To change or not to change

A couple of days ago, a freelance colleague asked me if I know any freelance engineers who are currently out of work.

I don’t. (A year ago, I knew a few that were out of work. None today, in the UK at any rate.)

He replied to the same effect, then added that a recruiter friend of his had over a thousand openings for permanent-staff engineers that he simply couldn’t fill.

From a purely selfish standpoint, this is good news. I’m on the winning side of that equation. I’m as busy as a freelancer could wish to be, and I regularly have to disappoint recruiters calling in search of a solution to their particular problem.

It isn’t good news, of course. This is a big problem. The economies of the western world are struggling to grow, governments are (seemingly futilely) trying to balance their budgets, skilled and unskilled people are out of work.

And a select few firms are complaining bitterly that they can’t beg, borrow or steal enough engineers to do the work they’ve got on their books.

Which means their growth (and the economy’s growth) is stunted. Project schedules will slip, costs will over-run, and profits will be hit.

On a logistical and tactical level, I’m very sympathetic. It’s frustrating to be unable to progress work just because certain desks in the office stand empty.

On a strategic level, I’m less sympathetic. This problem has been looming for decades.

And it’s not like there are no solutions. Work can be packaged up and shipped overseas. Engineering freelancers can be hired instead of permanent staff, and they can be hired quite cheaply via websites like Elance and Odesk. You can hire engineers who don’t have the precise qualifications and experience, but have the right attitude and enthusiasm, and train them to suit.

But those solutions come crashing up against traditional management values. Values that say, I should be able to walk up to a counter somewhere, ring a bell, say “Engineers, please!” and walk away with a permanent engineer having exactly the experience and qualifications I need now.

Those days are long gone. The current crop of young (and old) knowledge workers have more options now, are more mobile, and have more diverse interests than ever before. They also distrust corporate pension systems, are not impressed with most corporate benefits, and have no intention of working in any job for much more than a year.

This is incomprehensible to old-school managers and recruiters.

It’s a clash of world views.

A clash that will continue until the view that runs out of options first accepts that the world has irrevocably changed. And that they must also change, or die.

3 thoughts on “To change or not to change

    1. David Kimbell

      Clever view or not, it’s a worrying problem. The pace of change in the world has never been greater. Nor has the inability to recognise change for what it is, and accept that the good old days are not coming back.

      Reply
  1. nilsonregina

    I still believe that big organizations will survive in order to undertake long and complex projects… The point is that you need to move where the job is… British have been reluctant to move abroad to get on good jobs… That’s not the case for Germans, French, Italians, Spanish, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese who go behind the good opportunities… Britain will change… In the same way they will change to welcome the European investments to enter the euro zone…

    Reply

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