During the just-past election season there was a loot of rhetoric about the overall low unemployment in the country. Of course, for those living in the area formerly known as the “Rust Belt,” that is far from being the case, at least for those whose jobs were related to the Detroit Three, directly or via a supplier company. 2006 has been a year where layoffs and bankruptcies were ubiquitous. And from all indications, they will continue into 2007. To be sure, this is not uniformly the case. There are vehicle manufacturers that are adding capacity. There are suppliers that are growing their businesses—profitably. But in this age of Always-Increasing-Efficiency-and-Reduced-Costs, the elimination of “overhead,” which generally translates into “jobs” is endemic. Even though you still have a job, it is no longer something that you should consider to be an entitlement. Actually, you probably don’t think of it as an entitlement; you must think it is something that you have “earned” throughout the years. And so you, more or less, take it for granted, even though you (or your spouse) get butterflies every time the rumor mill starts churning or a new broadcaster starts a report with “More layoffs were announced by___” and your company is named. No, nowadays you can take nothing for granted, even if you work at one of the aforementioned companies where the balance sheets are written with black ink. Even there pressures for performance are absolutely unrelenting. It isn’t a matter of just keeping your head down and plugging away. No company can afford people who work like automatons—robots are cheaper. Chances are you weren’t hired to be a smooth-running cog in the machine of commerce. Someone saw something in you, and although that someone may be long gone, and although you haven’t used whatever it was for years, you’d better resurrect it—or, more likely, develop an entirely new, contemporary version of it—because no longer is “just getting by” acceptable. Imagination, innovation and execution are the orders of the day. Now and in the future. You need to get so good that even if you were to lose your job, it would be the company’s loss more than yours because you’ve got what it takes to make a difference elsewhere.
The point here is simple: There is no longer an opportunity to try to continue to operate as you have over many years. You’ve got to learn new things, develop new skills, work as hard as you did when you started. This notion of getting a position then getting promotions at some fairly regular metric no longer holds. Those who think that way are going to have a rude awakening. While there is no exec or engineer that I’ve talked with who has spare time on her or his hands—everyone seems stretched to the max—it still comes down to the utter necessity of elevating one’s capabilities. There really is no choice. But by learning new things, new ideas, new approaches, new capabilities, you’re really getting better. Sure, it’s hard. But few things that are worth achieving aren’t. And it is a hell of a lot easier than being one of those for whom a job is something they once had.
Speaking of those people: I don’t know anyone who is in this industry who doesn’t know someone who has lost their job. As we enter into this holiday season, please think about those who are less fortunate and take the opportunity to donate food, gifts, money, or time to any of the multitudinous religious, civic, or NGO programs that are seeking assistance for the needy. Your generosity—be it large or small—can make a huge difference to some people.