Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bittersweet



I highly approve of Al Franken's new pitch. Minnesota's Hennepin College has run a terrific manufacturing training program for many years: so successful that, before the Great Recession, they used to have job fairs where the roles were reversed, and employers would line up to compete for the favors of graduating students.

I used to be very involved in this sort of enterprise. Then came the Great Recession, and cutbacks, and not for the first time did I discover too late that when thinks get tight, it does not matter how competent or brilliant or hardworking or ingenious or innovative I am. I was out on my ass, with my job held open to provide a soft landing place for someone with clout. My complex, big-budget and highly-visible projects were handed over to some of my less competent former coworkers who could not figure out how to make the little wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round. They called me, in states of increasing panic, asking me what they should do as various components started to fly apart.

Because I was personally invested in these projects -- because I thought they could demonstrate how the wise and properly managed investment of public monies could be of tremendous public benefit -- I took the first five or six calls and gave them my best advice (I also asked what the Hell they done with all the meticulous project notes I had left behind so that future project managers could cope with precisely these situations. I was told, uh, um, er, we...kinda...lost them.)

Because I am not a chump, and because still had dreams of not going broke losing my condo, I put forth the radical idea that they would hire me as a consultant to save them from disaster. They knew I could do it. They knew that probably no one else but me could do it, and for much less than what they were already pissing away on a brace of useless consultants who were being kept around to stroke the boss's ego. Millions of dollars and the organization's reputation was on the line. But bringing me back just to fix what no one else could fix would have meant rubbing the boss's nose in his own incompetence, and so bringing me back became a bridge too far.

And so I got to watch "my" projects crash and burn. The taxpayer lost millions of dollars. People who make a living selling the idea that the public sector can't do shit got another arrow in their quiver.  The concept we were trying to prove got a crippling punch to the throat.  And six years later my career has not risen from the dead.  

So I highly approve of Senator Franken's initiative.

But it is bittersweet.

7 comments:

Horace Boothroyd III said...

Because I am not a chump...

I freely confess that I was a chump for too many decades before I smartened up and started casting about for the Main Chance.

But even in my youth I found it... unfortunate... that the scientists who first imagined and then created the atomic bomb were simple enough to just hand the thing over to the politicians and the generals. And it always annoyed me that the technical staff was treated as The Help, who could always be magicked into existence by the wave of a hand of some crooked money guy. "Too bad" the union guy in me always thought "that we do not band together to get control of some of the wealth we create and use it to our benefit." Nothing greedy, just the classical economics notion that we should get some legitimate return on the investment in knowledge and skills.

But then a funny thing happened. The winners of the computer revolution in the seventies gave rise to a tech oriented financial sector that was every bit as heavy handed in its treatment of the help as the old striped pants crowd, yet so obsessed with short term profits as to eat the seed corn and roast the milch cow and strangle the geese who laid a variety of metallic eggs. In an especially aggressive form of Gresham's Law, the cut throat firms drove out the careful firms and the next thing you know nobody is funding research (writing software toys for cool kidz not being a sub branch of serious research) and the management is content milking the stockpiles of work left over from the eighties.

So it can't last the way it's going. The hot money will lift away from San Fransisco as unexpectedly as it dropped in and the whole thing will go blooey. I fully expect the Koreans to come out the winners here: they are like sixty million maniacally tough-guy minded New Englanders, united by a fanatical sense of racial superiority. All hail Shin Moon!

Kathleen said...

I'm so sorry, Driftglass. You're too brilliant and caring to be kept down. You deserve the best and I believe it will all work out for you.

Mister Roboto said...

(I also asked what the Hell they done with all the meticulous project notes I had left behind so that future project managers could cope with precisely these situations. I was told, uh, um, er, we...kinda...lost them.)

And I'm willing to bet that you weren't entirely surprised at this revelation.

Kris Jacobs said...

We don't have a "skills deficit" here in MN, we have a wage deficit. Al Franken knows that. We love Al, but fighting against this meritocracy myth in a state where our under-employment rate is ridiculously high and our workforce rates #1 in the country on every level. Employers won't pay. Period.
But will reporters ever ask a boss what the wages they offer are? NEVER. That would be so rude. Here's an analogy If a guy goes to buy a truck with $15,000 and he soon finds out that they cost more, it doesn't mean there is a shortage of trucks.
The taboo against talking about money hurts the workforce. They are stumbling blind when it comes to finding a decent job and the govt makes it illegal to report what these businesses pay so how is that a "market" how is that an "equilibrium"—you can bet if a banner on the freeway with a running messsage about: Starting wages at Target Midway $XX, starting wages at Target suburban stores and so on. We just got our minimum wage hiked but not before our democrats gifted "small business" 4 years to get there (by refusing to pass it before) a gift worth about 900 million dollars. In MN though, 76% of "small business" have no employees, none.
As it is, Senator Franken and our workforce development system are the best they can be. But from the perspective of the workforce, it's not good enough.

See below:
Share and Number of Underemployed Workers in Minnesota

• About 71 percent of workers with a graduate degree—or 244,000 workers—are underemployed.

• About 59 percent of workers with a four-year degree—or 416,000 workers—are underemployed.

• About 71 percent of workers with a two-year degree—or 252,000 workers—are underemployed.

• About 81 percent of workers with some college—or 381,000 workers—are underemployed.

• About 30 percent of workers with a high school degree—or 278,000 workers—are underemployed.

About 53 percent of all Minnesota workers—or 1,571,000 workers—are underemployed.

Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

michael adkisson said...

Way back when in the Carter administration, I was able to take advantage of a program for underprivileged youth to get vocational training as a machinist. It was a 6 month course to give you the basic skills to fabricate parts with a lathe, mill, grinder etc. You also had blueprint reading and other associated skills to get you in the door of local businesses. Now I'm nearing retirement with a local company that took me in so long ago. That program was a godsend and we need vocational training for the next and future generations. Not everyone is destined for college. Was ndownamy

michael adkisson said...

Way back when in the Carter administration, I was able to take advantage of a program for underprivileged youth to get vocational training as a machinist. It was a 6 month course to give you the basic skills to fabricate parts with a lathe, mill, grinder etc. You also had blueprint reading and other associated skills to get you in the door of local businesses. Now I'm nearing retirement with a local company that took me in so long ago. That program was a godsend and we need vocational training for the next and future generations. Not everyone is destined for college.

michael adkisson said...

Way back when in the Carter administration, I was able to take advantage of a program for underprivileged youth to get vocational training as a machinist. It was a 6 month course to give you the basic skills to fabricate parts with a lathe, mill, grinder etc. You also had blueprint reading and other associated skills to get you in the door of local businesses. Now I'm nearing retirement with a local company that took me in so long ago. That program was a godsend and we need vocational training for the ne8232893 6
xt and future generations. Not everyone is destined for college.