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(November 21, 2005) In a world teeming with the unemployed and the underemployed, it's more than a bit arrogant to utter phrases like "labor shortage", "talent war" or "human capital". Generally speaking, the planet is chock full of underutilized citizens who would delight in the chance to be on the losing end of our "talent war". Our normal rants about the labor market are all about low hanging fruit.
For most (underline most) people, there isn't enough water; there are no sanitary facilities; food is anything but abundant; and, work is hard to come by. The perception of labor supply dislocations comes from our collective unwillingness to invest in our fellows. We drain the economies of emerging countries by offering fat paychecks to their internally educated professionals.
In other parts of the economy, sustainable harvest methods are becoming the norm. Take a tree, plant a tree is a routine part of the forestry market these days. Strip mining, the technique most like contemporary recruiting, is a passing approach thought of as primitive and wasteful in the mining industry.
In Human Capital, however, we define the problem caused by our unwillingness to invest as an external issue. Saying that there is "no talent available" says more about our companies' willingness to create Human Capital than it does about global demographics. This is the underlying dynamic in current outsourcing policies: don't grow your own, buy cheap; harvest someone else's investment; pressure the system to increase their investment. Outsourcing is really the same philosophy that underlies "just in time" procurement of other materials: push the investment in inventory further downstream.
A more global view of our shared problem (finding the right human resources to use in our organizations) would include the investments necessary to convert talent from its raw form to a finished version. This involves repeated investments in infrastructure including education, sanitation, basic literacy, internet access, human rights for all citizens, adequate health care and nutrition. Many governments who are competing for the global workload are making these investments as quickly as their economy can handle it. They're willing to live with the strip mining of their human capital because of the net economic benefit.
Interestingly, the heaviest competition for workers (now that the SOx professionals are finishing their work) is for foreign born nationals with American (or Western European) management experience. Everyone who has farmed out their knowledge work to India or China (soon others) needs onsite expertise from people familiar with local culture and customs. This is another form of investment in those local economies.
These managers provide hands_on On The Job Training (OJT)for management trainees with no role models. While OJT is less rigorous than a well developed classroom curriculum, it does produce interesting results. OJT is a form of technology transfer. It represents the low end of the least minimum required investment.
At any rate, Thanksgiving is a good time to consider a more global perspective. We are blessed by our good fortune. It's important to (at least occasionally) remember just how elitist our perception of labor shortages really is.
Don't forget to check out the blogs on bert.
- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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by John Sumser
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