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Posts from the ‘Cranky Director’s Corner’ Category

Cranky Director’s Corner – A Word on Work

Let’s get philosophical for a moment, shall we? While perusing the NACE Journal’s May issue I naturally gravitated to the article on what Princeton University has done to reimagine career services. Generally visionary, the piece got me thinking about the nature of work and our relationship to it, both personally and professionally. What exactly do I mean by that? Simply this: we live and operate in a society that views work as a necessary evil, or at least an inconvenience, yet our own professional activities center on helping others acquire jobs and navigate careers. Even Princeton’s use of a three tiered framework – job, career, calling – belies this underlying sense that work must be dressed up to be made palatable. Further evidence lies in how we talk about work and our jobs: TGIF, dreading Mondays, working for the weekend, the threat of delayed retirement. Of course, there is a distinction to be made in the work in our jobs and the frictions, usually with people, that can lead us to desire a break; but there remains an underlying longing to move on to leisure. Why IS binge watching on Netflix so appealing rather than appalling?

Much of this stems from ancient Greek thinking that exalted leisure and reviled labor. Apparently Olympus was filled with gods living the life of Riley while humans had been tricked or trapped into working. Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of the thinking class perpetuated and reinforced this concept. Clearly we have inherited that thinking. And by we I mean all cultures influenced by the ancient Greeks, including those “visited” by Alexander. Follow your passion/calling/love and you will never work a day in your life, right? The subtext is clear, work is to be avoided.

We can attempt a biological explanation. Physical and mental labor burns energy and we naturally want to conserve energy for survival. We also tend to avoid discomfort, and physical work can leave us sore, stiff, or even injured. That said, some of us then go to the gym, run marathons, tackle challenging puzzles, or write poetry as leisure activities. We look forward to and will expend time and energy on something we designate leisure more readily than something we designate work. While the matter offers more complexity than this, the point remains.

By reinforcing this way of thinking embedded in our culture we perpetrate at least two harms. First, we create a hierarchy of labor which leads to a hierarchy of laborers. The poor shlub on the back of the garbage truck (job) compared to career development directors (career, hopefully calling). Second, we ignore or devalue the intrinsic value of work. You could point out we in fact value hard work and speak highly of those with a strong work ethic, but we usually apply that to work with a goal, as opposed to valuing the work itself. Work is the way to get the payoff, as opposed to being the payoff.

I challenge all of us as we tip into summer to take time to rethink our relationship to work – how we think about it, talk about it, teach about it – and bring a new, countercultural notion to the activities we expend energy on. Can we effect such radical change? Maybe, maybe not. Resistance will be high. But who is better positioned to introduce and advocate for a new way of relating to work?

The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby regional BBQ place (falafel solved!), and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

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Cranky Director’s Corner – Hey, you got your electrodes in my gray matter!

I really need to change up my newsfeed to just pull in stories on kittens and sunsets. It’s not the political stories that I find agitating, it’s the stories on tech. You’d think that people like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Kurzweil, and other technology elites would have taken a few minutes out of their busy, social fabric re-weaving, world altering lives to watch Star Trek, Black Mirror, Terminator, The Matrix, or just about every other story involving direct brain-computer interfaces or unfettered AI. Clearly Elon Musk has either never seen The Outer Limits episode “Stream of Consciousness” or failed to get the point.

I do appreciate Mr. Musk’s concerns for the dangers in our headlong dash to develop AI. I am not so sure creating direct computer interfaces in our brains is the best way to respond. Maybe instead of trying to keep up with something WE ALREADY CONTROL we should slow it down. You see, a big part of the problem is the twin illusions of the inevitability of progress and that with more technology we can fix our problems.

Fortunately, none of this has anything to do with us. We’re not tech giants, venture capitalists, or government leaders. (Does the current administration know of any technology besides twitter? Would it turn down the opportunity to tweet directly into our heads? *shudder*) Since we don’t have a collective seat at the table, what’s the fuss? Simple. These undertakings need talented people to make them happen, and there’s a serious shortfall.

We stand astride that long term pipeline. We influence where our students look for work. We can also influence how they think about the work they’ll do. So, we come to a question for us as career development pros, what kind of programming do our offices offer to get students to think hard about the implications of the work they’ll do? How about your institution? Student initiated 1-on-1 sessions might be great, but we know that will hardly scratch the surface of our campus populations. I’m talking about solid, serious engagement with groups and classes, maybe even required curriculum. Ally with student groups, partner with similarly concerned faculty or administrators, research and recommend speakers, launch a conversation series, host panels to debate privacy or poverty or climate change and pair it with a networking event or mini career fair. Do something to raise the level of awareness on your campus and mark your office as one willing to tackle hard issues with your students. Our ethical instruction should not be confined to reneging on job offers and misrepresentations on resumes. Yes, this kind of behavior will make some of us politically unpopular on campus. Maybe there needs to be a reminder that our institutions are predicated on academic freedom and free discourse. Think students don’t care about this? Research on Millenials from Deloitte says otherwise.

Let’s be honest about our work. We’re helping people launch their careers. If we prepare students to write a good resume and run a good job search, but are not equipping them to assess the impact their work will have, are we really fulfilling our obligation to them and to society at large? Have we ethically comported our duties if we do not teach our students to ethically assess who will gain and who may be hurt by the work they do and the organizations they attach themselves to?

Frankly, I’m not terribly thrilled that we’re all in some half-baked social experiment run by Mark Zuckerburg or facing the prospect of AI controlled everything thanks to Uber, Google, and dozens of IoT companies. The same can be said of a lot of other organizations and industries. Just because an employer donates generously to our campus, offers great compensation packages, or sports a cool internal culture, it is not necessarily a good or healthy organization. I’m sure Enron was a great campus recruiter!

But if we as a profession not only enable, but encourage, our students to pursue these kinds of applications of their work blind to the larger implications, we are culpable for the future we’ll inhabit. If we don’t raise questions and consciousness because it’s uncomfortable or bad for our careers, what does that make us?

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

Cranky Director’s Corner – I’ve Got Your Ban Right Here

I’m particularly cranky today. A pair of posts I’ve been laboring over just aren’t coming together. That’s on top of the last few weeks of political theater. And by theater I don’t mean something as refined as opera or exotic as kabuki. Something more akin to a few kids with a bed sheet as a backdrop, only without the potential charm.

The travel ban has been the most curious and troubling. One could go on about the failure to form and leverage a serious and well-informed advisory group, the incompetency of the rollout, and overall just horrendous display of the worst bits of American behavior. Let’s be clear, this ban is nothing new. We’ve long been a nation that’s demonstrated less than welcoming attitudes towards those seeking our shores (not to mention those found along our shores and already living inland). It’s just a new iteration of a sourness and fear with deep roots. Much has already been said and written on this front, though. And while it impacts us as Americans and likely impacts us through our institutions, that topic is not the focus of today’s grumbling.

Let’s turn our eyes to the corporate response, led by major tech companies. The New York Times points out that at some companies opposition to the ban is driven by rank-and-file employees, and that’s great. A read of the amicus filed jointly by the companies leads with the impact on recruiting. Not surprising. Our major technology companies, as well as those with significant technology components to their operations, have longed bemoaned the challenge of maintaining their talent pipelines. Specifically, the US does not produce enough (pick one: engineers, programmers, computer scientists, etc.) to meet their needs. Now I’m a big fan of open, legal immigration. But if US tech companies are focusing on pulling talent from off shore, isn’t that essentially the same as US companies a century ago plundering raw materials from other countries? Natural resources, human resources, we treat both as though it’s all the same. Take what we need, when we need it, while minimizing impact on the bottom line.

Meanwhile our country has inner city and rural schools struggling for resources, with kids fail to receive adequate modern education and do not have access to opportunities. I’m a big fan of teaching kids to code, regardless of what they ultimately major in or do in their careers. Knowing at least the basics of how all the machines, devices, and gadgets in our lives work affords an extra bit of power over our own lives.

So here’s an idea. Instead of focusing short term efforts on plundering the talent of other countries, I’d like to see our tech giants invest in our disconnected urban and rural communities. How? Reach out to communities with struggling students and schools, fund a computer lab and pay for a staff member to teach code as an after school program. (This is about adding to curriculum, not supplanting it.) Build in an incentive program so as they progress through projects and improve their skills kids earn their way towards the prize of their own computer . Network the classrooms so kids in rural Texas are engaging with kids in Oakland, California, Gary, Indiana, etc. End products: strong, deep talent pipelines for companies; improvement of education quality; integration instead of marginalization of populations historically disconnected from opportunity and power; encouragement of entrepreneurialism; alleviation of poverty; and, as a bonus, keeping kids busy with constructive activities is demonstrated to keep them out of a host of problems that have long term degrading effects on their lives and options. Sure things like this are happening, here and there. Time to step it up.

Panacea? Not by a long shot, but it’s a big step in the right direction. So US companies, please stop putting a friendly face on that old school American corporate imperialism and actually invest in American students for the long term. Being socially responsible doesn’t begin and end with filing amici or addressing the problems only your organization finds interesting, it means addressing the real problems and sharing your power.

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

Cranky Director’s Corner – Post-Election Bonus Post

The past week has provided much material for emotional roller coasters, regardless of how you felt Wednesday morning. Sidestepping the overtly political (we’ll have plenty of that in the months and years to come), I’d like to address a couple majors contributors to the shock and surprise experienced by many over the last few days – data and bubbles.

In recent years we have raised data from a useful tool to a fetish to a nearly messianic thing that will cure our most pernicious diseases, solve our perennial social ills, improve our marketing and complexion, optimize our pipelines, and eliminate human error from all decision making! We’ve enshrined data-driven decision making in our policy and operational discussions, our personal and departmental goals, and our strategic plans. Big Data or Big Brother? Better data collection and analysis does offer more ways of capturing what has happened within our constituent populations. However, we should heed to the cautionary tale from this year’s election polls. Two lessons to remember:

  1. Data only tells us so much.
  2. Data is only as good as the assumptions we build into the collection and analysis processes.

The simplest way to avoid the first employs combining anecdotal evidence and our professional knowledge with the data. Does the data make sense? Does it align with the conversations we and our team (or others in our organizations) have with our constituents? Beware cherry picking stories to drive a preferred narrative. This leads us to tackling the second lesson. Humans are prone to an array of biases that affect our personal, professional, and political judgments, even as we strive to exercise objectivity. If data is to serve us, rather than us eventually serving it, we need to take clear steps to define data’s real role in our organization. Data’s role in our offices and the world is significant and a blog post is not suitable for a comprehensive discussion of this, but here are a few questions to get us started and regularly rehearse. Who are the consumers of the data, and can they speak back to it and us to challenge it? What are our goals? Where does data really fit into our regular processes, including our decision making? When do we gather, analyze, and share our data? Why do we need this piece of information from this source? How do we collect and share the data? Keep in mind the caveat Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” While we should not become enthralled to the data, neither should we manipulate it to our own short term ends.

Bubbles conjure memories of childhood and laughter. The US was also just blindsided (apparently we don’t know how to look in a sideview mirror) by different bubbles clashing in a way that demands attention. Politics aside, we do this in our offices. Do you serve all majors on your campus equally? Passive services like walk-in hours don’t count. Recruiters, do your organizations seriously entertain students with the right skill sets, regardless of major? Have you found you work more with some departments because they’re easier to work with? Has that compromised your own department’s reach and fulfillment of mission? Technology that encourages selective news consumption, mindsets born of behaviors on social media, and natural tendencies towards groupthink and herd mentality (Bay of Pigs anyone?) all isolate us from those that are other. And the human capacity to slice and dice who is “us” and “them” is nearly infinite. The best way to pop these kinds of bubbles is not with needles, but with bridges.

I’d like to close with a turn to one of the responses emerging from last week’s decision – safety pins. First used as a secret badge by the Dutch Resistance in World War II, then an emblem of the UK and US skinhead* and punk movements, now a sign of solidarity in the UK with those in fear of the uptick in racial attacks following Brexit, they are something to consider beyond being simple symbol. Since 1970s and 80s counterculture is lending us this, I recommend we take another step and hoist the 2 Tone flag.

*Skinheads were originally apolitical and non-racist and continue to mostly be so, but like Pepe the Frog, media coverage tended to allow the smaller racist element to define the whole in the public at large.

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

Cranky Director’s Corner – Ubering Our Livelihoods Away

Welcome to the “Happy Extortion Day” or Halloween edition of the Cranky Director’s Corner. While gratified that the editorial board of the Chronicle has chosen to follow the lead of my last post for their Innovation issue, there’s no resting on laurels around here. Onward. Forward! PROGRESS! What can possibly go wrong?

I’m glad you asked, so go grab your sabots and we’ll find out where to throw them. That does not mean this post or the Corner offer safe haven to Luddites. It is a blog after all. But as we venture into this month’s topic, let us reflect on the hard won lessons of the Industrial Revolution. It only took a matter of decades and incidents like the Triangle Shirt Fire to introduce reforms to protect workers. Of course these lessons don’t mean much in the American economy now that we’ve effectively off-shored much of our manufacturing. While off-shoring our consumer demand, we seem to have forgotten to send along our ethos on protecting workers from the predations of unscrupulous owners.

As globalization, outsourcing, and off-shoring encroached we pacified ourselves with things like Friedman’s The World is Flat, quietly thankful that the hardest hit employment sectors were not our own white collared ivory towers. Security by being knowledge workers or part of the creative class sounds wonderfully enlightened, yes?

Have you heard the one about the Uber driver? Imagine if you opened your news aggregator on your smart device and read your employer was investing heavily in putting you out of work within five years. What is your incentive for working hard and looking out for your employer? Of course, Uber drivers are part of the gig economy, so let’s consider the trucking industry. Similar timeline, though varying opinions abound, with a projected 3.5 million professional truck drivers potentially impacted. This amazing world we live in means these kinds of advances are not just coming to roads near us. Remember Foxconn from a few paragraphs ago? (you do click the links, don’t you?) Well, at least advances in AI and robotics means less people will be living that “dream”. Of course in the new economy, and in the old for that matter, it is the worker’s responsibility to retool for a new career. So what happens when the second half of creative destruction outpaces the first? What happens to a society when the pace of change is too rapid for people to make lateral or upward career shifts, or when jobs simply disappear without replacement opportunities emerging? If you think it cannot happen, you missed that it already has, and there are political implications for masses left behind.

What do Uber’s Otto, Facebook, AI, Drones, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have in common? (Hint: “really two things”)

  1. Most people weren’t asking for them.
  2. Everyone needs to adjust to their societal impact.

In every one of these cases someone or some small group of people had a vision that has, or is, overtaking broader society. Opting out becomes less of an option. When all cars are self-driving cars by fiat of market forces and/or regulatory action, will those refusing to buy get on the self-driving bus? Walk to work? (I hope no Mercedes are nearby.) Already the failure of IoT manufacturers to account for weak security in their appliances has enabled massive DDoS attacks like the one on October 21. Never mind the vulnerability of the power grid, they took away my Twitter! Now I like tech. It’s amazing to see what people come up with. Unfortunately, whether its high tech infrastructure in our homes, or robots, chatbots, and AI in the workplace, disruption carries a lot of costs. But we have over a century of experience with technology creating upheaval in the workforce. You’d think we would be getting a handle on how to minimize the negative impact so people don’t get left behind unless they choose to.

The question facing us as a professional community is where to start. Well, we are the braintrusts our schools and organizations have employed to think about and speak to these issues, whether they realize it or not. We start in our own backyards. Online tools should augment and extend our office capacities, not lead to reductions in staffing.  That tool or outsourced service that frees up a staff member today can be seen by your organization’s leadership as a potential cost saver by eliminating that position for the cheaper option. What our offices lose, what our students and applicants lose, is that crucial human element. I want my team constantly striving for the forward thinking, innovative, “what’s next” for our students, but I also know something simple like a resume review session is often that first point of contact or that important relationship builder that creates trust and leads to that student excitedly emailing when they got the interview/job/promotion. Tech always needs to be applied with wisdom, and we should never confuse fiscal concerns with actual wisdom. Slowly undermining the integrity of our offices, our teams, our quality of service for a short term technological band-aid is not innovation. Even if we’ve got a shiny new webtool, app, or gadget to show off.

So my doorstop haunting, cosplaying, candy fiends, here’s a trick and treat. The trick is if before you tuck into some turkey, you read the Chronicle articles and create a new initiative to serve your audience, you’ll get the treat of expanding your service and reputation. Great for annual reviews, budget discussions, and EACE conference proposals. Now get off my lawn!

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

Cranky Director’s Corner – Welcome Back Edition

Hello Gentlereaders. Welcome to the Cranky Director’s Corner. The CDC will offer periodic installments of grousing and grumping about the things that affect our profession. You know, those topics bouncing around the back of your mind, but you might not say aloud.

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