I have been watching the statistics for decades.  The statistics demonstrate education pays.  I’m a believer.

I did not need the statistics to become a believer.  Nevertheless, they confirmed what I already knew intuitively.

Anyone can argue the relative merits of pursuing higher education or choosing not to pursue it.  Pros and cons exist certainly.  Nevertheless, for the person who desires to improve his or her odds significantly of being gainfully employed, higher education is a major factor.

The January 2012 unemployment rate (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. for persons not having a high school diploma is 13.1%.  Having a high school diploma drops that rate to 8.4% and some college or a two-year degree drops it further to 7.2%.  Pretty good trending, wouldn’t you say?

Finally, if we look at people having a four-year degree, a graduate degree, or a doctoral degree, the unemployment rate is a low 4.2%.  Not bad, given our rough economy.

Higher education’s value is especially clear when you consider the relative value of these numbers over the range of values.  Look at the two ends of the spectrum: less-than-high school (13.1%); four-year degree or higher (4.2%).  Consistently, regardless of the time period, the rates differ by a factor of 2 to 4.

This is why, when people seek my counsel about career planning, higher education is always one of my main emphases.  Education pays.

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This month in Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, the number one spot was given to Google (Fortune 2/6/12, pp. 98-127).

Google has never had a layoff.  Its current labor force is 18,500 strong and it is currently hiring 50 additional workers.

Cofounder and CEO, Larry Page, has tapped into the universal truth that people love to feel a part of something genuine and bigger than themselves.  This dynamic has significantly added to Google’s desirability as an employer.  It becomes a family experience.  As Page states, “It’s important that the company be a family. . . . When you treat people that way, you get better productivity” (p. 99).  Page is committed to maintaining that mission.  “We should continue to innovate in our relationship with our employees and figure out the best things we can do for them” (p. 99).

This commitment to employee engagement translates to some very tangible benefits and perks.  Lots of free food via 25 cafeterias ensures no one goes hungry.  Paid sabbaticals are available.  Healthcare premiums are paid 100% by Google.  Onsite massage reduces stress.

Not every company is a Google.  Nevertheless, every company can enhance its employee engagement by constantly searching for opportunities to put employees first.  Sometimes little things can be big things.  Sometimes those little things add up to some bigger things.

Many companies dodge these great opportunities, and lose.  But for those companies that aggressively pursue the opportunities, everyone wins.  Now that’s a search-engine result everyone likes!

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Are you plugged in or unplugged?  The Kansas City Star newspaper had an interesting article this past Sunday about “The Unplugged Life” by Rick Montgomery.  In it Montgomery introduces us to the “neo-Luddites,” referring to those persons who specifically choose not to become 24/7 connected and tech-savvy.

Their agenda is to preserve a measure of peace, tranquility, and the earthy, human satisfaction of manual mental labors.  They accomplish this by not having modern technology and online tools such as PCs, Google, email, and social networking.

In a bit of a Henry David Thoreau manner, the neo-Luddites make a passionate case for withdrawing to the 2012 version of Walden Pond.  The unplugged life may have its advantages so say the neo-Luddites.  For example, you avoid the dangers cited by some of the latest research suggesting the Internet may fundamentally degrade a person’s reading style and intellectual abilities.

Nevertheless, I for one will choose to remain plugged into our modern world.  That does not automatically mean that I never examine, assess, evaluate, and analyze.  Nor does it mean I never periodically cocoon away from cyberspace to recharge my soul’s batteries.  Instead, I choose to remain aware of the strengths and the dangers of our modern online world, while constantly choosing to make the best of it in every possible manner.

I am a realist.  So is Professor Dinty W. Moore, whom the article quotes:  “What I would like is to get off Facebook, cancel the email—I know many people frustrated that way.  But you can’t, because it’s become so much a part of professional life.”

If you want to become a neo-Luddite, be my guest.  But not me.  I prefer living in the real world. 

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I heard a Slim4Life commercial on the radio recently, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The narrator explained that in this tough job market, you had to do everything possible to gain the edge on your competition.  Therefore, by enrolling in a Slim4Life weight-loss program, you would become more physically attractive.  And let’s face it, the narrator concluded—The hiring manager will favor a good-looking candidate over a less attractive candidate every time. 

Reason Number One For Not Knowing Whether to Laugh or Cry:  Last time I checked, in the general business community, it is still illegal to hire on the basis of physical appearance, sex, marital status, religion, or any other characteristic not specifically related to skills and merit.  Slim4Life was flat out telling the listener they should fully anticipate being hired or fired purely on the basis of physical appearance.  Why would Slim4Life even go there?  It boggles my mind!

Reason Number Two For Not Knowing Whether to Laugh or Cry:  The fact that Slim4Life chose to take this sorry direction in its advertising underscores the nonchalance among some businesses about not following the law.  Slim4Life seems to accept this sad reality and use it to its advantage.  “Sure, we know these hiring practices are illegal, but because we know they happen, we want to capitalize on that to sell more of our products and services.”  Someone please help me out: Are there really that many businesses out there that hire purely based on physical appearance?

Reason Number Three For Not Knowing Whether to Laugh or Cry:  Some consumers are going to believe this pitch and act on it.  In so doing, Slim4Life will be complicit in the dysfunctional sick attitude among so many people that their value to society is based purely on their physical attractiveness.  People who are already walking around with a warped understanding of what makes a human being valuable are going to be reinforced in their faulty thinking.

Reason Number Four For Not Knowing Whether to Laugh or Cry:  If in fact, you wiled your way into a new job primarily based on your physical appearance, would you genuinely be comfortable working for a company that demonstrated such shallow professional, ethical values?  Remember, you’ve got to live with your newly won position!  Can you?

Slim4Life has innumerable noble opportunities to market their products and services.  Sadly, Slim4Life instead chose to stoop to an indefensible, shallow appeal to gullible, struggling consumers predicated on illegal hiring practices.  Perhaps Slim4Life should change its name to Sin4Life.

And just when you thought advertising couldn’t sink any lower!

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For a couple of decades or more now, increasing numbers of United States companies have been making the smart move of outsourcing various work segments to India, China, Ireland, the Philippines, and several other locations.  In the early days of these endeavors, many stateside sectors cried “foul” on the basis that these maneuvers were unethical, inappropriate, and damaging to the US economy.

Less knee-jerk reactionary minds prevailed.  The counterpoint was made that capitalism means business owners are free to engage vendors wherever and however they so choose, provided those choices are legally allowable.  The business owners decide how to run the business and who to hire.

In 2005, Thomas L. Friedman wrote his famous book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.  In it, he fully analyzes all angles of the outsourcing movement.

Friedman makes a compelling case based on business globalization’s irreversibility.  Simultaneously, Friedman demonstrates compassion for those negatively affected by outsourcing.  He explains:

The great challenge for our time will be to absorb these changes in ways that do not overwhelm people but also do not leave them behind.  None of this will be easy.  But this is our task.  It is inevitable and unavoidable.  (pp. 46-47)

Now that we have been outsourcing for a long time, an interesting development has been occurring.  As business globalization’s irreversibility continued, various countries began to prosper as a result.  For example, China’s workers’ wages have risen about 15% per year for the last decade.  Similar trends are occurring in India and other typical outsource locations.  Although this is good for China and India, it makes the outsourcing deal less desirable for the US.

Finally, outsourcing costs and benefits are more than meets the eye.  Having a worker in Bangalore at $3.00 per hour looks quite compelling compared to a stateside union worker at $30 per hour.  Nevertheless, having been on many international conference calls to manage outsourced vendors, I know from personal experience that all kinds of hidden costs eventually add into the situation.  You sometimes expend significant resources just managing the process when your charges are separated by half a world.  Quality control can be a challenge given the distances, and international travel isn’t cheap.  Increasing fuel prices don’t help either.

The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an excellent article on these developments (link below).

Exactly how these arrangements continue to evolve will largely be market driven.  Outsourcing is not always the best solution.  More labor force adjustments will occur in all affected nations.  Business partnerships will likely become more diverse and unique as all parties continually aim to strike the deals that make the most sense (and cents) for them.  And all of us will do well and prosper when we wake up and realize it’s a whole new world out there.  Indeed, the world is flat.

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