On Friday, PNC Bank released its Economic Outlook Survey - Fall 2011. If you are unfamiliar with the product, it is a semi-annual survey of small & middle-market business owners in the areas they serve and nationally, conducted since 2003. Each time its published the economists employed by thefinancialservices group there go around to chamber of commerce breakfasts to present it and end up on TV and radio like sportscasters analyzing the game and calling the next play. I have been to them, they are informative - if not a bit dry, and over the past several years -quite scary. This one is so scary it's appropriate that it was released so close to Halloween.

The subtitle of this fall's report?

U.S. Business Owners' Outlook Deteriorates For Hiring and Sales; Slow Growth Expected to Keep Jobless Rates High Through 2012

Only 20% expect to hire full-time employees during the next six months, down from the Spring (24%), while 14% plan to reduce full-time staff, which is doublethe number from Spring. I can attest this is true with first-hand knowledge, I fell into both categories by being downsized and hired in September.

Through many interrelated circumstance we find the state of (un)employment as it is today. We haven't changed the employment model since feudalism ended in the 15th century (with the exceptions of minor tweaks by organized labor - which has clearly seen itsheyday) - yet so much of the rest of how society operates has. The system is crumbling, not by design but by default and much of it is due to cultural attitude.

There is enormous disparity and because or in spite of the freedoms our country and system afford us - We the People are not on the same page with the system in regard to what we really need and what we really want.

Technology has displaced humans in one area and created jobs in another - jobs that require a much different level of education and expertise. In our culture youth study what they are interested in, not necessarily what we need them to study to move us ahead as a nation and in the global economy. In other cultures people study what will make them successful and where the demand is - they want a family sustaining income even if it means becoming an engineer instead of 'following your dream' to be the next Jane Goodall ( I her btw) or anarchaeologist- admirable professions but really, how many do we need and how many are actually working in food service?How sad it is that following your heart doesn't necessarily mean there will be demand for your passion (I always wanted to be a Richard Leaky and Jane Goodall mash up).

Our post-secondary education is ridiculously and prohibitively expensive, while in other countries it is not, it is a normal progression of k-12.Yep, a normal expectation that doesn't mean a home equity loan, co-signers, second jobs or sacrificing the family vacation or an organ - most of all, not going. But then, post-secondary education is really big business enshrouded by the cloak of nonprofit foundations that make pretty art galleries and provide token do-gooder scholarship assistance limited to a few.

Throughout the past several years of economic stricture, mid to large size companies learned that reducing staffing and running lean works. And, when people burn out they are replaceable, absolutely dispensable. After all, corporations are for profit enterprises, not charitable organizations. They are in business to make a lot of money - not to provide a social scene, roofs and food for people, or goodwill of any kind. Labor is a trade for them - really nothing more. While the feudalisticdependency for benefits and pavlovian need for pats on the back and pizza parties stillexist for employees... employers have let go.. they want to outsource, run lean, they just want to make money. They don't want to have an adopted 'family' anymore like the in the old days. I get it - this is capitalism.

And they are making money, hand over fist in many cases. Saving money on overhead like salaries, healthcare, workers compensations insurance, etc. They have no business case to motivate them to hire people and so they won't until the tipping point of inability to meet service and production demands with the current workforce - regardless of how much burnout, stress and stretch goes on. Because unlike in robust times when the hourglass is turned upside down and the shortage is of workers not jobs... today there are many people qualified and over qualified to do many jobs. Those that can't be filled the old fashioned way due to shortages of skilled/educated workers, can be filled in new ways that never existed before... in other countries and or by technology, and at very handy prices. It's hard, sad, whatever you want to call it - but it is.

The time is coming when the old stick will break from being bent too far and we'll muddle through even more painful transitions. Except for those who already own their careers and do not 'depend' on one corporate entity to provide stability for them. Think about it.. Why should one's career be another's hangman? A redesign of the employment model is overdue. My bet is on a 1099 model where everyone is an entrepreneurial contractor, benefits are personal and portable like a car insurance policy, and professional employer organizations coordinate benefits and pay.

In any event, and whether or not my employment model predictions come true in our lifetime, it's always better to be prepared than too late, right? So, here aresome thingsyou can do to start owning your career right now:

  1. Realize and embrace that there is no such thing as 'permanent employment'.
  2. Understand that employers trade money with you for your knowledge, skills and ability - nothing less and nothing more, they are not your extended family.
  3. Accept that you alone are responsible for maintaining yourself up-to-date with knowledge about your industry/occupation, not your employer. Any training or tuition reimbursement program offered to you does come with strings attached - again, it's a trade.
  4. Even if you are happily long-term employed, build relationships with industry peers both in-person and via social networking so that you have a very strong solid network at hand and ready to help you - because chances are likely you'll need it.
  5. Never settle in at a job thinking it's secure - and that means always keep abreast of industryresearch, what's out there, who the competitors are, what they are doing, who works there, who is growing, hiring and downsizing. Use LinkedIn, other social media and RSS blog feeds to trackoccupational, competitor and industry news.
  6. Become known as a subject matter expert by talking about what you know - in a blog, on occupational forums, at conferences, on internet radio shows, podcasts, Toastmasters, Rotary, any opportunity you can get.
  7. Create opportunity where none currently exists. Put a call out to people who do what you do for a meet up and start a professional affinity group. It doesn't need to be anything formal - just a monthly meet up in a free place with a cash bar. Each month schedule a 15-30 minute topic starter facilitated by a group member, or not. There are no rules and magic happens all the time at meet ups.
  8. Diversify your talent, knowledge and expertise. Do not ever put all your eggs in one basket unless you are an accomplished expert in the highest of demand occupations, i.e. Brain Surgeon or Rocket Scientist.
  9. Volunteer your expertise as much as you can fit and stretch into your schedule. Board members of nonprofits are always potential new employers or clients. Having them know your work can be very beneficial - even if for a reference.
  10. Know that people who have marketable skills that market and present themselves well and are willing to 'own their career' have many options and opportunities.
  11. Bonus Tip: Many small to mid sized businesses and the people who worked for them thrived during times of great adversity - be on top of your game and you can too.

Can you list another way to start owning your career right now to make an even dozen?


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