• Welcome to the FUTURE!

    The PublicFutures BLOG keeps you current on the latest research and thinking on major trends, policy shifts, 'hot topics', and evolving perspectives about the Future. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS or get email updates so you are kept up-to-date on all the latest posts.
  • Email Updates

  • Share the FUTURE with the world!

  • Learn more at our Company Site

  • Advertisements

The Next Few Years

With due regard for Black Swans and variations of unforeseeable events, I have made several recent predictions about the coming year and a few to follow (assuming we weather the Mayan end of the world on December 21, 2012). The recurring theme in most recent predictions involves economics. While there are sure to be meteors, tidal waves, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and massive storms, most people (and hardy economists) fear economic decline.

I suppose when you add up all the converging variables and weigh them against whatever good things are happening, there is a definite mood shift. The Great Recession lingers even while it is supposed to be in retreat. Some signs indicate that things are improving. But its aftermath has perpetuated a ripple effect that will continue for some time. Unemployment will continue to be close to 10 percent for at least through 2011 and perhaps won’t decline past 8 percent until after 2014 – if then. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every open job in the U.S. six people are actively seeking work.  More people appear to be giving up. They are ‘retiring’ early or casting about for menial work to survive. Combining the un- and underemployed, a staggering 17.4 percent are in those categories – the highest since the 1930s. At least 44 percent of families have experienced some form of job loss, a reduction of hours or pay cuts since the beginning of 2009. And it is not looking much better for the remainder of 2010 and well into 2011. Frankly, we all knew recovery would take time, so why are so many people so concerned?

Cultural norms are sensitive. Over time people tend to give up or settle for less. Maslow’s hierarchy becomes an alter on which to celebrate survivorship – not the desired growth, innovation, enterprise and social vitality. As more people begin to deplete their emotional and financial resources, the social and economic underpinning will begin to erode. There are those who are counting on the American Spirit to ignite a transformational era of green economics, social stewardship, and global commitment to a healthy planet. Unfortunately, the scales are tipping in the other direction because the masses are impatient and spoiled. If most people had saved plenty over the past 25 years, do you think the level of panic would be so great?

The U.S. economy is now 10 million jobs below the desired 5 percent unemployment figure. Even if we produce 600,000 new jobs each month, it would take two years just to get back to square one. And, that number of new jobs is double what the country was producing in the 1990s, when things were flying high. We can’t reach those numbers…GDP growth is just not there.

Much of this would not matter if savings were robust and home values had remained strong. Or the financial industry had not tanked then continued to exhibit rampant mismanagement. One must wonder if too many pieces of the economic puzzle are either gone or too battered to provide a firm foundation for the next generation. An article by Don Peck in the March issue of The Atlantic raises serious concerns about the impact of this lingering recession on Generation Y and to some extent on Millennials. As with post Depression decades, will the long-term effect be the loss of will, reduced motivation, and a decline of creative spirit? So many variables are negative…college costs are out of sight and are eliminating many from higher education; home costs are coming down but credit is beginning to be much more difficult to acquire; there are fewer jobs and wages will continue to be static or even deflate. Not a lot to celebrate if you are between 18 and 32.

So, what are we to do? For government and business, employee development is essential. Dedicate resources to developing people and engaging them in meaningful enterprise. In my new book on Planning the Future, I emphasize the value of working on major issues to strengthen every community. Get people involved with solving problems and facilitate collaboration in every way possible. Planning must focus attention on a process of triage that will allow communities to sustain at least moderate growth while maintaining critical services. Quality of life may be redefined by communities as they get closer to bare essentials.  Both here and abroad others have faced tougher odds and come through stronger than before. The danger is allowing employees and community organizations to withdraw in these difficult times. Yes, we are in a transformational time, but it may take us to a place that is better suited to prepare us for a more realistic future.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

Advertisements

Employee Development – Investing in the Future

Declining revenues due to economic woes have had another detrimental effect on state and local government – employee layoffs are at new highs and the depletion of key programs is having a huge impact on service delivery. While there are some who point to government ‘bloat’ as a causative factor in recent and projected layoffs, data suggests that the reduction of government chub began to occur long ago. And, recent cuts have done nothing but eviscerate important capabilities that will again be required as populations grow and demand escalates.

As a proponent of lean government, I can also say I am a proponent of the dual dynamics of data-driven performance management and employee development. As state and local workforces shrink, greater demand is placed on those left behind. Retirement of Baby Boomers is also weighing heavily on local programs that rely on deeply experienced workers to chart a course through these difficult times while providing adequate, if reduced, services.

Due to the changing nature of government jobs and the fact that training and development is typically the first organization element to be cut, we are facing a growing gap in the skills required to manage and provide services. Populations are still predicted to grow. And, compounded by the growing number of poor and disadvantaged, expanding infrastructure needs, the potential for escalating crime, and the general trend toward deferred maintenance, state and local government agencies will be taxed far beyond their ability to meet public needs and expectations. This is in addition to public education, which is seeing staff and services eliminated to the point that mandates and missions cannot be achieved. Is there an easy fix? No. There has been such a huge increase in government programs over the past forty years that constituents feel entitled to their continuance. Unfortunately, balanced budget statutes trump public demand. Certainly, the future holds interesting opportunities for debate and conflict.

Job gains may be slower than originally predicted because many companies and public agencies will first rely on automation and knowledge-centered jobs to satisfy demand. However, basic skill development is needed in many critical but traditional positions, including fire, police, waste treatment, water treatment, solid waste, administrative services, public health, building inspection, recreation, assessment, engineering, surveying, and literally dozens of essential public services. Without adequate planning for future needs and commensurate professional development, the skill gap will be enormous – and not easily overcome.

The oldest Baby Boomers turned 60 in 2006. According to the Social Security Administration, close to 80 million Americans, equating to 10,000 per day, will be eligible for social security benefits. While many are delaying retirement (a recent survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide indicated that 44 percent of respondents 50 or older plan to postpone retirement and half of those will delay three years or more). Bottom line, we will be losing some of the most experienced and talented technicians in many areas of federal, state and local government and few agencies are equipped to counter this trend. Without remedy, look for operational efficiency, productivity and quality to decline. While the ‘Net Generation,’ i.e. those who have grown up using the Internet, can assume jobs requiring information and knowledge acquisition skills, they will be unable to compete for more technical positions and few will have naturally occurring leadership or management skills.

The American Society for Training and Development cites the fact that 79 percent of surveyed organizations say a skill gap currently exists in the organization. Various sources cite multiple reasons why skill gaps persist – retirements, lack of training dollars, inability to attract talent, and the specter of instability.

For every segment of government there must be a vision for the required workforce. That is not to encourage the build-out of large employee bases, but merely to advocate matching the realities of predicted demand with necessary skill sets.

Cowlitz County, Washington has recently approved the development of an employee and professional development curriculum. The Futures Corporation will be ‘framing’ the curriculum and helping to develop the internal capability to provide ongoing training services. After working with state, city and county government for so many years, one of my greatest frustrations has been the lack of quality employee development and training. This is now catching up to those who eliminated training services. The pace of change and technological advancement, especially in technical fields, will quickly surpass current knowledge and skill levels once Boomers retire. Without organized and formally supported training, many government agencies will not be able to sustain basic services and will see a corollary reduction in response capability, program quality and efficiency, and employee productivity.

Leadership and management development coupled with technical training holds a very important key to preparing for future challenges. Unfortunately, those challenges are not in the distant future. They exist now. What level of support does training and development have in your agency, state, city or county? Done well, employee development and training services need not be expensive. But it must be organized, formal, supported by decision makers, and have a place at the budget table. This one element of public management can have a profound impact on lean but capable government.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures)