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June 2000
is it a lot to ask?
By John Paul Galles

     When they encouraged me to get a job in my junior year in high school, my journalism teacher told me about a local advertiser looking for an assistant to help create fliers and menus for area restaurants and advertisements for our daily newspaper. He would often give me the keys to his car to distribute the ads and to also pick up his kids and deliver them home at the end of their school day. During my senior year in high school, I landed a position as a teller at the local bank and as a relief teller at several of its branches. It was a neat opportunity to meet people and sock away a few dollars away for college. I even remember purchasing my first stock in that bank from my earnings. In each position, I was entrusted with a large amount of responsibility at a relatively young age and expected to execute my duties efficiently and effectively.
     While I attended Indiana University, I spent each summer working at Bethlehem Steel's plate mill that was state of the art at the time. Working a swing shift, I had the opportunity to see all sides of the operation from the slab to the finished piece. When work was slow, I really enjoyed walking along the catwalk high up over the production line and watching slabs being rolled back and forth through huge steel rollers that would press the slabs to the correct size before being trimmed and finished for the customer. Watching hundreds of workers contribute to a finished product was an amazing experience. It was a great education and a terrific summer job, but I was always happy to go back to school in the fall. Manufacturing that has remained in the U.S. has really changed since then, utilizing fewer workers, more technology and improved efficiencies to compete in the world marketplace. 
     As the base of our present day economy transforms itself from manufacturing and services to information technology and telecommunications, the nature of individual responsibilities and obligations is changing as well. Alan Greenspan continues to apply the brakes on investments and inflationary pressures and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in forty years. In this day and age when companies cannot find workers, they are now competing against each other in bidding wars over the available talent. The availability of quality talent and trained employees is diminishing, and raising interest rates actually contributes to raising the intensity of the competition for the available workforce. 
     Most employers are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. They work hard to gather employees into their firms who are productive, loyal, dedicated, committed and trustworthy. Today, that appears to be a lot to ask from employees.
     We are spoiled by our successes and our lengthy period of economic growth. Training and development of our existing workforce should improve productivity and performance. Without more workers, we will also need greater discipline, direction and flexibility. Individually and collectively, we need to maintain our standards and reclaim our work ethic, our commitment to education and our dedication to families to keep this country on course with the rapid pace of change.


 

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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