Week of October 15, 2007
Snapshot from the Field
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by JACK LYNE, Site Selection
Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
Rare is the speaker who steps to the podium and warns his audience that he's about to dish out a large dose of discomfort. But that's just what futurist Ed Barlow did on Oct. 10th at the Industrial Asset Management Council's (IAMC) Professional Forum in St. Louis.
"I am going to make you very, very uncomfortable here today," said Barlow. "But there's a big hug behind all that discomfort. Dealing with the future is going to require a lot of tough love."
Tons of multi-tasking will be an essential requirement as well – at least for anyone who hopes to cope with a future like the one Barlow outlined. Dizzying alterations, transforming everything from economics and human resources to politics and technology, are rapidly moving onto the horizon, Barlow warned at the closing session of IAMC's St. Louis Forum.
"We're in a time of incredible structural change," he said. "No individual, organization or community is immune."
Surviving the future requires focusing on "eight areas of structural change," Barlow explained. Moreover, all eight must be tackled at once.
"All of these structural changes must be addressed at the same time," he emphasized. "They can not be addressed using any sort of traditional linear approach."
Barlow's dizzying presentation illustrated that point. His rapid-fire insights were delivered via a non-stop phantasmagoria of factual info and flashing PowerPoint images. Nothing stood still onscreen for more than a few seconds – and then another challenge surfaced. That sensory bombardment, he indicated, mirrors the relentlessly mercurial nature of the onrushing future.
"The change that's coming," said Barlow, "will be like rebuilding a car from the ground up – and rebuilding it while the car is already running at top speed."
That rebuilding job will be further complicated by ongoing increases in the speed of change. In particular, the future will be characterized by an ever-escalating explosion of knowledge and information, Barlow pointed out.
Knowledge Explosion – and Erosion
Humankind's total knowledge, for example, will begin doubling every year by 2012, he noted. By comparison, 30 years ago – when the phrase "future shock" first began to gain widespread currency – human knowledge was "only" doubling every six years. And contrast that with the 1,500 years it took for the initial doubling of the human race's collective knowledge.
"There will be no knowledge plateaus in the 21st century. Twenty percent of what we know now will be obsolete within a year," said Barlow, who used numerous studies and projections to illustrate his points.
The futurist provided a glimpse into how the fast-tense future will affect the industrial sector, the bread-and-butter business for IAMC's corporate members. The technological changes of the 21st century will be a thousand times greater than
Some companies, such as Intel, are already adapting, Barlow explained. On the last day of each year, 90 percent of Intel's products – most of them made by contract manufacturers – didn't even exist at the beginning of that year.
At the other end of the spectrum is Zara International, a Spanish company that manufactures trendy apparel. In a head-snapping span of only 15 days, Zara can design, produce and deliver a new garment to its more than 600 stores, Barlow said. Unlike Intel, Zara eschews outsourcing, doing all of its own designing, warehousing, distribution, and logistics. The clothier's end-to-end control of its supply chain is yielding robust profits, he noted.
The companies that will dominate the business world of the future will share a trait, Barlow said. All of them will be "corporate chameleons." Instead of adopting a fixed modus operandi, those firms will continually adjust to take advantage of the zeitgeist. Chameleon companies, Barlow said, will be far more prone to embrace experimentation, continually seek new markets and focus on customers, not rivals.
Whiplash changes are rapidly remaking the corporate workplace as well, Barlow pointed out.
The Quicksilver Workplace
In fact, the concept of "a steady job" has become a quicksilver concept in the face of relentlessly proliferating knowledge and information. Barlow illustrated that point by comparing the vastly different work experiences of two major U.S. population groups: the Baby Boomers, who were born from 1945 to 1964, and the Baby Busters, who were born from 1965 to 1984.
"For the Baby Boomers, it took 12 to 15 years before half of their job and knowledge skills became obsolete," Barlow explained. The generation that followed, though, encountered a workplace that was markedly more fluid. "For the Baby Busters, half of their job and knowledge skills became obsolete in only 30 to 36 months," he said.
But that's small change compared to the speed of job-skill obsolescence that will be coming in the future, Barlow noted.
"Many of the jobs of the future will instead become projects," Barlow said. "Increasingly, workers will be hired on a project basis. Instead of job security, workers will strive for employability security."
The work force's composition is rapidly changing to reflect those realities, Barlow said. By 2010, 15 percent of U.S. workers will be employed by large organizations, while 35 percent will be employed by small and medium-size enterprises, he noted. The other half of the U.S. labor force will be made up of "contingent and self-employed workers," said Barlow
While much of the future may sound like science fiction, some basics endure. In particular, human capital will be critical in determining which companies and communities sustain themselves and flourish, Barlow said./
The Human Touch
"Seventy percent of wealth creation is related to human capital," he asserted. "Success rests in drawing in talent, not in drawing in companies," he advised the economic development executives in the audience.
For companies, however, drawing in knowledge workers may not involve persuading them to locate in corporate work space. Instead, sealing those employment deals may center on letting those individuals stay exactly where they want to be.
Knowledge workers want control over where they work and when they work, Barlow pointed out. Granting them that control may be the only way that companies can acquire their skills, he said. At the same time, though, such "location-independent"
Companies can expect much more stringent labor-recruitment challenges in the future, Barlow warned.
"In the U.S., we have 25 million fewer workers in Generation X than we have now in the work force," he said. "And the Baby Boomers are now beginning to retire in large numbers. So we don't have enough replacement workers."
Many other nations with aging work forces face similar problems. For the first time in human history, in fact, the total number of people who are 65 years of age or older is greater than the total number of children under the age of five.
Labor shortages are already having a major impact in the workplace. Barlow cited a Manpower survey of worldwide employers released in March that reported that 41 percent of companies are having problems filling skilled positions. China, India, Ireland and the Netherlands are the nations with the lowest skilled-worker shortages, according to the Manpower study.
Barlow described some avenues that might possibly alleviate the U.S. labor shortage.
Laboring to Locate Workers
"We should try to keep Baby Boomers active in the work force for five years past retirement age," he said. Project work, Barlow added, would be an attractive alternative for many Boomers who want to stay active, but don't want full-time employment.
States and communities can also help businesses, and themselves, by "reducing the cycle time to get your new workers into the work force," he said. "Companies are not going to move to areas that don't do that."
Many nations are confronting labor shortages by offering incentives to families to have more children. Countries that include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Russia, Spain and Singapore are offering procreation inducements that range from US$14,000 in cash to a car to a cell phone. One Spanish mayor is even offering a pig to families that have more children.
For the U.S., though, much of the labor-shortage solution lies in substantially changing the nation's attitudes and policies regarding immigration, Barlow contended. About 130 American municipalities are now considering "anti-immigrant laws," he reported.
"We've got to change our attitude about immigration and workers, or it's going to kill us," Barlow said. "If we send all the illegal immigrants home, as some are advocating, the economies of a lot of states will go in the tank."
He cited a University of Arizona study that found that immigrants are responsible for a net $222-million gain in Arizona. If the Grand Canyon State's immigrant population were
Immigrants add much more than low-end manual skills to the U.S. work force, Barlow pointed out. About 25 percent of American physicians, for example, are foreign-born, as are 17 percent of nurses and 16 percent of clinical laboratory technicians.
"Immigrants are the future work force of this county," contended Barlow, whose corporate clientele includes Abbott Laboratories, Baxter Healthcare, Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, Kimberly Clark, Lockheed Martin, Marriott, Whirlpool and Paine Webber. "One very important location factor is how friendly a prospective site is to highly educated workers who are foreigners. Any community that goes anti-immigrant is in trouble. I wouldn't locate a business in any community that was anti-immigrant."
Hispanics are a particularly important group in the U.S. work force future. Hispanics now account for the largest immigrant group by far coming into America. By 2050, in fact, they'll account for about one-fourth of the country's population – almost twice the current proportion. But Hispanics have a dramatically high dropout rate. Hispanic students are most likely to drop out of the U.S. public education system, leaving school twice as frequently as black pupils, said Barlow.
"If we don't reach out to Hispanics with pre-school education, we are in trouble," he contended.
"Success with economic, work-force and community development will be directly related to the ability to attract, retain and celebrate diversity," Barlow concluded. "The future of American wealth is directly linked with the future of immigrants."