You say Tomato…

October 14, 2012 Comments off

George Gershwin was on to something with “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”.

I was not the best in foreign languages. Even though I took many different languages in high school and college, I simply did not excel in the subject, which is fine, we all have gifts differing. I knew that being a professional translator would never come to pass!  So, imagine my surprise when I realized that, while not French to English necessarily, I was in fact translating language every day. With the many challenges we face in workforce and economic development, reforms in education, and changes in our demographic make up, we have yet another layer of complexity to the problem with the different dialects we use.

The two languages that I dwell in are the languages of Education and that of Business/Industry/Corporations. If you think they use the same words, that is far from the case. For example, consider these examples:

Business/Industry Speak                            Education Language

Advertise                                                                  Story
Agency                                                                      Office
Bottom Line                                                             Outcome
Brand                                                                         Identity
Client                                                                         Partner
Deliverable                                                               Milestone
Marketer                                                                   Communicator
Promotion                                                                Outreach
Sell                                                                             Cultivate
Weakness                                                                 Opportunity to Improve

And on, and on, and on. I had no intention of making a complete list here, as that would take hours, but I think you see the dilemma.

How do we solve the problem? Well, first, is it a problem? In fact it is, when conducting business calls, its clear that the language barrier does exist. When you hear words and phrases like  “return on investment/ROI” (ed. translation: perception of others) and “Target Market” (ed. translation: audience). You have to quickly decide what exactly is being asked or explained. Translate this to the classrooms and the languages that educators use and businesses use become muddled and unclear.

Not that we need more examples of why collaboration between business/industry and education is a good idea, it would seem that just knowing what the other is talking about would help. While we will not likely all adopt one universal language, we can adopt a philosophy of sharing and understanding before we call the whole thing off.


The Dark Side of the World of Work

October 7, 2012 Comments off

As mentioned, I presented on workforce issues at Ohio Northern yesterday and as always it was a great time. However, the undertone of my insight has a bit of dark side.

We are in trouble as a nation, and this has nothing to do with current politics, taxes or international affairs.

Its about numbers, big and small. The numbers are demographics, and their effect will change the way communities, regions, states and the nation will operate. To illustrate, let me show you a graph, it’s worth a thousand words.

Look long and hard at this graph…and take it in.

We are in trouble.

First, lets look at one of the basic factors of economic development, that is a simple equation:

E (Economy) > P (Population)

Economic development is about growing your economy at a faster rate then your population. This definition helps us understand a few things:

1) If your economy is growing faster then your population there will be more revenue per person for reinvestment into the community.

2) If your economy is shrinking slower then your population, again, more revenue per person for reinvestment into the community.

The above scenario’s are a great thing as a community can use these extra funds to make things better for everyone, attracting more growth, etc…

Of course, the dark side should be now apparent, if the economy grows more slowly then the population for a long period of time, then the community has less dollars to serve. If you own a business, this means serving more with less, ultimately leading to closure.

So back to the graph, we will see a potential shortage of 20 million working in the next 5 to 10 years. What does this mean for a community?  Consider our definition of economic development…can the economy support the loss of workforce?

What this means is that some places, the places that can provide the necessary workforce, skill sets, and support to these businesses, will thrive. Those communities that cannot will, quite simply, disappear.

Are you scared yet?

Mind you, this is based on real numbers, not spin, not political discourse…but numbers.

There is good news…we CAN pull out of this situation. IF we realize sooner, then later, that serious change needs to occur, we can work together to make this situation better.

Let us start the conversation soon.


Ref: Lautman, Mark – When the Boomers Bail, 2011, Logan Square Press

Rethinking the “Skills Gap”

March 2, 2012 Comments off

As with all issues, buzz terms have dominated discussions at all levels of the conversation. One such term that has become synonymous with the time is “skills gap”.

While I am not arguing there is not a skill labor shortage, I am not sure we even understand what is trying to be said with these terms. So, lets define it:

skilled labor (noun)

1. labor that requires special training for its satisfactory performance.
2. the workers employed in such labor.

Now that we know what we are trying to say, what are we saying? The focus of course in the recent dialogues has been on manufacturing skilled labor and the profound shortages of workforce in these areas. Indeed, “shovel ready” jobs aside, people need to know how to do those jobs or they will not get done, “shovel ready” or not.
However, lets pull out one of the other issues I feel we’re not addressing, perception.
Using the above definition, EVERY job is skill based. From dentists to welders, from artists to astronauts, all require skill sets, yet, we only assume we’re discussing this in terms of a narrow view point. I believe it is now time to broaden this approach.
Recently, Mike Rowe, of Discovery Channels “Dirty Jobs” spoke to this issue before a panel of politico’s. I invite you to watch and consider.
Categories: Uncategorized


February 4, 2012 Comments off

I was looking over a local private school’s web site recently and found their “Career Development” page. Interested in what is being said, I clicked on the link. What I found summarized the situation are region currently is facing. To spare any embarrassment to the school or its individuals, I will not post the exact link, so you will have to take my word. However, from what I have gathered from other professionals in Economic and Workforce Development, this mind set is very common within the region.

The presentation as I found was designed for 8th grade students and their parents. This is a very important age and grade as these students are transitioning to high school, planning classes and considering options. It should be an exciting time and a fantastic way of reaching out and invigorating families. Sadly, the presentation was geared for only one thing, college. No options of any other possible career pathways were given to these eager (and anxious) students. There was little mention of a path that did not include college, most specifically a four year degree. To add to the overwhelming nature of this process, a curriculum guide was given to the families as well. This guide listed the courses recommended…a “Fast Track” and a “Super Fast Track” to college…or, “how to get out of the area as fast as possible…”

My point in bringing this up is that the myth that college is the ONLY option is so prevalent, so engrained, that we do not bring up any other scenarios to students. We assume that indeed college is the only option to the point of mass batching students at such young ages. We know, based on everything we’ve been hearing, that this is the wrong approach, that the process is much more dynamic then a one size fits all mentality.


A Deafness to Success

January 22, 2012 1 comment

My Great Aunt Jeanie Yates was “deaf” since birth. Growing up in a time where deafness was considered a sign of deficiency, my late Grandmother (her sister) recalls sending Jeanie to a “special school” in Columbus, Ohio for weeks at a time. The tragedy of being “deaf” (as it was called then, now we say hearing impaired) seem tragic to their family.

But, upon meeting Aunt Jeanie, she was the perfect model of fierce independence. A gregarious soul that actually hated using sign language, she read lips…and communicated very effectively by mimicking the words back to us. Living on her own in Columbus for most of her adult life, she worked, participated and lived life to the absolute fullest.  She never let the challenge stop her, and she was open to telling the world how she rose out of the era where being “deaf and dumb” meant a one way ticket to demise. She also had a way of saying that being hearing impaired was actually a good thing and that she could actually bring a significant contribution to the conversation.

I was thinking about Aunt Jeanie lately when I was discussing the matter of our region to a colleague and also to my wife. “Its like we are deaf to our own success” I quipped. Realizing I’d said something somewhat profound (a shock), I quickly wrote down some notes:

1) Why is that places like Lima-Ford Engine plant do not share their manufacturing successes?

2) Why is that Proctor & Gamble discuss how they have  world renowned model of processing?

3) Why is that the small innovative industries go unrecognized?

4) Why is that the education institutions in this region are content on being “behind the scenes”?

The list went on for a while, but it came down to this basic fact, we as a region have a deafness to success. We do not promote our causes, we do not talk about the good things that happen, we certainly do not sell ourselves “Good Job”…those are values that seem somewhat Midwestern, “lay low, go with the flow” and certainly don’t bring attention to yourself.

This reality came to clear crossroads recently when Judy Cowan of the Ohio Energy and Advance Manufacturing Center (OEAMC) was speaking at a recent announcement of a new product line at AmericanTrim. The Ohio Department of Development director, Mrs Schmenk, was quite taken aback by what she heard about our region. She simply did not know all the good that happens here.

Who is to blame? Well no one, but like my dear Aunt Jeanie did, embracing your gifts and living them is the route to being successful and happy. It is time for us to interacting in the world around us and not being afraid of who we are and what we are about.


Creative Conservatism

January 11, 2012 Comments off

Any regular readers of my blog will know I have passionate views about certain trends we’re witnessing in our times. One note that resonates loudly many times over in my posts is the concept of creativity (or the lack there of).

Take for example this recent post in Wired Magazine…“Killing America’s Dreams, One Lousy Concept Car at a Time”.

The Detroit Auto Show has always been a glimpse into the future of automobiles, which in turn gave us pause to consider the future of everything.  But now it seems that the designers have stepped back into what I call creative conservatism. Dare we throw out our ideas and they are not accepted by the intelligentsia.

So here we are in 2012. We have batches of engineers and designers that likely came of age within the  hyper-testing culture of the U.S. education system. They have been asked to remember facts and regurgitate onto exams to make sure they are “proficient”. However in those mass production zones of schools, creativity has been educated out of most children.

In this blog title, you see the phrase, “Dreams roll across the heartland…” This line is part of the song “Middletown Dreams” by the Canadian rock group Rush. The song goes to explain the dreams most middle class Americans have about their possible lives, and the realities of their times. The great conflict between following your dreams or abiding by standard social convention.

Looking at the cars in this years car show, its clear to me this conflict is alive and well in our modern society.


Viva The Patent Clerk

January 7, 2012 Comments off

We all recall that  Albert Einstein’s first big career move was as a Swiss patent clerk.

Oh the patent clerk, perhaps viewed upon at the time as the most menial of Swiss civil professional roles. Einstein struggled, even within this career at first, being denied a promotion (how would you like that on your resume, “Denied promotion to Albert Einstein”).

A patent office….hmmm. As our country recovers from this “Great Recession” as it is now known, perhaps the answer to our problem does not lie within a great lecture hall or capital rotunda, but within our own US Constitution.  In fact, check out Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution.

In 1787, the first Constitutional Convention approved (with a unanimous vote) what became the “patent clause”. This obscure little clause authorized the new US government to: “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

It is also interesting that by the early 1800’s, the United States was issuing more patents then our nation of origin, Great Britain and that those patents were leading to job creation and job growth…increasing our overall economic might.

We’ve been a nation of innovators since the birth of this country with the first colonies. We’ve adapted, we’ve changed, we’ve grown and we’ve made mistakes and learned from that. Those mistakes have allowed our creative classes to ask new questions about old problems. The stereo-typical inventor of the past (either Thomas Edison or Professor Philip Brainard from the movie Flubber) allowed themselves to do just that, ask a new question about an old problem.

That old problem (whether it be career, where to find a cure for cancer, how to grow tomatoes better, or even our education system) begs to be revisited again with a fresh perspective. Those that ask the questions, and can be allowed to nurture their ideas, will be the ones to lead us all into a new era of this country.


High School Students

January 6, 2012 Comments off

There was a recent article in BigThink that caught my eye.

“High school students know that their learning isn’t relevant.”

And there in lies an interesting conundrum. Our best and brightest in schools, and I’d say at all grade levels, are leaving this experience feeling marginalized, uninspired, bored and like their time is not valued.

As an “adult” if we feel our time is wasted in work, or our talents are being marginalized, we often times start the job search process to change directions. Yet, when the discussion of public vs. private, or homeschooling or on-line schooling comes up, everyone is quick to run to there corners and assume the warrior stance.

It goes back the new “Three Rs”–Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships” (see Richard D. Jones, The Process of Change–Why Change, What to Do, and How to Do It). Students see relevance (and lack there of) in their day to day interactions with instructional staff and administrative staff. Have we ever surveyed these students to see what their take would be?

If we are to assume that we continue to learn and develop over time (which is what most of the theories point to), why do we assume that the educational environments that we learn and develop within should not develop either?


Small Town Opportunities

January 5, 2012 Comments off

I have a deep interest in small towns. My parents grew up in a small town, I grew up in a small town and we currently live in a small town.

Much has been said about the decline of small town America. There is a sense that, like many things, small towns speak of a bygone era…a less-then-progressive environment…a place of limited opportunities and closed minded philosophies. Yet, for all of these negative views, small towns still remain as viable part of the landscape of Ohio (and our country).

So, what’s really going on here?

Recently Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival condensed the top 9 rural business trends. Her full write up can be found here.

Here are the 9 trends, I’ve paraphrased with my perspectives, but please read her insights!

1. Strong farm commodity prices mean strong local economies.
We owe our existence to agriculture and that relationship will remain. As changes occur in the farm industry, so to will those changes occur in small towns.

2. Some places get “just one more” oil boom.
With the advancements in oil discovery and recovery, many places are rediscovering resources long felt expended.

3. Supporting the local economy takes more than “Shop Local.”
Bank local, invest local, save local.

4. Self-employment continues to rise.
What a perfect environment to try something risky. Small towns allow for start ups to occur with minimal risk.

5. Ruralsourcing brings more high-tech to rural areas.
New term? You bet, versus global outsourcing, some companies are looking to rural communities and resources to provide those services.

6. Government cuts hurt.
Arts, literature, tourism, things that commonly were supported by government subsidies now need to be revisited.

7. Online doesn’t mean in front of a computer.
Mobile web, smart phones, the iPad and other devices have allowed for more flexibility in exchanging data, ideas and resources. This is NOT tied to sitting at home.

8. Online reviews make everyone a local.

9. Rural broadband drives business development.
As the spread of web services across the heartland increases, so do opportunities to interact within a regional and global economy.

Let’s keep this conversation going….


Creativity, Longevity and 2012

December 13, 2011 Comments off

Granted, I am a few weeks early on welcoming 2012, however, its time for a new start once again.

Its hard to believe that I’ve been dabbling on this blog for four years now. There have been slow changes in many things along that time, yet, the “big and new” has yet to occur. Our region still struggles with its identity and purpose. Leadership is fleeting with people jumping at new opportunities instead of holding a course for a long period of time. We still struggle with the creative sides of our brains, fearful that “staying put” means stagnation.

Yet, there is good news….visionaries do exist…perhaps the tide is rising slowly for us all.


Categories: Uncategorized
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