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    Guess which labor market?

    Here's a quick game for a Friday, I'll give you three lines from a recent article titled, 'Workforce shortage a structural problem', that assesses macro labor market conditions and you try and guess which labor market the article is referring to.

    1. "A lack of skilled technical workers coexists with the difficulty most students and recent graduates have experienced in finding full-time employment, because few of them possess the technical skills required."

    2. "Graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs and many enterprises are facing problems in recruiting workers and technicians, revealing structural problems in the employment market, said (redacted to make it harder for you to guess)".

    3. "Even then, it is still not easy to attract experienced, skilled workers. So, we have now signed an agreement with some technical training schools so that we get first choice of the best students to become interns in our company. We hope that cooperation such as this will help to develop a talent pool for us." 

    So what's your guess?

    Could be most any type of technical or skilled manufacturing type job in the USA, right? It possibly could be some areas of healthcare, as the aging population places more demands on the healthcare industry to supply trained workers at the same time many college nursing programs are straining under budget costs constraints and still have long waiting lists for student admission. Maybe it is the US auto industry, that seemingly has emerged from near-death to post robust sales and profits as this classic American industry continues to rebound and confound (hat tip to Walt Frazier).

    All good guesses, and all could be correct in the right context, but the actual correct answer is the Chinese labor market, and all three of the above quotes were take from a piece titled 'Workforce shortage a structural problem', on Chinadaily.com.

    You should click over and read the entire piece, but the short summary is that many of the same types of problems that we often read and hear about in the US labor markets - the skills gap, the lack of technical training that matches industry demand, the problems with shifting labor pool demographic composition, etc.,  seem to be just as important and profound in China as they are here in the USA.

    I am certainly not going to offer '5 tips for solving your Chinese market labor problems', here on the blog, and in fact, if you truly are looking to a blog to try and solve those kinds of problems, well, I'd say you have bigger things to worry about.  

    But I will offer this observation, that no matter where in the world you look to source labor and locate production, issues with skills training, development opportunities, and the best talent having lots of options besides yours to choose from seem to be pretty much the same no matter where you end up. I'd offer that you as a talent professional can try to run from talent shortages and skills gaps, but no matter where you run to, you'll probably find the same problems. 

    Only you might need an interpreter to help you understand them.

    Have a great weekend!


    When people know they're being watched...

    ... they behave differently.

    This observation, really given as an aside, was probably the most intriguing one that was offered during the presentations at the Social Media Strategies for HR seminar at The Conference Board in New York that I attended and co-presented with Trish McFarlane this week.  

    The take, that installing, deploying, and making central more 'social' and open or collaborative systems to support people's day-to-day work processes and workflows certainly might make the organization more collegial and efficient, but it also might come with some risk and downside as well.

    I think there is certainly something to say for the notion that for many people participation in social networks and systems is part honest, and genuine information sharing and engagement, but it also is at least (partly) a kind of performance as well. Think if you can for a minute about your Facebook feed - I will bet it is filled with perfect photos of your friends' precocious and impossibly cute children, tales of friends jetting off on some exotic location, or even long-lost relatives that you know are (largely) losers painting a way-too-flattering portrait of their lives.

    When people know they're being watched, they behave differently.

    They might embellish, they might obfuscate, or, certainly, they might simply act better and more diligently and responsibly. But either way, whether it is the popular social networks that have invaded our lives, or it is an internal or enterprise social workplace type system that at its core is designed to give lots more people a window into what the average worker bee is up to all day, I think perhaps we haven't thought enough about how being watched impacts people's actions and behaviors.

    Anyway, I'm off the soapbox.

    Let me know what you think - is more openness, transparency, and visibility into our everyday and mundane actions at work going to change how we act and how we try to present our work selves? Do we run the risk of becoming the same kind of annoying broadcasters we have become on Facebook? 

    As always, The Conference Board put on a great event, and I want to thank them for inviting me to attend and participate this week.


    Could Facebook become 'Facebook for the enterprise?'

    Last week and sort of quietly, Facebook announced the introduction of Groups for Schools, a collection of new features aimed at its original user base - colleges and college students. The Groups for Schools feature allows easier creation and joining of Facebook groups for those users with an active .edu email address, the domain most commonly associated with US-based colleges and universities. Updates posted in the Groups for Schools groups section for a given college will only be visible to other students who’ve also authenticated through their .edu email address. The Groups for Schools capability is a bit of a return to the original intent and use of Facebook, a platform for students to connect, share information about classes and other events, all in a more low-key and not-so-public way. Source - Facebook. Click for larger image.

    But a more interesting development than the organization and security aspects of Groups for Schools, is that in these groups Facebook will also support uploading and sharing of files up to 25 MB in size with other group members. Groups For Schools users can click an “Upload File” button above the news feed. Notable, Facebook will not permit .EXE files to be uploaded to prevent malicious programs from going viral. Other groups members will be able to download the files directly from the news feed. To avoid legal issues, Facebook plans to monitor for and to disallow the upload of copyrighted files, so college students can't try to use the platform as a source for MP3s and other protected files.

    Facebook originally started on its remarkable growth trajectory beyond Harvard by rolling out to other colleges, and then the network eventually opened up to the general public. Similarly, if Groups for Schools is successful, and Facebook sees increased engagement levels as a result of the file sharing capability, then it is not at all unlikely that Facebook Groups For Businesses or Organizations could follow. The ability to create a private, company-based group, (validated by company email addresses), with the added ability to upload and share files to group members, and to engage in an ongoing conversation about the files and the comments about those files, heck that sounds like the use case for about 90% of email-based enterprise collaboration today.

    If Facebook were to launch more advanced enterprise-like collaborative features right inside the network, it could mean interesting times ahead for solutions like Yammer and perhaps even Jive. Sure, you can argue with me and claim that these more advanced, enterprise solutions have lots more capability than a simple news feed and the ability to upload files, and while that is true, there is also something they don't have.

    They're not called Facebook. And I would bet that there would be some advantage to the potential adoption rates of a new collaborative tool at work if that tool was already used by 95% of the staff before the project even started.

    What do you think - do you see Facebook even being interested in more 'internal' enterprise networking?

    Would you use Facebook at work to collaborate with your team?


    Titanic : Or, I'm comfortable not knowing

    Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, which accounts for the recent upsurge in news and events surrounding the ship's tragic fate, as well as the return of the incredibly popular 1997 movie, (now in 3D!) titled, aptly, Titanic.It's not just a movie!!!

    For a combination of reasons - the scale and luxury of the incredible ship itself, the many pronouncements of its 'unsinkability' prior to it well, sinking, the presence onboard of many of the time's super rich and elite, and finally the sheer scope and sadness of the tragedy that saw over 1,500 perish in the freezing sea; the Titanic story seems even more popular and in the societal conscious than ever before. The 1997 film played a significant role of course in cementing the Titanic story in our collective minds, it was for many years following its release the highest grossing film ever, and even now is still second in Worldwide box office receipts. With close to $2B in worldwide ticket sales and about 178,294 additional showings in the last 15 years on cable TV, chances are really, really high that everyone has seen this movie, or at least is familiar with it. It remains a legendary achievement in pop culture history.

    The popularity and ubiquity of the 1997 movie has also had some unexpected effects on the understanding and interpretation of the actual events of the Titanic in the minds of some observers. Namely, it turns out that lots of people, (mostly young people), did not realize that Titanic was not just a movie, but an actual historical event. There have been loads of articles posted about this, this one from the Gothamist is a good example, and they (mostly), take the same kind of condescending slant of 'Can you believe these dumb kids?' and 'Our culture is doomed once these numbskulls are in charge.'. After all, the reasoning goes, how can you not know the Titanic story, it has been told, re-told, revised, re-revised, told some more, dramatized, and finally re-dramatized pretty much endlessly for the last 100 years.

    So here's where I disagree with that kind of reasoning, particularly when it comes to 'adults' passing judgment on say the average 15 or 16 year-old that might not have realized that there was an actual Titanic, and not just the boat that Leo DiCaprio sailed on in 1997. The history of the Titanic is at best marginally interesting, and 100 years later the continued fascination with the tale is to me, kind of baffling. Yes, it was an amazing story; yes, there is some historical significance; yes, subsequent efforts to analyze, understand, and interpret the events have yielded some important insights; but the level to which this singular event has been elevated is in my view way out of rational proportion.  

    If the 1997 movie was the first and only introduction and experience to the story for say anyone under 25 years of age, I am perfectly fine with that. And I'd submit that there are likely about a thousand other subjects that we as a society should be concerned that our next generation of workers and leaders need to know more about, the details of an ocean liner sinking in 1912 fall really low on that list.

    Recently Naomi Bloom ran an excellent piece on the difficulty of keeping up with everything, and the importance of applying perspective, choice, and reasoning in the battle against an endless and unyielding stream of information.  The main point - you have to pick your spots, you can't know everything, and you have to decide what is truly relevant and meaningful. 

    If keeping up with every nuance in the 100-year old Titanic story seems valuable to you, then that is fantastic, but don't crack down on some 17 year-old that doesn't see it the same way, or even never gave the entire episode a second thought once the movie ended. There are likely about a million things I'd rather have that kid be familiar with, (cruise control is not the same as auto-pilot would be one), than knowing if John Jacob Astor made it to the lifeboat in 1912.


    Spring Break #4 - The Art of Video Games

    This is the final Spring Break 2012 dispatch and I wanted to share what I thought was one of the coolest things I saw this week in Washington, DC, the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    As the exhibit's website describes -

    Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society. In the forty years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. An amalgam of traditional art forms—painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, cinematography—video games offer artists a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences.

    The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

    And thinking beyond the artistic and technological breakthroughs in video game design and development, it probably is also worth considering the medium's impact on a generation (or two), of gamers. We have already seen several elements of video gaming work their way into more corporate or mainstream practices - interactive candidate assessments, sophisticated video game-like training programs that are commonly used in military or other technical arenas, and of course the entire 'gamification' industry that if you believe the hype, might turn almost every workplace action into some kind of contest with badges, leaderboards, or prizes.

    Some reports claim that worldwide as many as half a billion people a day spend time playing video games, and that 99% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing video games regularly. Whether or not those statistics are precise doesn't really matter, the larger point worth considering for those of us interested in creating great workplaces and attracting great talent is that chances are quite high that the talent you will be recruiting and working with today and in the future has grown up in the video game culture.

    Does that matter at all? Do you care as a HR or Talent pro? Should you?

    I guess it is hard to say, I'd love for you to offer your take if you have thought about some of these larger trends in your work in HR and Talent Management.

    Regardless, the Art of Video Games exhibit was quite cool and I do recommend stopping in the next time you find yourself in Washington.

    Have a great weekend!