Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Labour Problem

 The phenomenon which employers are facing these days with staffing has its root causes in four anchors.

Root Problem 1 – The Education System

We have an education system that is so misaligned with what is actually needed to survive in ‘the real world’ that employers are now tasked with teaching and handholding employees for months – not on intricate industry-related details, which would be understandable, but on basic fundamentals! Such as how to dress, take minutes, how to communicate, how to behave around clients and your supervisors, punctuality, consistency and more.

These are things which should be taught in school or university. but are instead dumped on companies that are now expected to babysit supposedly ‘workforce-ready adults’, while paying them. This is not fair.

Students pay the university and schools so they can work in companies and earn a salary. If a company has to pay them market value salaries to do a job, then they need to hit the ground running because the company wastes valuable time being a secondary university.

This is where we recommend a system of apprenticeship. Get the industry to train students, who will learn from the best people in the industry on how to get a job done.

Apprentices get to meet and deal with real masters of the industry and learn on the job in real time, on how to deal with clients. The industry then gives them a certificate of learning after one year, and then offers them a job if they think they are good in what they do. We are willing to bet that the industry will pay them above market rate if they have trained the apprentice themselves. We know we will.

Can you imagine a scenario, where young people are allowed to choose multiple career paths in the formative years of their lives WITHOUT needing to pay anything?

Take the example of Helen.

Helen has been told by her father that she MUST be a lawyer like him. Helen is confused because she does not know what else is out there that may be more aligned with her. If she takes law, her parents have to fork out half a million to send her overseas to study in some prestigious law school, because her father has the urge to keep up with the Joneses.

Helen feels, deep inside her heart, that law is not meant for her and she will not excel in it. She feels guilty because she does not want to waste her parents’ money. She wants something else but does not really know what because she has never experienced working in any industry.

But let’s say Helen has an option in a system which is not dictated by universities that churn millions of degrees a year and thereby creating a one size fits all scenario with young minds.

In a clean, clear, unbroken system, Helen could be an apprentice in a law firm and after one year get a certificate in Legal Apprenticeship from the law firm, and then go on and apply to be an apprentice in a public relations company and get a certificate in Public Relations Apprenticeship. She can then apply to a civil engineering company and get a Civil Engineering Apprenticeship. At this point, after three years of apprenticeships, Helen feels she understands herself better and knows what she really wants to do in life.

The best part? Helen and her parents did not have to spend a single penny on education during these three years! In fact, Helen has been getting her education for free from the maestros in the industry. They, in return, received a young mind who is keen on that field and wants to prove herself to get a certificate of ability that will help her land great jobs.

Helen realises that she felt happiest and gave her best in the public relations company. To hone her skills in that field, she applies for another apprenticeship in a creative media agency and learns a lot more about design, writing, storytelling, media and how to connect all the dots.

After four years, she has gained a multitude of experiences in diverse fields and it was all free! She is also more confident because she has spent four years, not cloistered in isolated academia, but working with the best expert minds of four different industries.

She now applies for a job in this field and her scope is very wide.

Employers from some of the biggest agencies snap her up. The Apprenticeship Certificates have given remarks on her strengths and weaknesses so potential employers do not even need to test her, or wonder how she is going to be.

It is a great win-win system.

This could also be done on partnership with industry and university. For those who opt for Apprenticeship, they can do a one-year Apprenticeship Certificate from an industry and then go on and do two years of academia in a university if they so desire, to get the best of both worlds.

Coming from an Apprenticeship programme, the student now chooses into a degree programme knowing exactly what they want.

Root Problem 2 – The Government System

Our labour laws seem to be very lopsided against the employers, especially small and medium businesses that get affected most by labour shortage. If businesses are the strong horse that pulls the cart, let’s not break the horse’s back, with a multitude of policies that makes it hard for businesses to keep up with the demands of a highly competitive market.

As mentioned earlier, fresh graduates are already most of the time, not prepared to do a job right for months, due to a misaligned education system. As small businesses struggle to handhold employees and teach them basic fundamentals while paying them, they are then faced with a continuous stream of people just coming and going through jobs and companies like a thoroughfare.

They take a job, they ‘try’ it for a bit, and then they leave. Wasting the employers time and manpower training this person and of course wasting money spent on recruiting them.

Some wait until they collect their salary and then disappear. It should not be allowed, because if we do, we are teaching young people to have no accountability and absolutely no professionalism.

It is not just bad for the domestic market; it is worse for foreign direct investments. A foreign company would rather invest billions in a country or state that has a smart, disciplined workforce who are consistent in what they want and what they can give.

Employers have no other option but to go to labour court and this takes time.

The government and the Ministry of Human Resources need to address this, and address it fast. There should be a system where serial job hoppers who leave without giving notice, after taking salaries, are blacklisted.

If we can have Glassdoor where disgruntled employees go to complain and slander their employers because they are under the cloak of anonymity, then we should have a similar system where employees who cheat their companies in various ways are listed with reasons why their names are there.

This is then fair. But as we said, the system is lopsided, and so it is always the onus on the company to pay to look for good hires, act as a university and train them while paying them a salary. And deal with multiple grouses, dissatisfaction, and complaints.

The poor companies have to deal with all this and pay tax to the government from whatever is left in just staffing itself, let alone the challenges of the business per se, which should be the highest priority the companies should be focusing on.

The numerous holidays at the expense of the poor companies further compound the malaise of poor productivity.

We cannot keep lynching small and medium businesses, expecting them to perform like a public listed company and paying no heed at all to their struggles. They do in fact make up 99 percent of companies in the country and contribute to more than 50 percent of employment. A healthy SME sector is an indication of a healthy middle class, and a healthy middle class is a sign of a prospering nation.

Root Problem 3 – The Family System

Families may actually believe they are doing their children a favour by mollycoddling them. They may be compensating for the hardships in their youth. “I worked so hard so I can give my children the luxury I did not have”.

But you need to balance the giving with a reality check too. When children are not taught the value of money, to prove themselves or work hard to gain something on their own, they luck out on the street-smartness that poorer kids easily absorb and adapt to.

In urban areas where concentration of jobs are at the highest, this contributes a lethal blow to the labour force. A whole generation of job seekers become utterly un-independent and have no fighting spirit. They give up too easily, every time life becomes a little too hard, because they never had it hard and do not know how to navigate around falls, demands, disappointments and the ‘no’s.

When you have had everything you want given to you, you never learn to go get it for yourself. Your survival skills are disengaged and these kids become like the little birds sitting in the nest opening their beaks and waiting for the worm to be dropped in. Even when they have gotten wings, they are too afraid to use the wings and fly away because complacency is so good and so comfortable. Generally, mummy bird kicks the adulting birds out of the nest and forces them to fly away, something we need to think about sometimes, if we want our children to become street smart.

When the rent, food, laundry, electric bills, water bills, phone bills are all paid for, the youth from these families are left to work only for passion. And passion then waxes and wanes according to how hard it is. Couple this with the continuous harping of mental health issues at the drop of a hat suggested by various agencies, many young people through strong powers of suggestion slide down the slippery road into anxiety over many things at work, that the hardened seniors would think are merely trivial.

Too many fresh graduates think they are not good enough when minor altercations happen, find working an extra hour too demanding, are unable to handle criticism because they have had an easy life where everything was done for them.

And that brings us to the last anchor of The Labour Problem.

Root Problem 4 – The Media System

There is too much negativity about working environments in social media that just adds uncalled for toxicity in the workplace.

You have too many articles on LinkedIn practically exhorting workers to rebel against something or other, suggesting that if you do not have a ‘work-life’ balance, you are being cheated. Seriously, work-life balance is not a one-size-fit-all situation. One can love one’s work and integrate that into one’s life, and this is what will make one happy and productive. Thoughts like these are not popular though and get shouted down. For a gullible young workforce who live on social media, this is employment seppuku.

Hollywood is no better, churning out movies where the employer is almost always evil and crooked, and the employee almost always bullied.

This exaggerated toxic impression of labour creates a constant discord between employer and employee, to the detriment of the workforce. There is no productivity in division. It is only in unity that we win.

If we want a solution, we need to be brave enough to make a change
in the system. We cannot keep running in circles like a hamster on
a wheel, and expect the outcome to be different. So here we are,
four root problems to solve. May the Force be with us to make a difference.

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