We are beginning to see some positive staffing trends in the automobile industry.  In the U.S., 16 plants have recently added a third shift.  Sales have risen 10% or more annually for the past two years.  This is an upswing not seen since 1984.

This is good news for more than just the automobile industry because it generates many spinoff jobs in other industries.  Third-shift workers demand broader hours of access for consumer services such as healthcare, restaurants, groceries, daycare, and gyms.  Jeff Green, reporting in Bloomberg Businessweek (2/13/12—2/19/12, p. 22), describes research firm IHS Automotive’s findings:

For the first time since the car industry’s collapse in 2009, many plants are running 24 hours a day.  At the nadir, some plants ran only one eight-hour shift.  U.S. auto plants this year may operate at about 81 percent capacity after falling as low as 49 percent in 2009.

Green explains how adding a third shift typically involves about 1,000 new workers to fill that shift.  The corresponding spinoff jobs are estimated to be nearly 8,000.

Obviously, many factors and variables (business, consumer, technological, demographics, public policy, and political) affect the economy.  Therefore, I’m not willing to say at all that our economy is clearly on the healing side.  Things may get worse before they get better.  Nevertheless, I will happily receive this bit of good news.  It certainly can’t hurt!

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In my 2/16/12 post, I shared the powerful correlation between higher education and the employment statistics.  Today, I list some specific personal and professional benefits that accrue via your education.

First, education pays with enhanced employability (2/16/12 post).  The more education you have, the less likely you are to become or remain unemployed.

Second, education pays with enhanced reputation.  Granted, formal education never tells the whole story, but people tend to ascribe a measure of credibility to you based on your level of education.  This can often directly or indirectly be a door opener.

Third, education pays with enhanced critical thinking skills.  By virtue of completing a formal, accredited degree program you have demonstrated enhanced critical thinking skills.  As we know, each discipline or field of study has its unique paradigms, philosophies, and intellectual structures.  You have successfully engaged these paradigms, philosophies, and intellectual structures.  Your critical thinking skills have definitely been enhanced.  That enhancement carries over to your cerebral activities every day, both personally and professionally.

Fourth, education pays with broader, diverse perspectives.  It didn’t take me very long in life to discover the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.  As my island of knowledge enlarges, so too does the shoreline of my ignorance.  That revelation enables me to appreciate and embrace broader, diverse perspectives.  I can understand the bigger picture of matters more effectively.  I can appreciate other people’s positions.  That helps me to communicate, negotiate, and build relationships more effectively.

Fifth, education pays with more tools for your toolbox.  I don’t want to be the person with just a hammer who sees everything as a nail.  Regardless of your field, new tools for your toolbox are always helpful.  New techniques, novel approaches, state-of-the-art technologies, the latest research findings, and cutting-edge resources give you so much more to apply to today’s challenges.  Sometimes, just having multiple options becomes the key to your success.

How does higher education pay?  Let me count the ways!

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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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