A Workforce On The Move

By now, many of this year’s graduates will be joining the workforce or continuing their search for jobs. In my readings and discussions lately, I’ve run across some insightful observations about the U.

Columns From: 7/6/2004 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

By now, many of this year’s graduates will be joining the workforce or continuing their search for jobs. In my readings and discussions lately, I’ve run across some insightful observations about the U.S. workforce and the prospects for graduates entering careers.

Ours is a workforce on the move. We move from place to place, company to company, occupation to occupation—much more so than employees in Europe or Japan. “Going where the jobs are” is a fact of life for many American job seekers. Young people entering certain professions are reconciled to a move to specific urban centers or regions. Some of these hotspots, such as Silicon Valley, are well known.

Likewise, U.S. workers are more willing to accept transfers and promotions that involve long-term relocation than are workers in other countries. Compared to Europe, where many cultures are trying to merge into a single state, Americans have 50 united states that share a single culture. Migrating can be less traumatic.

Changing companies is also a greater likelihood for workers in the United States. Our expectations (and legal requirements) for loyalty between employer and employee are quite different than in other countries. This tends to keep both parties on their toes. Heading for greener pastures is an option that U.S. workers find respectable and generally admirable as a means of personal betterment. However, being able to flex a workforce downward rapidly with layoffs is chiefly an advantage that benefits U.S. corporations, compared to their counterparts overseas.

Radical changes in occupations are far more common in the United States than in Japan or Europe. This is no surprise judging from the way college undergrads change majors numerous times. By choice or by necessity, our concept of a vocation as a life-long calling is much diminished. We accept following our dreams and rolling with the punches as equally valid reasons for switching careers.

People who are between jobs represent most of the unemployment in the United States. We have the lowest long-term unemployment in the western world. College graduates do especially well finding jobs, although they may not land their dream jobs right away. By comparison, unemployment among college grads is high in many parts of Europe.

America’s workforce is remarkably flexible and resilient. We bounce back when we have to. We bounce around when we want to. The vibrance of this workforce is a key asset in our ability to compete globally.

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