What the heck Is happening to the American Workforce?
I know that there will be a truckload of doubting Thomas out there who will challenge what I am about to share.
The commute through the Atlanta interstates this morning was lighter than normal and it’s been that way over that last couple of months of my travel during the classic morning commute “rush hour.”
I mentioned this to a number of my elected leadership clients and they very quickly told me it likely had to do with the schools breaking for summer break.
When I share that I observed this before the schools let out, they then claimed that it has to be “just a lucky day for me” as I drove through it.
An article ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday titled, “Office Stocks Are Pummeled as Vacancies Rise, Rents Fall.”
Initially, the author cites the “reason-cause” is being driven by a “slow rate” of “work-from-home Pandemic office workers” returning back to the offices slower than predicted.
That assumption of reason-cause is wrong.
And what is happening is something that started actually before the Pandemic.
The author later in the article notes, “many companies are taking less space than before because many employees are working from home part of the week.”
That assumption of reason-cause IS CORRECT.
Not only are employers taking less space because employees are working from home part of the week, more and more and more companies are quickly realizing that they have more office workers than they really now need.
From Ford to General Motors to Disney to Amazon to Wayfair to Starbucks to Dow to Morgan Stanley to Target to Linkedin to P&G to Kraft to Wells Fargo to GAP to McDonald’s to … and the list goes on … are cutting back on corporate staff.
Dropbox CEO was quoted in another recent business article as stating… “Today’s changers were the result of taking a hard look at our strategic priorities and organizational structure as a leadership team, and aligning to principles of sustainable financial growth, efficiency and flexibility to invest in our future.”
That s a lot of MBA and politically-correct scripting to say, “we are now realizing we don’t need the corporate layers of management and staff because we really don’t need corporate space anymore.”
Insight that struck… if folks can manage apps and computers and multi-task on the home front combined with no longer wasting commute time and the frustrations of commuting maybe we they can do more and we need less.
I remember back when EXPERIENCE Insight Group had a nice intown Atlanta office suite and we had clients who came over and met with us in our nice conference room.
Today, more of my meetings are held on Zoom than in a physical room and those meetings are not only wearing ties, they might be wearing the same clothes they wore doing their morning jogging.
Not only are suits and ties are out, but the corporate offices are too.
We will come back to what’s evolving next with the conventional “white collar American workforce” in its changing “work environment,” but before we do the larger change agent at-hand in America will alter a heck of a lot more than where the “office” is located.
The MBA-Laden, White Collar America is being overtaken by an exploding Trade and Blue-Collar workforce.
Manufacturing that America handed over to cheaper labor countries is coming back to America.
And manufacturing is not found in city centers. Instead out in smaller towns and suburbs where land is less expensive and housing more accessible for those working in the factories.
While the media hyperventilates with reports that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take over like it does on the SyFy Network and digital game sites, AI is moving into the assembly line and loading docks.
And all those images of the minimum blue collar works is giving way to the tech school trained men and women netting those $85,000+ salaries in monitoring the manufacturing process.
Colleges and Universities are not only facing a decline of college-aged Americans with the Millennials out of the picture, four year colleges are facing competition now from the Trade Schools.
Not only are the Trade Schools less expensive and take less time to a degree, the starting salaries are higher, the salaries after 5 years out are higher, the jobs are way more secure as the labor shortage for the trade jobs continues.
I literally just had breakfast with a brand strategist who is a first generation American and he told me that he is having some discussions with his high school son about college or trade school.
The father wants him in college… the son wants to get a trade school tech degree.
The American Dream and the route to get there is changing.
It’s no longer the Millennials heading out to suburbia and small town America leaving those city centers and costly housing behind.
The workforce of America is moving out of the city hoods too.
One of the largest subdivisions in Greater Atlanta is going up about 25 miles north of my country Farm House in Athens. It will ultimately have 4,000+ homes in it.
Some of my colleagues commented on how those working in the city will have to manage the challenge of the commutes to their corporate jobs in Atlanta.
I laughed and cited how those moving in might be Millennial by age, but they are not likely commuting to corporate Atlanta jobs, but instead to Amazon’s distribution center less than a 10 minute drive away.
They next asked how those “workers” could even begin to afford a $400K+ house and I laughed and asked what they thought was those “workers” annual salary and they said “probably around $35K.”
I smiled and told them to double that and add another $10K — $15K to it … and then double it again since both partners-parents are likely working.
I then laughed when they replied that an income like that was more than they made. I then voiced, “welcome to the new workforce of America!”
The 70’s suburban model of the past is not coming back and those retail chains are filing Chapter 11.
I know that this is hard to imagine, but watch in the next 12–18 months when Walmart will begin closing stores.
America’s workforce is not shifting over to the web, but rather to the new mom & pop stores that might even be owned by family members!
And what is churning with the smaller share of the conventional “white collar American workforce?”
To explore that answer, I encourage you to go visit your local coffee house … shoot, even the Starbucks that still has in-store seating.
The logical, left-brain side of me posted some blogs back in pre-Pandemic 2017 about the explosion of co-working chains like WeWork and Impact Hub.
Unfortunately, the left-side of brain functions based on a linear path of change and market change is seldom linear.
Perhaps the biggest mistake the founders of places like WeWork made was building the space next to the corporate office buildings… the same office buildings that are now scraping to get new tenants to replace those moving out and closing down.
Why in the heck would a person commute to work in co-working space when they can journey over to a coffee house just around the corner?
Next week I am making a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce and business leadership in the fastest growing county in Georgia. It geographically sits on the exurban fringe of the Atlanta metro and sports two small towns with less than 25,000 residents.
A major player driving the growth is comprised of Millennial and GenXers who no longer have to commute to a corporate office building every day.
As I shared, you will find those folks in area coffee house and not just working on a lap top computer to write up a report, but also engaged in Zoom meetings and Zoom sales calls.
Opportunity is knocking to re-imagine how “coffee houses” are set up with different work centers as well as even meeting room and Zoom room space.
I pay a monthly fee for unlimited coffee at Panera. Perhaps coffee shops should consider charging a monthly fee for access to work space.
Starbucks is a chain and not only are they losing market share, they are way too corporately streamlined to be innovative… but local coffee shops can be innovative.
What’s going on smack in front of us is not just a short-term, post-Pandemic hiccup. Its a major paradigm shift that may… just may… have more impact on how we live, work, play and aspire as technology did back 40 years ago.
If your market paradigm is still using terms like “white-collar,” “management,” “morning and evening drive-time,” “board rooms” and “office space,” your paradigm needs to be scrapped.
If you are residing in a small satellite town and you fear it becoming a “bedroom commute neighborhood,” you are dwelling in another world of the past.
If you are an independent small business or thinking about starting up a local business, you just might be a much smarter investment than any new venture on Wall Street or Silicon Valley.
If you wonder just how to manage your brand forward through change, you need to connect with me on your Smart Phone at 404.245.9378.
The American workforce is changing fast and the marketplace of pre-pandemic times is disappearing right in front of our eyes!