Month: April 2015

Building a Brand to Improve Ashtabula County’s Image as a Place to Live, Work, and Play

Image is an essential ingredient for successful economic development. It matters how local residents, workers, students, elected officials, nonprofit leaders, and business owners and managers see Ashtabula County as a place to live, work, and play. Equally so, it matters how tourists, in-commuting workers, students, state and federal officials, and outside businesses that are customers of and suppliers to Ashtabula County companies see the county.

Ashtabula County has a great deal of work to do in strengthening its image from a local and external perspective, which is why the budding effort by many of us to explore the county’s future brand is so important. We must invest in this effort and work as a team to make it a reality!

Perceptions of the county vary considerably from what the Growth Partnership can see. These perceptions range from very positive to very negative, which suggests that we must commit ourselves to greater investments and work efforts committed to strengthening Ashtabula County’s image.

Many counties, cities, and regions have worked to improve their image through marketing and branding strategies. For one, Cleveland has done this. Wayne County, Ohio has a successful brand. Cincinnati has done this. So has Louisville, Kentucky and Indianapolis, Indiana. These strategies work if they are carefully designed, properly focused, and executed in a high quality manner.

Building a brand for a geographic area requires concerted and consistent management over time. A brand is a promise about the “value” a business, tourist, worker, student, or resident can/will receive if they visit, live, or work in the place. All that to say, branding works if it is done right. Authentic brands are the best brands, as opposed to slick sales campaigns that distort reality. Branding efforts fail when they focus on simplistic slogans that make generic claims any place could make, but a brand must be easily recognizable to others. This recognition must be cognitive, emotional, and experiential.

Right now, Ashtabula County does NOT have a brand in a real sense. This contributes to the conflicting, and more importantly negative, perceptions of the county. We need a brand that clearly communicates the unique advantages of living, working, and playing in Ashtabula County. We have many valuable assets to support our future brand, such as our employers and the jobs they offer, wineries, small town lifestyles that are affordable, Lake Erie, Pymatuning Reservoir, and our rivers, interesting downtown and lakeside destinations, SPIRE Institute, the covered bridges, our parks and open spaces, Kent State University, Ashtabula, scenic locations, and many other assets. We do not have a consistent set of communication messages giving shape to a more positive county image and telling the story about the “value” of these assets.

Another important point is that a good, or effective, “place brand” is holistic and synergistic in the sense that it supports tourism development, residential development, educational advancement, talent retention and recruitment, and business retention  and attraction. Our future brand must communicate the value we can provide with our local assets and assets in the surrounding region. Ashtabula County may be an hour’s drive from Downtown Cleveland, but we are NOT separate from our surrounding region. Ashtabula County exists in a regional context as a place to live, work, and play.

Quality of life grounded in the “goodness” of a place is essential to all aspects of economic development, including business and job growth, entrepreneurship, tourism, agricultural development, and population retention and attraction.

So what steps should Ashtabula County take to strengthen its image and brand in the future?

First, we must commit to an organized process to explore our brand. This process should give birth to a brand, and it should also elevate our understanding of Ashtabula County’s potential as a place to live, work, and play.

Second, once we have the brand, we must work together to make it a reality. The brand will need to be threaded through our tourism, economic development, place-making, and community development efforts.

Third, we must grow our brand over time to increase interest in, excitement about, and investment in Ashtabula County.

Fourth, because first impressions are hard to change, we must physically clean-up Ashtabula County. This is an ongoing job to be undertaken by residents, local governments, businesses, and farms. This will require a combination of “carrots” (rewards) and “sticks” (penalties) to motivate greater stewardship of place by everyone.

Finally, we must use the brand to improve our self-perception and confidence in our abilities to successfully grow and development.


Ten Factors Driving Manufacturing Reshoring

Frank Cavallaro, Founder & CEO, Fronetics Strategic Advisors, says that a number of factors, none of which alone would not prompt a company to terminate an overseas venture, have coalesced to make the value proposition of electronics “Made in the USA” increasingly hard to resist. This is a trend that Ashtabula County and NE Ohio must be prepared to capitalize on. Here they are:

1. Financial motivators
Soaring wages in low-cost countries in combination with rising shipping rates and land prices are chipping away at China’s cost advantages. At the same time, industrial wages in America have been stagnant while the extraction of natural gas has caused a dramatic drop in domestic energy prices.

2. Labor costs
Once the number one reason for American companies to outsource, the cost of labor is rising so sharply in Asia that pay for senior management executives is on par with, or exceeds, that of their American counterparts. Chinese factory workers saw their wages increase by an average of 19 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to one Boston Consulting Group report. In contrast, manufacturing wages in the United States have in the face of the economic crisis declined 2.2 percent since 2005.

3. Automation
With industrial wages in China, despite the recent increases, still being well below those in the United States, automation is considered key to leveling the playing field. Sophisticated equipment, such as robotics and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), also require a more skilled workforce, which is in greater supply in America.

4. Intellectual property protection
The protection of intellectual property is haphazard at best in China and other low-cost manufacturing nations, leaving some companies to conclude the best protection is not investing overseas at all.

5. Transparency
Revelations of child labor and environmental destruction in China has resulted in negative publicity for some companies and calls for improved transparency of the supply chain. Some found closing up shop overseas and moving closer to headquarters to be the best solution to achieve better oversight.

6. Risk management
In the heyday of offshoring, the risks were not always fully considered. The fluctuating price of oil, labor disputes, freight costs, safety issues — to name a few — have added a layer of costs and bureaucracy that some companies concluded they could do without.

7. Closer to customers
A desire to move closer to the customers plays a key role in the decision to onshore, according to several surveys. Proximity also creates a better environment for innovation, keeping manufacturers and designers together.

8. Quality control
Offshoring often means giving up some aspects of control and as many companies have discovered, quality may suffer as a result. In a survey of 229 billion-dollar-plus companies, quality control was cited as a primary reason for bringing operations back to North America.

9. Ease of doing business
Language barriers and different business cultures aside, keeping the suppliers close makes financial sense as transit times are reduced and quality issues can be addressed more quickly. As one executive put it, product cycles are “too fast for a 12,000-mile contract.”

10. Reduce supply chain disruptions
Civil unrest, port closures, and natural disasters add uncertainty and unanticipated costs to doing business overseas.

Future of Jobs: From the Pew Trust

Here is another look at the future; something we should be doing in Ashtabula County. Hope and concern register in this outlook!

The vast majority of respondents to the Pew Trust’s 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade.

Key themes: reasons to be hopeful

  1. Advances in technology may displace certain types of work, but historically they have been a net creator of jobs.
  2. We will adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work, and by taking advantage of uniquely human capabilities.
  3. Technology will free us from day-to-day drudgery, and allow us to define our relationship with “work” in a more positive and socially beneficial way.
  4. Ultimately, we as a society control our own destiny through the choices we make.

Key themes: reasons to be concerned

  1. Impacts from automation have thus far impacted mostly blue-collar employment; the coming wave of innovation threatens to upend white-collar work as well.
  2. Certain highly-skilled workers will succeed wildly in this new environment—but far more may be displaced into lower paying service industry jobs at best, or permanent unemployment at worst.
  3. Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices.

Read the whole story here.

Reprint from Futurist Magazine: Inventing Tomorrow’s Jobs

Productivity-enhancing technologies may eliminate jobs, but innovation will create more.

By 2030, more than 2 billion jobs will disappear. This is not a doom and gloom prediction; it is a wakeup call for the world.

Will we run out of work for the world? Of course not. But the challenge is having paid jobs to coincide with the work that needs to be done, and developing the skills necessary for future work.

Our goal needs to be focused on the catalytic innovations that create entirely new industries, and these new industries will serve as the engines of future job creation unlike anything in all history.

Predicting future jobs is an exercise that involves looking at future industries and speculating on ways in which they will be different from the workforce today. Business management, engineering, accounting, marketing, and sales are all necessary skills for the future, but the work involved will also be different.

A few examples of job-inventing industries:

  • Personal Rapid Transit Systems: PRTs have the potential to become the largest infrastructure project the earth has ever seen, costing literally trillions of dollars and employing hundreds of millions of people. Jobs created will include station designers and architects, traffic-flow analyzers, command center operators, and construction teams.
  • Atmospheric Water Harvesting: An emerging solution to one of the earth’s most vexing problems, water harvesting will require site collection lease managers, system architects, and purification monitors.
  • The Sharing Economy: Not technically an industry, but a new way of living and working that is creating some amazing business models around the use of “other people’s stuff.” Jobs include sharability auditors—people who analyze homes and businesses for sharable assets—and corporate sharing managers.
  • The Quantified Self: Big data is building a measurable information sphere around each of us. We will become far more aware of our deficiencies and the pieces needed to shore up our shortfalls, creating opportunities for quantified self-assessment auditors, data contextualists, deficiency analyzers, skill quantifiers, and guardians of privacy.
  • Commercial Drone Industry: As the FAA develops a plan to incorporate drones into U.S. airspace by September 30, 2015, many in this new industry are chomping at the bit to get started. Jobs created will include drone standards specialists, drone docking designers and engineers, environmental minimizers—e.g., sound-diminution engineers and visual aesthetic reductionists—and backlash minimizers—those who deal with detractors.
  • 3-D Printing, named by Goldman Sachs as one of eight technologies destined to creatively destroy how we do business. Future jobs include material experts, design engineers, and organ agents for 3-D printed organs.
  • Internet of Things: Seventy-five billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020, projects Morgan Stanley. That’s 9.4 devices for every one of the 8 billion people living just a few years from now. We’ll need lifestyle auditors, efficiency consultants, augmented reality architects, and avatar relationship managers.
  • Big Data: Social media, blogs, Web browsers, and companies’ security systems are all generating enormous quantities of data, and it all needs to be stored, managed, analyzed, and protected. Future jobs include data interface mavens, opportunity spotters, and waste data managers—those who streamline data storage, ridding our data centers of duplication and clutter.
  • Crypto Currencies and Alternative Financial Systems: In 2008, the entire world was beginning to panic as our global financial systems teetered ever so close to total meltdown. Out of a growing distrust of banks, Wall Street, and our entire monetary system, the age of crypto currencies was born. Look for job opportunities for crypto currency bankers, regulators, and lawyers, as well as anonymity advocates andtheft recovery specialists.
  • Driverless Everything: Over the next 10 years, we will see the first wave of autonomous vehicles hit the roads, with some of the first inroads made by vehicles that deliver packages, groceries, and fast-mail envelopes. Emerging career opportunities include delivery dispatchers; traffic monitoring system planners, designers, and operators; automated traffic architects and engineers; driverless “ride experience” designers; and emergency crews (for when things go wrong).
  • Bio-Factories: Based on using living systems, bio-factories represent a new process for creating substances that are either too tricky or too expensive to grow in nature or to make with petrochemicals. The rush to develop bio-factories as a means for production promises not only to revolutionize the chemical industry, but also to transform the economy. Future jobs include gene sequencers, treatment monitors, and bio-factory doctors, strategists, and developers.
  • Micro Colleges: Colleges today cost far too much, and they take far too long. For this reason, a new wave of full-immersion skill training centers, or Micro Colleges, has begun to emerge. Tomorrow’s job titles include school designers, career transitionists, and goal counselors.
  • Senior Living: With almost 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, the number of seniors who need specialized housing will only increase the need for more options and better solutions. Emerging careers include lifestyle housing designers, life-stage attendants, memorial designers, and legacists—those who manage people’s legacy.
  • Future Agriculture: As with all industries, there are many micro-forces driving the changes in future agriculture. Three dominant trend lines—precision, relevance, and control—will be driving this industry. Opportunities include bio-meat factory engineers, urban agriculturalists, and plant educators—trainers who will work with intelligent plants, which will be capable of reengineering themselves to meet the demands of tomorrow’s marketplace.

Extreme Innovation Creates Innovative Jobs

Outside of the multiple categories listed above are a number of unusual jobs, many still decades away. Here are just a few to whet your appetite.

Extinction Revivalists—people who revive extinct animals.

Robotic Earthworm Drivers. The most valuable land on the planet will soon be the landfills, because that is where we have buried our most valuable natural resources. In the future, robotic earthworms will be used to silently mine the landfills and replace whatever is extracted with high-grade soil.

Avatar Designers. Next-generation avatars will become indistinguishable from humans on a two-dimensional screen. It is only a matter of time before they emerge from the computer and appear as visual beings, walking around among us.

Gravity Pullers—the first wave of people to unlock the code for influencing gravity.

Clone Ranchers. Raising “blank” humans will be similar in many respects to cattle ranching. But once a clone is selected, and the personality download is complete, the former clone will instantly be elevated to human status.

Body Part and Limb Makers. The Organ Agents listed above will quickly find themselves in a different line of work as soon as we figure out how to efficiently grow and mass produce our own organs from scratch.

Global System Architects. We are transitioning from national systems into global systems. Architects of these new global systems will play a crucial role in future global politics.

Memory Augmentation Therapists. Entertainment is all about the great memories it creates. Creating a better grade of memories can dramatically change who we are and pave the way for an entirely new class of humans.

Time Brokers, Time Bank Traders. Where do you go when you run out of time? Naturally, to the time-bank to take out a time-loan.

Space-Based Power System Designers. At some point, the burning of Earth’s natural resources for power will become a thing of the past. Space-based systems will capture and transmit power far more efficiently than anything currently in existence.

Brain Quants. Stock-market manipulators of the past meet the brain manipulators of the future to usurp control of marketing and messaging on Madison Avenue.

Nano-Weapons Specialists. Many of the weapons of the future will be too small to be seen by the human eye.

“Heavy Air” Engineers. Compressed air is useful in a wide variety of ways. However, we have yet to figure out how to compress streams of air as they pass through our existing atmosphere. Once we do, it will create untold opportunities for non-surface-based housing and transportation systems, weather control, and other kinds of experimentation.

Amnesia Surgeons—doctors who are skilled in removing bad memories or destructive behavior.

Geoengineers, Weather Control Specialists. We are moving past the age of meteorology and climatology to one where the true power brokers will wield the forces of nature.

These are just a few of the new opportunities that could emerge from innovation in technologies and industries. Automation is no longer the domain of the elite few, and the quicker we can make the transition to all industries, the quicker everyone can participate.

When we automate jobs out of existence, that doesn’t mean there is no work left to do. We are freeing up human capital, and this human capital can be put to work creating millions of new jobs in thousands of new industries. It will, however, require a whole new level of systems thinking to unleash these pent-up ambitions.

About the Author

Thomas Frey is executive director of the Da Vinci Institute and the Innovation editor of THE FUTURIST. This article is adapted from his post on the Futurist Blog (March 21, 2014). More about these and other future job titles and industries can be found at

Seven Future-Shaping Technologies

We need to think about the future-shaping technologies in Ashtabula County. Here are some to noodle.

The U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering has named the seven most future-shaping technologies of the year. The engineering projects awarded are those that “have the potential to bring radical innovation to their fields,” according to an Academy announcement. The awards are part of the Academy’s Engineering for Growth campaign.

The research fellows and projects honored are:

1. Software inspired by the human ear, Emmanouil Benetos, Queen Mary University of London. Audio analysis, or machine listening, is the process of extracting specific sounds for analysis in such work as surveillance, crime detection, and music indexing. Benetos’s work aims to develop algorithms that mimic what the human ear does naturally to discriminate between useful sounds and noise.

2. Better materials for safer reactors, Ben Britton, Imperial College London. The long-term goal of a low-carbon energy future means continued reliance on nuclear power for the foreseeable future. Britton’s work will focus on predicting and improving the performance of alloys used to build reactor cladding, tubing, and heat exchangers.

3. Novel carbon-fiber composites for large-scale and sustainable applications, Soraia Pimenta, Imperial College London. Pimenta’s work with composite materials reinforced with carbon, recycled, or natural fibers aims to lower both manufacturing costs and environmental impact in automotive manufacturing and aerospace construction. (NOTE: THIS IS AN AREA ASHTABULA COUNTY PLASTICS COMPANIES COULD HAVE AN IMPACT!)

4. Next-generation prosthetic limbs, Alex Dickinson, University of Southampton. Dickinson’s work with lower-limb amputees aims to predict how residual tissues change with different activities, which affects comfort and mobility with prostheses.

5. Turning data transmission around, Martin PJ Lavery, University of Glasgow. The advent of optical fibers accelerated the communications revolution, but they are approaching the limits of their capacity. Lavery’s work will involve using special properties of light to develop high-capacity, secure communication networks.

6. Visualizing blood flow in the brain, Thomas Okell, University of Oxford. Angiography shows the blood flow in arteries, and perfusion shows the blood in brain tissue; both visualizations enable doctors to make accurate diagnoses noninvasively, but the tests are time-consuming and require separate scans. Okell’s work aims to develop ways that these measurements can be performed and recorded simultaneously.

7. A language for computers of the future, Antoniu Pop, University of Manchester. Computer processing demands have left single-core systems in the dust, but current programming languages cannot exploit the parallelism required in multi-core processing. Pop’s work aims to create a new programming language to overcome this problem, as well as to investigate new computation models.

“Each of the seven research projects addresses unresolved or critical issues in a specific engineering field and has the potential to lead to significant breakthroughs, benefiting both the research community and industry,” according to the Academy announcement.

Source: Royal Academy of Engineering,

Tips on Creating a Good Economic Development Dashboard

We have been looking around for advice on how to create a successful economic and community dashboard for Ashtabula County. This is the second advisory article on this subject.

Here are some useful tips on creating a good ED dashboard from Community Systems.

Five tips to consider:

  1. Know what you want to say.
  2. Measure your performance against clear goals.
  3. Make sure your visuals clearly tell your story.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Test and refine your design.

Download: 5Tips_for_dashboards (The article is a very worthwhile read.)

The Future of Work: A Must Read!

This article comes from Futurist Magazine, which is the center piece publication of the World Future Society (WFS), an organization to which I have belonged for many years. Please read the whole article, or least the summary below.

Some of what is discussed here is already in motion. Some is yet to come. Ashtabula County needs to absorb these ideas. The county’s future strategy for workforce development, talent attraction and retention, and educational advancement must contain these ideas. Watch for a follow-up article series here on the forum discussing “how” we can capitalize on these trends.

By the way, there is significant resistance to many of the ideas in this article because these ideas are upsetting apple carts in various industries, including education. Have courage! Have heart! Start by asking yourself how these trends will impact your job, career, business, school, nonprofit, or government agency.

Ask yourself this question: What is the set of “apps” that could replace your job as it is currently configured in the next five (5) years?

Article Summary: Trends Altering the Workplace Landscape

Among the many broad trends affecting the future workplace and workers are:

  • More workplace flexibility will be demanded by new highly skilled workers, but most workers will also accept the need to work longer total hours.
  • The “workplace” for any given job is likely to continue to spread over multiple time zones or continents, with workers connecting through a growing range of media channels.
  • There will be a greater premium placed on knowledge workers who ask constructive questions concerning an employer’s mission, as well as their customers, market values, desired results, and evolving marketing and business plans.
  • Workers and managers will focus more on simplifying workloads versus just getting it all done, which reduces the risk of missing critical innovation opportunities.
  • Managers will promote health and wellness programs that focus on helping workers quit smoking, lose weight, or deal with depression, because healthy employees are more productive and miss fewer days because of poor health.
  • Employers will embrace less-expensive employee recruiting through social networks (this reached 94% of employers this last year, reports And hirers are relying more on critical thinking skills tests like the Collegiate Learning Assessment, rather than on just college grades and degrees to assess candidates.
  • More than 75% of U.S. employees are almost continuously looking for work while employed, and they hold nearly a dozen different jobs on average before age 35.
  • Employers are using personal reputation (strong track records) to make hiring decisions and 75% of jobseekers are using company “brand” in the same way, even accepting a lower salary to work with a desired firm.
  • Approximately one-third of Americans in the workforce (17 million workers) are freelance contractors and consultants. This means more people working from home without employer-sponsored health-care benefits.
  • And 30% of U.S. workers are on flextime when working from home (or other locations) two to three days a week. As well, some studies have found increased productivity of as much as 15%–20% for these flextime workers.

Reprint of Full Article: Trends at Work: An Overview of Tomorrow’s Employment Ecosystem, By Timothy Mack

Where will work be in the future? And where will workers be? The economic, social, and technological landscape is shifting rapidly. Here are some of the major trends altering the future workplace.

When we think about the future of work, the first thing we usually want to know is what kinds of jobs will be available, how many, how much they’ll pay, and what we have to do to prepare for them. We then consult resources like the official reports regularly generated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) concerning job categories that are undergoing change, in terms of both the numbers of workers within each category and what they’ll do.

For example, the current BLS projections for the years 2012 to 2022 show likely growth for the categories of network systems and data communications analysts, personal and home-care aides (also health-care industry human resources, marketing, etc.), computer software engineers (high end), and veterinary technicians (assistants).

More job openings are also expected for nurses, health-care technicians and administrators, massage and yoga practitioners, car service and shoe repair personnel, as well as retail salespeople, administrative aides, customer relations, janitorial services, and teaching assistants.

The BLS expects that the fastest-growing job categories of all will include organizational psychologists, interpreters, occupational therapists, and genetic counselors. Finally, not surprisingly, the highest-paying jobs in the next decade include very-high-skilled medical specialists: oral surgeons, obstetricians, orthodontists, and pediatricians.

These projections are not at all surprising; in fact, they are rather similar to those of past BLS reports. However, the depiction of job growth as a “no surprises” straight line does not necessarily forecast what may actually happen in the years ahead. While the fields of health and education have long-been economic bulwarks in both lean and prosperous times, new technologies are rapidly being introduced in many sectors, especially those sectors where industries are facing special challenges or undergoing dramatic change.

How New Jobs Are Created

Let us first consider some of the dynamics guiding the creation of new jobs. One guiding process is simplification. Functions often get combined because this proves more effective or efficient, such as when new needs arise, when new technologies enable combining these functions, or when new problems develop that demand creative solutions. This dynamic is a reflection of the creative side of the economy, and this creative side is what will drive much of job growth in the twenty-first century.

One approach to clarifying this rather complex process is to examine the new trends affecting the workplace in the United States. New social dynamics can drive new product development, thus building new markets and creating new jobs. For example:

  • Increasing corporate and government surveillance is likely to stimulate more privacy products.
  • Widening income gaps may lead to a growing security industry, as the “haves” protect their holdings.
  • The sheer abundance of identical products is raising the perceived value of handcrafted items.
  • New technological capabilities are making augmented reality a viable alternative for many (boosting wearable computing tools and personalized learning markets).
  • Information overload is driving many to consider adopting new lifestyles that offer more chances for solitude and simplicity.
  • Sleep psychology is enabling an industry of sleep-enhancing products.
  • Communications technology acceleration is stimulating the growth of digital agents, or buyer bots, on the Internet.

Yet, even driverless cars, teacherless schools, and pilotless planes will still need maintenance (so, ground crew, mechanics, cleaners, and similar services will not disappear).

Re-visioning New Job Development

In addition to solving new problems—including those created by new technologies—other dynamics also affect the future workforce, careers, and job creation. For example, as previously discussed in THE FUTURIST, jobretrofitting will involve adding new parts to older tasks or moving them to new settings, such as into outer space—e.g., lunar waste management. Existing job descriptions are shifting and blending to match new conditions— e.g., an environmental health nurse would address personal health plus the environment; an “agri-restaurateur” would blend farming plus hospitality, cooking, and food service. (See “70 Jobs for 2030,” January-February 2011.)

According to McKinsey & Company, 85% of new jobs involving knowledge work also require new problem solving and strategic skills. Accordingly, another approach to foreseeing the shape of tomorrow’s workforce is to evaluate what abilities will be needed to meet the challenges of the future. These may well include creativity, analytical problem solving, teamwork and collegiality, enhanced mental flexibility, and increased decision speed, combined with the ability to test and validate both complex assumptions and interactive dynamics.

New tools will also be needed to cope with problems created by social and professional fragmentation and dysfunction, such as navigation through increasing complexity, improved pattern recognition, crisis resolution, communications skills, self-directed learning, and cyberliteracy.

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, no more than 10% of the individuals in a typical organization or commercial enterprise today possess the ability to look beyond existing rules and goals to create new directions. Therefore, twenty-first-century managers seeking high-performing employees will value:

  • Intelligence more than mere experience.
  • Commitment and loyalty to organization and task ownership.
  • Work ethic, including a desire to lead.
  • Personal integrity—particularly when facing difficult ethical dilemmas.
  • Teamwork and likability—smart, hard-working people who like to work with other smart, hard-working people.

Technological Unemployment

While it has long been economic gospel that innovation would always find new ways to employ workers faster than they were rendered obsolete by automation, it is not clear that this will continue very far into the twenty-first century. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers pegs the unemployment rate a decade from now at one in seven, as technology finally begins to be recognized as a permanent substitute for human labor, even in white-collar professions like accountancy, legal work, and technical writing. White-collar automation could ultimately take over some 47% of all white-collar job categories, Summers has warned.

Since the Industrial Revolution first began, new jobs were always being created even as old jobs were being done away with or drastically changed. However, while both the highly skilled (such as lawyers and doctors) and the largely unskilled (such as farmhands, dockworkers, and manual laborers) tended to benefit from these newly created jobs, those workers with middle-range skill sets did not. Like the hand weavers once thrown out of work by steam-powered looms, mid-level managers and accountants are facing the same sort of risks today.

Work automation today isn’t just about efficiently repeating standardized tasks. And patterns of implementation of automation vary by industry, country, and economic sector. For example, in Japan, robotics are likely to be at the center of new manufacturing, but in India, human labor continues to hold its own, as it is still relatively inexpensive.

This shuffling among new technologies and potential business responses is what sets the pace for social change. As The Economist has pointed out, 10 years ago no one believed that self-driven cars would ever be viable, let alone at the verge of commercialization.

Computers will soon be able to perform detailed image processing on X rays, text-mine legal materials, and turn out fault-free analyses of tax forms by breaking these dauntingly complex cognitive tasks into smaller and smaller task units.

While automation has often been said to help workers rather than replace them, surely one of the first markets for self-driving cars will be the taxi-cab industry. In fact, taxis have already been on the receiving end of a disruptive technology: Uber’s ride-sharing app, which allows users to summon others when they need a ride, thus disrupting the already-in-place taxi-management system. Strikes, aggressive regulation, and even legislation have all been responses to competition perceived as unfair throughout Europe and the United States.

“Unfair competition” is also on the way from machine analysis, which is becoming sophisticated enough in such areas as text-mining legal documents that it could soon surpass the abilities of paralegals or other skilled humans. This proficiency is a matter not just of speed, accuracy, and cost, but also of the ability to critically assess logical relationships and suggest successful legal strategies—and then present those assessments in innovative graphic formats that laypersons can easily grasp.

Some work functions, such as fast-food service, are not likely to be cost-effective to automate. Moreover, the ad hoc and interactive nature of a burrito production line like at Chipotle Mexican Grill (where specific customer preferences require a customized response and worker agility) could flabbergast an automated system or else forcibly streamline the process to the point of alienating consumers.

Another thing to consider is that the push for increasing the minimum wage could reduce the availability of job opportunities for low-skilled or language-challenged workers nationwide, as such regulation may push smaller businesses out of that market.

Technologies in the Tool Kits

Mobile media at work is becoming the primary versus secondary worker network, so employers will need to support complete interconnectivity. “Gen Mobile” is a behavioral demographic with a preference for nontraditional work hours, flexible work locations, and Internet connectivity. These items may at times be traded off against premium salary levels in job negotiations.

BYOD (bring your own device) policies are expanding distributed-core communications architectures, with sync and share files as the base. Of course, the challenge here is to successfully walk the productivity line between not enough connectivity and much too much.

While the selection and hiring of personnel still remains an art rather than a science, there has been some progress in quantifying (and thus potentially automating) the process for domains such as open-source programming. The growing use of “engines of meaning” in human resources and other areas will be driven by big data analysis and ongoing improvements in AI capabilities—and add to downsizing in another white-collar area.

Transformation of Travel and Meetings Industry

One of the most wide-reaching influences on the future of work worldwide is the business travel and meeting industry. Not only a powerhouse behind business hiring and project negotiations, the industry also offers a framework for training and business-practice benchmarking globally.

In 2013, global business travel surpassed 432 million trips, with business being conducted in hotel rooms, lounges, lobbies, meeting rooms, conference breakout sessions, and other impromptu/informal settings. This includes interactive research meetings, where audiences are polled electronically on issues, values, and preferences. In addition, sessions are increasingly being simulcast globally and locally, so interactivity and attendance at sessions can run in parallel.

A growing challenge for business conferences is convincing employers of the return on investment from live meeting attendance and how it is possible to partner with both on-site and remote attendees at the same conference to achieve business goals. And as the ease and reliability of international connectivity increases, the need to provide value for live attendees coming from further away at greater expense also increases.

Meeting managers can do this by better understanding business training and ways to maximize the effectiveness of the learning experience offered by conferences and meetings. Strategies include:

  • Understanding neuroscience and how we learn—expanding the range of delivery systems at conference—repetition and skill-building (Maker Faire model) activities.
  • Discerning how to effectively move from knowledge to learning, and thus avoid overloading an audience with information beyond the point where they can process and assimilate it. Attendees at meetings are often stressed by this massive overload of new information and tend to “zone out,” because their brains can’t digest it all. One idea is to avoid 7 a.m. sessions, but have more evening sessions and networking events at other times of day, when greater effectiveness is possible.
  • Enhancing the engagement of all the senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) and maximizing the use of more flexible, open-space organizing approaches.
  • Encouraging person-to-person collaboration and supporting creative gamification activities (interactive content that encourages engagement) and “hackathons,” such as problem-solving exercises and the building of new solutions for existing problems.

Of course, the biggest transformative technology in the business meeting world is a potentially very disruptive one, that of 3-D holographic imaging. In the United States, Cisco Systems has had a TelePresence product in the marketplace since 2013. Straightforward videoconferencing includes a clear sense of watching long-distance participants on a screen, but Cisco TelePresence provides both the sense of “in-the-same-room” participation and the opportunity for long-distance third parties to observe this holographic interaction as if it were a conventional meeting. Now Microsoft, which has been working on a competitive technology for decades, is utilizing a Skype base for its Viewpoint product, now nearing beta development.

It is not clear how soon either technology will broadly affect the world of work, however. There will be some body-language data recorded that could be mined for meaning, but more-complex electronic opportunities for mutual persuasion and influence that rival face-to-face encounters are not likely to be competitive for some time.

Shifting Markets and Jobs within Those Markets

The transformation of markets has been a major impact of new communications technology, and one significant impact has been the growth of prosumers—individuals and groups who are both producers and consumers. For example, the DIY “maker” movement is being accelerated by rapidly expanding 3-D/4-D printing (the latter incorporates interactive features in the final product that continue to increase their utility after printing).

When imagining a future marketplace and future customers, don’t forget that customers may not be locally or even nationally based. The globe is now everyone’s backyard, which drives a whole new set of logistics (outreach and delivery) and imposes new values, shaped by the number of different cultures one must now work with.

The diversity of both domestic and overseas markets is increasing and becoming easier to track, which means there will be a need to develop multiple marketing channels to more effectively address different languages, customs, education, income, etc. (and all the job positions thus created).

Change is ravaging the retail industry: change in how people shop (mobile point of sale), and change in how people congregate (disappearance of the mall and the mall rat). The Internet offers user-friendly systems that allow customers to search and select products, handle sale and distribution (for pick up or delivery to store or home) from their armchairs or offices.

This has led to the global decline of the shopping mall—transforming the shopping experience and the lives of those who worked there. Shopping center vacancies have almost doubled since 2006—some with vacancies above 40% and many retail centers approaching failure. The causes of this retail failure include the global recession, the new ways consumers use technology to shop, and facility overexpansion alongside the U.S. housing boom. The fact that failing shopping centers have the lower rents often leads marginal businesses to “fail together,” while the strongest tenants consolidate in better locations.

To combat these challenges, employment strategists (including employers, workers, and policy makers) will need imagination, new communities and networks, and new communications strategies. This will require thinking creatively, and people are still ahead of artificial intelligence in that department.

Workplace Demographics

One workforce group where changes are proving to be dramatic and lasting is among those over age 55. In 2012, only Japan reported 30% or more of its citizens older than 55 years of age, but by 2030, there will be 64 such countries in that category (the United States alone will have 34%, and Europe will be the oldest region with 36%).

Health remains the top reason for early retirement, but 39% leave for more leisure. Most are also looking for new solutions to protect against rising health-care costs, including the cost of long-term care.

In contrast to previous Sunbelt migrations in the United States, retirement-in-place is growing much more common, even in Snowbelt areas. The end of the boomer “boom” in 2030 already suggests that a slowdown of economic growth may be coming.

Meanwhile, another workforce cohort of concern are the many millennials who have not gone on to college. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that employed millennial-age (now 25–32 years old) high-school graduates were earning an average of $18,000 less annually than college graduates in the same age group. As well, they were four times more likely to be unemployed (12%) and three times more likely to live below the poverty line (22%).

In contrast, average retirement-age workers now work 4.2 years past their projected retirement date, and almost 70% consider seeking employment of some kind after officially retiring. This can include flex-retirementand volunteering in order to use one’s life skills to assist nonprofits.

Certainly a big change is coming in Social Security. The twentieth-century Social Security model was built on an assumption of 150 workers for each retiree. By 2030, we should expect that ratio in the United States to be down to two workers for each retiree. That definitely means significant policy change, as millennials will represent 30% of the electorate by 2030—and 12% unemployment for those with only a high-school diploma portends civic discontent. Given the fact that there will be 80 million millennials in the United States by 2020, they will be a political force to be reckoned with.

The postretirement job market will require successful candidates to focus on their personal core competencies, especially among those re-careering beyond age 55. Besides the growth of peer-to-peer services from the elderly to the elderly, there is also the significant growth potential in collateral markets, including construction of new service facilities (e.g., community, assisted-living, and nursing homes). In addition, smart-home tech (health monitoring, security, connectivity) also brings with it positions in managing, installing, and repairing the hardware and software to run a smart home, as these collateral industries grow.

Beyond the Workplace Horizon

We have considered a number of less-conventional futures for the world of work, but only skimmed the truly adventuresome, such as the eventual impact of 3-D printing (additive manufacturing). Will it become a veritable horn of plenty, which could supply all human wants and thus nullify the need to “work to live”? While the physical and economic specifics shaping this “Black Swan” outcome are yet unclear, cultural and values dynamics have the potential to change the way we see work in the near future.

Many boomer retirees appear to be moving away from the idea of “working for money alone” (or at all). An increasing number of retirees aim to provide value to society as volunteers without being rewarded in a traditional manner. In contrast, many high-school-graduate millennials agree that work and the identity it provides may not be at the center of personal or social life, often seeing work as “just a job to get by” (42% on the Pew survey).

As the manner in which individuals and their demographic cohorts view the world of work changes, and as social values evolve, these shifts in attitude and action shape the future of work just as much as technology and economic forces. The future has always been the outcome of a broad range of interactive factors, and shifts in attitude drive human behavior as much or more than automation or recessions.

About the Author

Timothy C. Mack is the former president of the World Future Society (2004–2014) and executive editor of World Future Review. His previous article for THE FUTURIST, “Privacy and the Surveillance Explosion,” was published in January-February 2014.

Governor Announces Ethane Cracker Strongly Considering Location in Belmont County

A Thai petrochemical and refining company is considering Belmont County, Ohio as a possible site to build a refinery that would make ethylene and other plastics from shale gas. PTT Global Chemical, Thailand’s largest integrated petrochemical and refining company and the Marubeni Corp., a Japanese investment adviser, have discussed the project for the last two years with JobsOhio and its regional arm, the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. If built, such a refinery, often called a “cracker,” could cost several billion dollars, create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs. A final decision will take the next 12 to 16 months, said JobsOhio, as PTT and Marubeni complete engineering designs and obtain state and local permits.

Shale gas includes a mixture of methane and other gases such as ethane, propane and butane. While methane is used as a fuel, the other gases, particularly ethane are broken down, or “cracked” in refineries to produce ethylene and similar hydrocarbons that are the “building blocks” of the polymer and plastics industries, which produce everything from plastic parts to consumer packaging, textiles and pharmaceuticals. An Ohio cracker — or one in West Virginia or Pennsylvania — is considered crucial to accelerating growth of the region’s plastics industry. As many as three other companies, including Shell Chemical, have been considering building crackers here.

Read more here.

We should be exploring how this proposed development could spur the growth of our plastics and chemical industries in Ashtabula County. We are not that far away!

On a personal note, I grew up in Belmont County (Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville) in the 1950s and 1960s. The area’s economy has been in decline since the late 1970s; a situation not unlike many other Ohio counties depending upon old line manufacturing. The shale gas and oil boom in eastern Ohio has helped Belmont County to some degree, although most of the benefit of the boom has occurred in the counties north of Belmont County.

Good Advice on Economic and Community Development Dashboards

Indicators, Dashboards, Benchmarks, and Scorecards in Regional Economic Development: Lessons Learned by George A. Erickcek at the W.E. Upjohn Institute offers great advice on how to create a successful dashboard for Ashtabuka County.

Erickcek says five pitfalls should be avoided:

1. Don’t create a stand alone dashboard. Tie it to community priorities and a future development vision.

2. Don’t believe more data is better. Focus on key measures and indicators that inform and explain.

3. Don’t use the dashboard indicators and performance measures to organizational efforts or impact. Development organizations have at best a marginal impact on economic and community performance. They guide but don’t control.

4. Don’t fixate on one indicator. Too many economic development groups over focus on a single job creation number. Indicators simply indicate what’s happening and whether the community is moving in the right direction.

5. Don’t mistake outputs or inputs for outcomes. For example, don’t use program dollars spent as an outcome.

Read more here: 

Growth Partnership is beginning work in a community and economic dashboard for the county. Stay tuned.