Bookends: The Coming Jobs War
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In his book, The Coming Jobs War, Jim Clifton, chairman of the polling firm Gallup, argues that what everyone in the world wants is a job. And not just any job—a good job. This is a dream held by many. The fact that the dream is so fleeting represents a challenge not just to our economies but to the very fabric of society. We place a lot of value in having and holding a job. So much so that Clifton believes that job creation is the new currency of global leadership.
Using data drawn from numerous Gallup studies over the years, Clifton finds that jobs are at the top of the world’s priorities. In fact, Gallup estimates that the world needs 1.8 billion more formal jobs with a steady paycheck and schedule.
Here’s how Clifton frames the issue: “Of the 7 billion people on Earth, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they work or want to work. Most of these people need a full-time formal job. The problem is that there are currently only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. This is a potentially devastating global shortfall of about 1.8 billion good jobs.”
America is not alone in suffering from a jobs shortfall. Roughly 30 million Americans lack a good job and 18 million of those have essentially given up hope of ever finding one.
Clifton is not one to spend much time dwelling on these sad statistics. They are meant to shock us, and shock they do. Though these are crude estimates, they do a better job at capturing the plight of the average job seeker today than any official unemployment number will.
To get these jobs we need economic growth, and to get growth we need customers. That, at least, is the short-hand argument driving Clifton’s book. And job creation ultimately relies on a heap of entrepreneurs and a dash of invention.
One of the most interesting points Clifton makes is that America does not have a shortage of innovation. He believes that ideas run rampant through our economy. Rather, what we lack are entrepreneurs. They are something like an endangered species in his mind and for good reason. For every 1,000 people, Clifton believes that only 3 have the potential to build a successful organization boasting revenues of $50 million or more. Yet each one can dramatically alter the economic landscape, in turn creating even more jobs and opportunity.
Unfortunately, our education system often does not know what to do with these gifted students. It is proficient at delivering facts, placing knowledge (and students) in some semblance of order, and testing what results. Schools are not so good at cultivating entrepreneurship, which is often about bucking the system and thinking outside of the box.
Another interesting point that Clifton makes is that if we have any hope for job creation in America, it will be found locally among our cities and its leaders. Washington, DC will not provide the panacea to joblessness. In fact, we should be looking to the roughly 10,000 or so “local tribal leaders” who Clifton estimates are the main drivers of job creation. Who are these individuals? They are a city’s “philanthropists, city fathers and mothers, business leaders, and other deeply invested citizens who get things done for the good of their city.” They, after all, are the ones who spur on entrepreneurs by aligning local constituencies, infrastructure, and educational institutions behind them.
Leaders of all stripes must be focused on what job creation means. They must be singularly focused on this task. Countries that succeed at creating jobs will become “the next economic empires.” The specter of opportunity will draw migrants in, like pioneers aiming for the frontier’s horizon.
The Coming Jobs War offers new ways of looking at old problems. The world has always needed good jobs. The value of this book is in how Jim Clifton lifts our gaze up to see the full scope of the shortfall and how to bridge it.