On the verge of the industrial revolution, a group of self-employed, highly skilled and well-compensated workers used the sweat of their brow and determination to create the fabric that clothed society. In the early 1800s, these master weavers were known for their ability to create intricate designs and durable, colorful materials. Then the industrial revolution changed everything, replacing these tradesmen with lower-skilled and lower-cost laborers who manned the machines.
FThe displaced tradesmen — Luddites, as they were called — were known to vandalize factories and destroy industrial weaving machines as a form of protest. Obviously, these efforts proved fruitless in the end.
Today, the term “Luddite” is commonly used to describe someone who is behind the times, resistant to change and out of touch with technology. Here’s how this relates to the workforce solutions ecosystem.
I remember attending conferences a decade ago, where staffing executives decried the longevity of VMS technology and MSP providers, proclaiming them a “flash in the pan” and vowing to resist participating and avoid enterprise companies who implement managed services like the plague. Well, per our most recent survey data, the penetration of VMS and MSP penetration in enterprise customers is 72% and Fieldglass — one of the largest VMS providers on the planet — sold for more than a billion dollars to SAP. Flash in the pan? I don’t think so.
At our Staffing Industry Executive Forum last month, a panel of senior executives — lions of the industry with decades of experience — discussed the state of the industry. While I deeply respect the brands they’ve built, the teams they led and how they shape the market, when they responded to a query about disruptions and threats imposed by technologies like direct sourcing, just-in-time staffing or freelancer management systems, I felt like it was 2007 all over again. The underlying sentiment among them was: “We don’t see these technologies as a threat.” That viewpoint, in my opinion, is a mistake. We are entering a new industrial revolution the likes of which has never been seen. And while the pace of change is dizzying, it is only going to accelerate as the next generation takes charge absorbing and implementing these changes.
We are all prisoners of our worldview — the way we perceive the world around us and decisions we form accordingly. This worldview is rooted in seeing the world of work in a way that is rapidly becoming a liability. The simplest way I communicate how out of touch many executives are is to ask them to describe for me the first time they can remember sending an email and their reactions at the time. Almost always, I get a chuckle and a rueful laugh along with a story about how they sent a file for the first time across the globe. Usually, they had this experience in their late 20s early 30s. Meanwhile, millennials grew up with smartphones and access to the entire wealth of human knowledge at their fingertips. Their definition of friends includes people whom they have never met face to face, but to them are as real as my neighbor down the street is to me. While these examples may be cliché, they nonetheless create a worldview separate and apart from those of us who are older, and this extends to their evolving definition of what work looks like, what is a career? Who/what is best equipped to get something done? Do I need a person to help me or can I find out how online?
Back to the Luddites. The irony is the result of automation was not rampant unemployment but a dramatic INCREASE in textile employment. As cloth became cheaper, more people bought fabric and the textile industry and employment boomed. It’s not a stretch to assume the same principle can be applied to our ecosystem. As talent becomes more technology enabled, it will result in new businesses and the creation of many more jobs that need to be filled.