Many things are shaping the business, employment, and recruiting landscape for 2003. The economy is still kicking us in the pants and has been since the third quarter of 2000. It’s been getting worse. And with so many economic driver manipulations, there’s a lot of confusion about which way we’re going. So, in broad brush strokes, here are the forecasts of what the new year holds for business and recruiting. How Long Until Recovery? Recovery is going to be weak and long in coming. Coupled with that is the fact that many investors are now extremely wary of what both businesses and government are telling them. Investors, consumers, and businesses are being extremely cautious about new spending. This means that salaries will be relatively low all year long. Raises and bonuses will also be low, if given at all. New employment numbers will be the same ó low. Employers are making the most of existing resources and cutting costs in order to lower overhead. Those cost-cutting endeavors include terminations, use of seasonal help, outsourcing projects, and having basic, core staff do several jobs. People are generally working longer hours. The typical work week is now between 55-70 hours; some reports show as many as 80. Compensation will increasingly be based on salaried positions rather than hourly in order to reduce the amount of overtime pay expended by employers. The Internet and internet technology is not a short-range phenomenon. It is our jet to the new way of doing business. As such, it will affect all departments of all sizes of organizations. Tech jobs will continue to grow in order to attend to the need. But expect changes in how the tech jobs are structured. The head of technology at a company will have a large staff, but most of it will be contract workers. Because we’re going through our own Crash of ’29, there’s fortunately only one way for us to go ó up. But it will take a long while before we get to up. And we’ll need to use a lot of strategies to get there. There is a lot of speculation on whether there will be a war. Historically speaking, wars in recession and depression periods brought unemployment numbers down and appear to have some direct correlation to economic upswings. Interestingly, the only time in U.S. history that war was not an answer to nationwide unemployment and economic depression was circa 1820. That depression was severe but was overcome in a relatively short time. None of the research I attempted to do on this provided any information regarding what programs were implemented during that period that were part of the recovery. We would be wise to look to that period to learn the lessons and repeat the process. Other Important Economic Factors 1. Work Product A renaissance in work product and quality is happening. Awareness of the need for attention to details will become more acute as more people rely on their products to serve multiple purposes for longer periods of time. We’re going to return to holding standards high ó for work product, customer service, and choosing those who will lead, those who will do the work. 2. Entrepreneurial and Leadership Skills There will be an emphasis on thinking like an entrepreneur. Workers will need to realize that their part in the workplace is to create a consumable good that will bring about a profit that fuels the livelihood of the business. Line or staff, they will need to take into their considerations about workplace issues how they affect the bottom line and profitability. Time away from work, time spent on extraneous projects, is time and profits lost. Managers will begin to speak of profit centers again, and the words “team player” and “team work” will resume their importance in the workplace vocabulary. 3. Collaborations and Combinations to Maximize Specialization People are going to need to work smart. That means focusing on what they do best and specializing in that. The next prudent step in this formula will be to outsource what cannot be done internally at a reasonable cost. People are also going to realize that it is imperative that they collaborate by forming consortiums where possible. These will keep overhead low while still maintaining productivity and employment. These combinations with others who do have the expertise to do the work quickly, accurately, and with a fast turnaround time will lead to better product and greater reach for more. There’s going to be a lot more small- and medium-sized businesses that whittle down to core in-house staff as they outsource the bulk of their work and allow telecommuting in order to reach the Internet marketplace. This will also reduce costs, in addition to relocation expenses. 4. Team Work and Flexibility As companies keep reducing their numbers, importance on teamwork will be emphasized, as said earlier. There will also be an increased need for knowledge sharing so that many (or all) of the team members can step in to help with a project in short order and keep it going to completion or else step in to run the project if necessary. 5. Accountability, Ethics and Sarbanes-Oxley The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was signed into law on July 20, 2002, as part of Congress’s efforts to combat corporate and accounting fraud. Sarbanes-Oxley Act accountability and reporting is a buzz concept now. What still remains is to develop a concept of the heart of the Act ó creating reports with fiduciary accountability. What also needs to occur is the establishment of ethical practices that are supported through every part of the organization and no negative repercussions for reporting questionable practices. Until that awareness is manifested, and the practices necessary to support it are put in place, Sarbanes-Oxley will go the way of other initiatives that become paper checklists without an appreciation for their purpose and essence. In regard to Sarbanes-Oxley, we will have a lot of superficial activity in its name throughout the year. But the pressures that are brought to bear on those who report malfeasance or errors will continue to be borne on their shoulders. Those who wantonly engage in the improper conduct will continue to thrive but under a new version of the same old game. The underground practices that discourage the Act’s purpose are still very much entrenched in business conduct. Retraining in not only how to report to government agencies but also business ethics and social responsibility will become part of the lesson plans of universities, worksites, human resource departments and the rest of our business landscape. There will be a lot of pointing of fingers at those who have the appearance of impropriety. Education about recognizing actual signs of wrong doing will become part of the workplace training, most likely initiated by each company’s Human Resources department. Recruiters will be held up to as much scrutiny as lawyers and (now) accountants. Ethics will be in the fore for all of 2003 and much of 2004. Whether people actually practice what they pontificate will be interesting to see. 6. Diversity Work will increase in global emphasis. Diversity will no longer be a desirable; it will be a necessity. The fallout from the September 11 attacks ó racial panic and distrust ó that was just a few years after similar reactions from the Oklahoma City bombing, shows us that we cannot judge entire groups by the actions of a suspect few. Individuals will need to be judged on their own merits. Baby steps are being made in this area. Giant strides should have been the pace. Momentum will rise. Also in the diversity arena, Middle Eastern races are going to have a lot more attention and opportunity. Blacks are going to continue to be spoken of in public as a population that needs to be included. Retention and promotion issues will continue to plague that population in the negative. Blacks are traditionally viewed as inherently inferior and passed over. Only an elite cadre are the exceptions, who stand now as examples to the masses. But it is understood that they are the exceptions. It would be good for this cadre to be seen as the norm, but that is, like breaking the glass ceiling, still on its way. Hispanic and Asian populations are making comparatively significant inroads in acceptance and advancement in the workplace. That progress will continue. It will take proving oneself to be a professional, well-learned and skillful, to create the open ground for not just these diverse populations but also for women, the disabled, older workers, and the others who fall into this category. 7. Acceptance When we focus on the specific that is peripheral to the real need, it predominates and should not. The correct perspective in diversity issues is not on what a person is, but on what they are able to do to create opportunity and profit for the organization. This is starting to happen. Little by little, 2003 will show us that the craftsperson creating the results is what we want and need. When that thought process is accomplished, acceptance will follow. I continue to be a strong believer that the Internet is forcing us to be color-gender-ability-age blind, so that we accept the one who delivers the quality product or service rather than questioning non-business-related personal characteristics. The Internet is also placing great importance on how well one can communicate with others of different cultures. Communication and negotiation skills will increase in importance. 8. Domestic and Workplace Violence Because the social stresses impacting us are so great, because people are working more hours for less return on investment of time and energy, because of tensions regarding potential foreign attacks and a generally heightened state of uncertainty, tempers flare easily. Overlooked qualifications, forgotten return phone calls, and lack of response because of the glut of applications will all take their toll on the workplace and in the home. There is now more awareness of how these can spark out-of-the-ordinary responses. And these situations act as agar for already festering situations that bring violence and abuse to the workplace. Fortunately, businesses are becoming more aware of how abuse affects them physically, fiscally, and financially. They are taking steps to become aware, proactive. More training will be provided regarding how to recognize and handle the potentially violent situations. More importantly, greater emphasis will be placed on using communication and good managerial skills to prevent workplace violence and abuse. A Big Kettle of Fish This is a broad view of 2003. The work and employment scene isn’t isolated to wage and hours any more. It encompasses a much broader scale. But there are keys to success. Sharpen skills. Use knowledge to strength company and professional growth. Communication skills and diplomacy are imperative. It doesn’t matter who the communicator-diplomat is. What is important is that they are excellent at what they do ó they are leadership material. Combinations, not working solo, will be critical to survival.
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