame Building News has been providing the news, trends and resources builders need.

This article was published in 1993, addressing perceived threats to business labor forces. Many of the situations the author outlines are relevant to the industry today, and positive solutions are offered. In some cases the advice can be helpful in finding and developing talent, but also in keeping it. For example, technological training, encouraging worker input, and granting greater responsibility can lead to more engaged workers. 

NOTE: We have taken a bit of liberty in ordering of information to present the currently more pertinent advice up front. Further, several books are recommended, which may or may not have withstood the test of time. 

We hope you will find some ideas here to help you in your efforts to build your team.

-FBN Staff

Attention business owners and operators! Your company is vulnerable … at risk. This is your alert — your warning — so you can avoid the potential dangers ahead! 

As a business futurist, I watch a number of trends and consider their implications for my clients. Each trend by itself can be significant. Our observation becomes even more meaningful when we look at a number of trends and contemplate the impact of multiple trends on your business. 

Let’s explore five major trends. We’ll look at the trend and what it may mean to you. Then, for each trend, we’ll recommend some specific actions for you to take. 

TREND 1: The labor market is shrinking. A drop in the birth rate a generation ago has produced a 20% shortage in the 18-24 range. Nationally, we’re 5 million people short of the flow to which we’d become accustomed. It will be quite a while before we see an improvement in this flow, and it still won’t reach former levels.

WARNING: With fewer applicants from which to choose, employers will find a much lower response to announcements of job openings. The labor market will shift to a seller’s market; employers will have to persuade applicants to join the company, rather than the other way around. What would you emphasize when
“selling” your job opportunity to a prospective employee?

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Reach out to potential future employees. Assess all available labor pools; be prepared to act aggressively to recruit the people you need. Talking with your current employees, compile a powerful list of reasons why applicants should work for your company. (If that list isn’t strong, or easy to create, you have some work to do!) Read Cathy Fyock’s book, “Get the Best”.

TREND 2: Technology is racing far ahead of education and training. Our school systems are hard pressed to keep up — even in equipping students with fundamental skills. Even today, 17% of current high school graduates are functionally illiterate. Technological advances are changing the way many jobs are performed. Expect this to speed up as research and design engineers create more “tools” to improve work processes.

WARNING: Proportionally, fewer and fewer applicants will be prepared to perform in jobs requiring advanced technology. A major re-training effort must be undertaken to help present workers operate in a rapidly changing work environment. In a frightening “Catch 22” cycle, employers will be pushed to embrace new technologies — without skilled people capable of working with the new methods and tools. 

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Collaborate with area schools to help prepare their future graduates for work in your field. “Sell” the value of being employed in your ever-expanding industry. Strengthen your internal training programs, especially in technical skill areas and interpersonal relationships (team work).

TREND 3: An increasing number of jobs require creative thinking and wise judgments. Unfortunately, a large part of our working population has been discouraged for thinking independently. Workers who are told for years not to do anything without checking with the boss are reluctant to think and act on their own.

WARNING: Many employers will be burdened with a marginally productive workforce. A great number of employees who have been trained to wait until someone gives them orders are wasted resources. We lack sufficient “thinkers” to direct American business. People who can reason and guide others will be at a premium.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Actively encourage creative thinking among ALL your employees. Ask their ideas on how to improve the way you do business — whether those improvements will be in their own area or in some other aspect of the company. Bring in a consultant who can help your people learn creative problem solving techniques. Break out of the “box” that limits so much of what we do. 

TREND 4: The buzzword of the year is “empowerment.” The push is on to give more power to front line and secondary employees. In the balance of the universe, this means supervisors and managers will naturally have less power. With greater influence over daily operations, front line workers will assume more responsibility and accountability — for their work. 

WARNING: Managers and supervisors are quite reluctant to give up any of their power. This “sharing of power” is seen by many as a sign of weakness. Empowering managers are thought to be less valuable, less useful, less needed. They are needed, but for different tasks and interactions. This transition and uncertainty is frightening for managers who feel they are losing their job worthiness and career security. 

RECOMMENDED ACTION; Seek opportunities to transfer power from managers to non-management people. Change the way your managers lead others. Implement a more facilitative style. Help managers discover new ways to get things done without having to autocratically control everything around them. Read “Facilitative Leadership” by Roger E. Herman.

TREND 5: The economy is improving. We’ve seen successive quarters of improvement. A number of economists are predicting an exciting scenario: slow growth through 1993 and early 1994, then a surge into a powerful boom! The boom, according to economic futurist Harry Dent, Moss Beach, California, will be extended from 1995 until about 2009.

WARNING: As the economy heats up, more and more jobs will be created. Employers will want to hire qualified employees as quickly as possible. Expect intensifying competition as companies strive to attract the superior applicants. The more aggressive recruiters will unabashedly raid other companies in their fields.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Sit down for a realistic discussion with your people. Plan for the kind of economic explosion Dent predicts in “The Great Boom Ahead”. A sudden dramatic increase in business will overwhelm many companies. Consider engaging one or more consultants to help you strategize. 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS: Move forward deliberately to assess your people. Coddle the good ones; shed the marginal performers or bring them up to par. Quickly. When hiring replacements for the ones who won’t measure up, be very selective. 

Believe in your company! Be so committed to what you have to offer as an employer that it’s easy to “sell” applicants on joining you. Strategize to keep your good people and keep them highly productive. Secure your market position now. 

Forewarned is forearmed. We’re entering a much different world as we move into the future. FBN