Understanding joblessness in today’s marketplace

(By Tochi Okafor)

Any effective strategy for reducing joblessness in a knowledge economy must depend less on the allocation of wealth and more on the allocation of knowledge plus relevant trainings. The jobless must be taught the new paradigm-shift with emphasis on the nature, challenges and new market demands of 21st century from organisations, individual employees and entrepreneurs.

THE marketplace is where needs are met through exchange of value. Organisations meet the needs of customers or society at large through the exchange of products and services while work force meets the needs of the organisations with their skills and knowledge. In the world of business transaction, needs and opportunities are one and the same but mean different things to the buyer and seller. The buyer sees it as a need while the seller sees it as an opportunity to add value and make profit. In other words, without needs there could be no opportunity.

The greatest threat to the marketplace of today is joblessness. The paradox is that today’s marketplace has countless needs requiring competent workers yet unemployment is the order of the day. The burden of unemployment mounts pressure on the government to create jobs for the jobless. Unfortunately, no government can meet this demand in this age because of emergence of a new kind of knowledge-based economy demanding a new form of organisation and new kind of work force different from the industrial man.

In the service economy of industrial societies, an injection of capital spending or consumer purchasing power could stimulate the economy and generate jobs. Given one million jobless, one could, in principle, prime the economy and create one million jobs. Since jobs were either interchangeable or required so little skill that they could be learned in less than an hour, virtually any unemployed worker could fill almost any job. The problem evaporates.

To cope with the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes, we recall, urged deficit spending by government to put money into consumer pockets. Once the consumers had the money, they would rush out and buy things. This, in turn, would lead manufacturers to expand their plants and hire more workers. Goodbye, unemployment.

In today’s global economy, pumping money into the consumer’s pocket may simply send it flowing overseas, without doing anything to help the domestic economy. A Nigerian buying a new TV set merely sends dollars to China, South Korea or Japan. The purchase doesn’t necessarily add jobs at home.

Another strategy, like Nigerian YOUWIN, is to distribute capital fund to aspiring young entrepreneurs with good business plans in the hope that they will employ themselves and other jobless youths. Business experts know that what really matters is not the business ideas and plans. It is the people and their capacity to execute that matter.

But there is a far more basic flaw in these strategies: They still focus on the circulation of money rather than knowledge. It is no longer possible to reduce joblessness simply by increasing the number of jobs, because the problem is no longer merely numbers. Unemployment has gone from quantitative to qualitative.

So even if there are 10 million vacancies and only one million unemployed, the one million will not be able to perform the available jobs unless they have skills – knowledge – matched to the skill requirements of those new jobs. These skills are now so varied and fast-changing that workers can’t be interchanged as easily or cheaply as in the past. Money and numbers no longer solve the problem.

Any effective strategy for reducing joblessness in a knowledge economy must depend less on the allocation of wealth and more on the allocation of knowledge plus relevant trainings. The jobless must be taught the new paradigm-shift with emphasis on the nature, challenges and new market demands of 21st century from organisations, individual employees and entrepreneurs.

For instance, smart companies increase their productivity and profits by simply automating mindless works and reducing the number of the work force in order to tap their full potentials. Self-regulating machines are faster and easier to manage than human beings. These companies in their pursuit of excellence outsource and network with independent specialists and contractors instead of employing to increase staff strength. The goal is a better-paid but smaller, smarter work force. What it means is that the traditional method of employment where you wait for a job description to be advertised no longer applies. Only very few can be that lucky!

 Unemployment today means that the jobless has no marketable skill. It is either he has no skill at all or his skill has no ready market. An idea is an opportunity when it is timely, fills a need and provides value to the buyer. So also is skill. An employable skill must have a demonstrated need and ready market – must meet company’s need of the hour.

Again, there is nothing like ‘under-employed’. It is a term used to describe one whose skill though it may look big when pronounced but has no relevance in the marketplace because nobody needs it or the supply is higher than the demand. Most universities train graduates to fit into an organisational structure designed to solve problems that no longer exist. Educational contents must change in response to changing needs of today’s marketplace. To survive in a high-paced innovative age, competence and passion must be embraced. There is no room for generalists and mediocre.

 Human capital development organisations must rise to the occasion of not just capacity building but directing the youths with regard to career choice and skill choice. It is not enough to have a degree; one must understand the current realities and changing demands of 21st century marketplace if joblessness is to be reduced. Opportunities are created when there are changing circumstances. Jobs, needs, opportunities, organisations, skills are no longer stable. Nothing is permanent again in the marketplace; HR professionals and research firms must equip people with new skills to confront changing needs.

• Okafor is the CEO of Dream Connect, a motivational and personal development firm in Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

 

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