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Workforce Woes 5: Technological Change

(July 30, 2007) In the 1990s, it was email, cell phones, websites, spiders, bulk email, mailing lists, online communities. While email and cell phones seem to have stuck in the recruiting subconscious, anyone looking at websites, detailed technical tools or online communities might wonder if anything really happened during the past 15 years. Things that should be the tools of the trade are still executed as if they were a question of forced compliance.

Just look at the shoddy quality of most employment websites.

Meanwhile, the march of technology has been relentless. In the 21st Century, it's been IM, SMS, Blackberries, Social Networks, Web 2.0, Talent communities and Twitter. Just keeping up with it all can feel like an overwhelming full time job. Heck, just keeping up with the demographics and evolution of social networks can be a full time job.

And still the employment websites are little better than homegrown classified advertising sections that make way too many assumptions about their visitors.

One response to the techno-swamp is to legitimize the emerging "sourcing" discipline. It's a great bandwagon that professionalizes what has always been a shameful ghetto. But let's be clear about what it is. The magic of sourcing can be easily understood by looking at essays on advanced search techniques provided by Google, Linked in and other names sources. It's not a discipline because it is some sort of voodoo. Far from it. Sourcing is so mundane and straightforward that the instructions are everywhere. It just takes a certain type to keep up with it all.

Another approach, often practiced by old white guys who are in charge of something is to sit in amazement. When I watch my daughter, who hates cell phones like most of her peers, use Instant Messaging services, I am stunned. She keeps her networks alive and running with little nudges and winks (pokes in the facebook). An entire generation has absorbed and now practices packet communication. I sit in amazement, fully aware of the fact that someone her age will be my boss one day.

A common approach is to deny the inevitability of the things that technology brings. If every employee has a cell phone, why should they be at their desk when there is nothing to be done. If every employee enters the workforce with a network, what is the need for co-location? If every employee has to keep their network alive during work hours, is that network the property of the employer?

Another common answer is to blame the generation that knows how to use the new technology. Suggesting that people are too stupid to monitor their bias when viewing videos is one example. Suggesting that young workers are undisciplined because they expect the freedoms brought by cell phones, email and IM is another. The technological wave makes a sharp generational divide.

In the end, that's going to be the hard issue. An age divide is in the culture because of the mad flow of technology. My oldest daughter is out of phase with my son (they are all of two years apart) because she's on myspace and he's on the facebook. It's a huge gap that is heavily echoed across the generations.


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