Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Changing Workplace

I have been meeting with a variety of business leaders in the community and asking three questions - what are the trends in your industry influencing your operations?; how is MVCC currently connected to your business?; and what can MVCC do to better serve your needs? A few common themes have surfaced from these conversations that flow directly from my recent blog posts on our changing world and changing county that prompt me to consider our changing workplace.

The influence of our changing demographics is significant. As baby-boomers begin to ease into retirement, the “replacement” labor pool is not what it used to be. Nearly every business in every sector is in need of employees - if not new employees, then better candidates from which to choose. Many businesses are opting to downsize and integrate technology to make their operations more efficient and cost-effective – thereby redefining their expectations of their employees.

The high-touch, personal commitment element in the workplace isn't new, but has a renewed importance. It's been described to me by some employers as, "the skills and characteristics we used to get from our parents at home seem to be missing more and more" - ethics, integrity, general respect for others, punctuality, and the common understanding of what it means to be a "good worker." Some have pointed to shifts in society and a slow erosion of the nuclear family while others point to the changing nature of work – this has highlighted the standard differences between generations. Global competition has created an ever-shifting environment where both job and career changes are now commonplace. The curricular implications of these issues present a significant challenge to educators - how do you really teach someone something as complex as ethics or as simple as punctuality in a three-credit class, particularly with plagiarism and absenteeism on the rise? How do you change behavior that is shaped more by life experience than a textbook?

Lastly, the pace of change in most every industry continues to transform the workplace. No job is as simple as it used to be. Employers talk about the need for critical thinking skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, problem solving skills and effective communication - these aren't new, but there is a sense of urgency in the conversations. My post on the changing world highlighted the fact that technical information is doubling every two years and is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2010 - that's almost incomprehensible. However, it underscores the need for us to focus on the transferable skills and core competencies that are no longer the domain of a general liberal arts education. The general education/core competencies must be integrated, reinforced, and assessed through all disciplines and programs. In addition, those high-touch skills for good work and good citizenship must be reinforced not only in our classes, but through our services and programs that comprise the total college experience. The challenges may be greater than ever, but so to is the significance of our work here at MVCC.

What are your thoughts on the changing nature of the workplace? Let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Our Changing County

My last post mentioned the world is changing at an exponential rate. Those changes combine with some local dynamics to create major challenges for Oneida County. I mentioned reading a local history book, Exploring 200 Years of Oneida County History, published by the Oneida County Historical Society (1998). Not only did I learn that the name Oneida, or Onyotaa:ka, means the People of the Standing Stone (p. 13), but I also learned about the natural economic cycles that have presented themselves over the last two centuries here in the Mohawk Valley that provide an interesting lens through which to view current events.

It seems that Oneida County has been subject to major economic shifts that long-preceded the "loom to boom" era of the 1950s. The first shift occurred when the Erie Canal opened in 1820 that immediately transformed the agricultural region with new transportation routes. Just as the canal and associated stagecoach runs were peaking, the railroads appeared and immediately shifted economic conditions again, while other parts of the local economy began to struggle. From 1840 to 1845, Oneida County lost population - the population of Utica declined 20% (12,000 to 10,000 in 5 years).

Local leaders decided to take action. Three businessmen traveled to New England to get new ideas to identify best practices from successful mills. "Coal could be used to produce steam, they said, and the county had a large supply readily available via the recently completed Chenango Canal that connected the county with the coal fields of Pennsylvania" (p. 31). Within a year, Alfred Munson, Theodore Faxton and others supported this vision and raised enough money to launch Globe Mills, Utica Steam Cotton and Woolen Mills. With these steam-powered mills in place, that significant part of the economy remained strong for decades. The key for me is that they went elsewhere to get new ideas, connected them to local issues and developed a strategic course of action.

Contrary to popular thought, the downturn in the mid-20th century economy here was actually a long, slow decline from 1910 to 1950 that was masked by two world wars. Once again though, the community found ways to reinvent the economic conditions and right itself for a prosperous future. By creating the Industrial Development Corporations, major manufacturing companies were attracted to the area, which in turn, helped attract the Air Force Base in Rome and associated defense industry. Without major world wars to mask the decline, the past fifteen years or so have been very visible, emotional, and discouraging to many.

The recently elected leadership for the County and the cities of Rome and Utica have captured the collective attention of our communities once again to consider, "is this the time things will really change for the better?" If you review the editorials of the past few months, plenty of perspective is being shared with recurring themes of new ideas, collaboration, and action. I've included just a few examples of the many that appear each week in the Observer-Dispatch.
* Ideas for growth - http://www.uticaod.com/viewpoints/x1925665453
* More ideas for growth - http://www.uticaod.com/viewpoints/x546804947
* Jobs - http://www.uticaod.com/viewpoints/x603833016
* Thinking regionally - http://www.uticaod.com/viewpoints/x1295924523

People say, “we've been talking for years in this area and nothing has happened.” Well, all of that talking has created a variety of initiatives that may very well converge in the very near future. However and whenever the next natural economic cycle shifts in an upward, positive direction, MVCC needs to be positioned and prepared to leverage the resources and talents of the College to help invent that collective future for the community. That's my theory - what's yours? Share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Changing World

With the start of the New Year, I can't help but think of the future. The current state of affairs in the world can certainly prompt some anxiety with so many unknowns and the challenge of working with so many things out of our own control. One thing that has provided me a small anchor in all of this is a sense of history. I was fortunate to have had someone drop off a comprehensive history of Oneida County last fall and I read most and skimmed other parts during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I recently checked the book out of our great MVCC library and hope to review it again to glean some analysis and insights for a future blog posting about our changing county.

For now though, I'm focused on the future and our changing world. I've been speaking to a number of business and community leaders regularly here in Oneida County as well with my colleagues from around the country and the challenges are abundantly clear - unfortunately, the solutions are not. I've been working closely with the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) to update the College's strategic plan and create some clarity for action in a very ambiguous future. Prior to our regular meetings this fall, we started with a retreat in late September, where the entire SPC examined a large data notebook of external trends and internal information and then identified priorities and initiatives that can strengthen the alignment between the College's programs and services and the needs of our local communities. I set the stage for the retreat with a brief PowerPoint presentation to set the context. I think this presentation, although it's now almost eighteen months old, is powerful - almost overwhelming at times. The content is a compilation of statements from leading futurists and key facts presented in Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. The core message is that a major shift is occurring and the world around us is changing exponentially. I take it as a call to action that presents a need for us to reflect on how we can better position the College to thrive in such a fast-changing world - I hope you join me and share your reactions with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljbI-363A2Q to see the original. The perfectly placed audio track is locally relevant as it's a combination of two tracks from the movie Last of the Mohicans. I've also included links below here if you want to look more into the sources of the fascinating facts in the presentation. I highly recommend watching the updated version, "Did you know 2.0" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U - it has more graphics, but doesn't create the sense of urgency with a more methodical audio clip. I find watching both of them reinforces the magnitude of the trends and prompts different thinking for me about the implications.

Similar to the Liberty Mutual commercials, you may have a problem viewing these directly from the links provided. If the links don't work, go to http://www.youtube.com/ and search for "shift happens".

Sources: http://www.lps.k12.co.us/schools/arapahoe/fisch/didyouknow/sourcesfordidyouknow.doc