But What Happens to Excellence…?

Recently, The New York Times had a series of essays about being over 50 and out of work.  The “Older and Out Of Work” series fell well short of what I imagine to be the standards of the New York Times.  They offered the familiar bromides to those who are older and out of work including “upgrading your skills” ($$$) by “reinventing yourself”.  Start your own business – risky and even more ($$$).  Impractical as it was superficial many of the experiences of the respondents over 50 – helped set the record straight.

But more to the point of this blog was a common thread that ran through the entire series.  That thread was that job skills are as transient and fleeting as the latest fad.  Gangnam Style may be all the  rage now – but does anyone expect it to remain on the top of the charts for the next year?  That’s to be expected in the popular music industry.  But this sort of transience is now being applied to job skills – and that’s alarming.

Employees are now being told to expect to endure at least 3-4 career changes during their lifetime.  Note – we are  not talking about JOB changes, we are discussing 3-4  entire shifts in career paths over the course of a person’s life.  That’s a monumental  problem for the innovation process because it encourages the exploitation of “soft skills” that are more fungible at the expense of the “hard skills” that are needed in science engineering and mathematics upon which our future prosperity depends.

So what does happen to excellence in these circumstances?

I have to ask what all this job sliding around amounts to? One thing is certain, it fosters an atmosphere of serial mediocrity where we have to learn and dump a serial set of skills as the fly in and out of fashion. We are all forced to use “soft skills” and “fake it until we make it.” Once we’ve made it, the field is already passe and its time to move on.

This is wholly inconsistent with a world where “hard skills” are needed. Innovation, insight and excellence are required for the discovery of the next “big thing”. And they are not the byproducts of a shapeshifting workforce.

Can the required career hopping mesh with the educational requirements of the scientist or engineer? 

Why are these two things inconsistent? Because the notion of someone coming up with the next big breakthrough in their parent’s garage while they munch on chips and guzzle soda – is romantic drivel. PC’s didn’t just manifest out of someone’s garage one day. Their innovation was based on fundamental engineering & programming done by scores of academics who were slogging away years before the likes of Jobs or Gates were even born. All the sexy stuff has been created on the shoulders of past generations. Discovery is a slog not a sprint.

That begs the question, where is the next generation of innovation coming from? The education in my former field takes 8 years of FT postgraduate work and up to 10 years of post-doctoral training. Who is going to do THAT only to be told they have to “reinvent themselves” shortly after getting their first real job at 38?

© 2013 – RGHicks – All rights reserved.



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