Too often we complain, but we can explain.

Since the end of 2013 I have been in communications with several hundred people through my consulting practice, the classrooms in management training, or at conventions. I’ve typically tried to get a read on the outlook and attitudes of the people in the various industries. This year more than most, I am getting mixed signals.

Nothing is horribly negative or disturbing from a marketplace perspective. The market is going to be difficult in housing, but I don’t view that as anything new.

The housing market is going to be under a rather radical transformation as 79 million Americans retire and leave the workplace between the years 2010 and 2030. Yes, you read that right. And those Americans will most likely change their primary residence. Unless the population grows, housing units are in all likelihood going to be static and replaced on an attrition basis.

Government rules and regulations, tax laws, and the advent of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have many worried about costs tied to payroll. This is understandable in that the industry business models have been in place for nearly 35 years since the Volker/Reagan team killed inflation and drove us to the current business models.

We can work with it as long as we have time to make adjustments. Productivity gains can offset personnel costs, but they take time. And in the case of technology, they take investment and have a lead time to implementation. Gains can also be offset with price changes and standard charge recoveries. This also takes time to work through the supply chain.

Skill Shortage

There are shortages of skilled people, and that makes things a challenge. Not just this year but for several decades to come. Yes that is correct—several decades.

This is a serious problem in a multi-pronged way. The public school system, technical schools, junior colleges, universities—as well as legislators, school boards, unions, and businesses—have to come together to solve this for the good of the country.

Simply stated, the young people who are coming into the workplace are not prepared. They cannot perform the fundamental tasks. They have trouble communicating, and then management doesn’t know how to effectively “onboard” the new employees.

The comments I hear most are complaints that today’s youth don’t want to work and they’re not like we were.

But I for one am pleased they’re not like us. I think they’re smarter, more varied in their interests, and the key attribute for me is they’re impatient. If they aren’t learning, if they don’t feel like they’re getting more walk-around assets (stuff that resides between their ears), they leave.

And for that, this generation is being criticized. I think some of us need to look in a mirror on this one and spend more time clearly defining that which is expected and listen more to how the youth view their job functions and what is expected of them. There seems to be a disconnect here between management and the younger workforce.

Many businesses have adapted what it is they do. They have gone to the market and found niches or gaps that they have been able to move into that have supplemented their income streams. They have broadened the scope of what they do, entered new markets, and listened more intently to their customers and learned.

This of course should be a constant. Asking customers what it is they need and want. Over time, though, we tend to become complacent and think we know what the customer wants. That isn’t now nor has it ever been true, and is a dangerous trap to fall into as a business. You must constantly be reaching out to your customers and asking how you can better serve their needs.

Nothing New

This list is nothing new, is it? This is the type of business climate we have been in for all of my work life to some degree or another.

Government getting in the way is a common complaint too, no matter what your political stripe. Talking about business conditions reminds me of the stories around agriculture. I have rarely met a farmer who is happy about his circumstances. There’s too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cold, frost didn’t go down deep enough, this, that, and the other. Yet every year farmers continue to farm.

We complain about the shortages of people skills? Well, isn’t this a story of life?

Everything we do, every aspect of our lives, is truly within our ability to do something about.

I am no different than any of you. I work within the same arena. I am moved in the market just as you are in what I do. I have to make adjustments, adapt, and develop new tools and programs. I too have to work hard to keep up with the changes in technology.

My first boss didn’t talk with me for the first several months of my employment. I was hired by the finance group to solve a computer system problem that related to the parts department and the parts department wanted nothing to do with me. He thought I was interfering in his world. I was young and he was old and there was clearly a generation gap there.

Perhaps that is why I am sensitive to younger workers. I have also in the 45 years of my professional life seen many changes—new laws and regulations, recessions, economic dislocations, bubbles, and almost anything else that can be imagined.

The thing that strikes me is we seem to be okay. We have our health and we have our work. Let’s not complain or make excuses about the world around us, the world we cannot control. Let’s drive the world we can control and make it a good one.

One day there will be conversations about the good old days, and guess what? They’ll be talking about today.

Good luck. The time is now.

by Ron Slee
March, 2014
Water Well Journal

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