A common question Just where have all the jobs gone

December 14, 2009
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It is a great debate, but not very productive. If you listen to the politicians, it's the governor's fault, or the tax code, or trade agreements, or we can't compete because of legacy costs driven by union negotiations. They go through the motions to fix the problem, but nothing really happens. It seems the mentality is to try to reverse the system and add some “Band-Aids” that will get us back to some golden time in the past.

Let's be realistic: The past is gone. It doesn't matter if the jobs went someplace else or whether they are no longer needed, because the way business is being conducted has changed.

So let's look to the future.

If we wait for politicians to set the stage for business to be successful, we will be waiting a long time.  Their focus seems to be: Follow the party line, blame the other party, check the wind and stay in office.

Americans are known for innovation, breaking out, cowboys and independence. If we are to get out of our current economic slump and build the jobs that will turn Michigan into the economic powerhouse it has been, we need to tap those characteristics that set us apart from the rest of the world. We need to do it now and not wait for the slow recovery that the economists say will be three years from now.

If we wait, those with skills will leave, our children will go to other states, our schools will deteriorate and the downward spiral will continue. Fifteen percent unemployment is unacceptable. Let's stop wringing our hands and do something about it. Any of the following strategies is a positive step:

Do something — Anything to create a job or an opportunity.

Be creative — ODL in Zeeland took a very interesting and creative approach by taking employees who didn't have work and sending them to various nonprofit organizations instead of laying them off. Maybe they will at some point, but at least it kept them working for some extended period. If everyone kept employees one more week — what an impact. Put them in training so they are more productive. Put them in a room with your scrap and ask them to reduce it or reuse it. You get nothing from unemployment payments. Hire an industrial engineer to take costs out of the system.

Network — We tell people who have lost their jobs to tell everyone they know they are looking for a job. As a business, why don't we take the same approach? Business owners know business owners, in Michigan and in other states. Why not ask your network for their help? The Michigan business environment can be very positive. We have skilled workers who know how to work. Towns and the state are willing to negotiate deals on taxes. I just saw a report that ranked states on workers compensation and Michigan had a very good rating. Bet that surprises a lot of folks. We should sell Michigan — not with some high-priced marketing program that will takes months to get off the ground if you can find the money, but with a one-on-one approach.

Make a deal — With a vender or a client or maybe even a competitor to create a product or a service in Michigan that brings in or creates a few jobs in the next three to six months. Take back some of those jobs that went to Asia or Mexico with some innovation.

Let's do one more thing. Let's give ourselves credit when we succeed. Let's do a count that we can all agree on. Instead of all the foolishness that surrounds the number of jobs that result from the stimulus package, get a count of regular full-time jobs (over 36 hours), regular part-time jobs (20-36 hours), and limited schedule jobs (all others) that employ people on Jan. 1, 2010. Measure it again April 1 and again July 1. The schools do it; we can do it. We will see what we accomplish and spend no time pointing fingers or taking credit. We will show what we can do and we will all be better off.

Now let's see what synergisms we can create. We will have better success and less wasted efforts in the long run if we can find partners who will work with us. Then let others know what we are doing so they can learn from us. Maybe when the politicians see what business can do, they will become future partners and redirect their efforts toward building an even better working environment in Michigan.

Ardon Schambers is a principal with P3HR Consulting and Services LLC (www.p3hrcs.com). He was practice leader for human resources with Varnum Consulting following the founding of HumancO Resources and prior to that, director of compensation, benefits and international HR for Steelcase Inc.

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