workplace

The “Skills Gap”

A lot of recent discussion about the labour force in Canada and elsewhere has focused on the “skills gap” – the alleged mismatch between workers’ skills and the abilities that employers need. One reason for the alleged gap is “digital disruption” – the automation or digitization of job tasks – which is changing how some jobs are done and thus changing the skills needed to successfully perform those jobs. These changes are so rapid that workers’ skills may quickly become outdated. Along similar lines, the Royal Bank of Canada recently released a report calling for post-secondary institutions to improve their graduates’ “human skills”, so as to better equip them for the parts of their future jobs that will involve working with people rather than with computers.

The narrative around the “skills gap” has mostly been controlled by employers and by the business community, and the business media have, generally, uncritically bought into the narrative. But the narrative is misleading in how it portrays the problem. It ignores (more…)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Thanks to my local public library, I recently had the opportunity to read Morra Aarons-Mele’s new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). As I’ve discussed on this blog previously, I’m not a fan of most popular-press career and business books, but the title of this one drew me in. It suggested vulnerability and something less than overwhelming self-confidence, and that’s far more representative of many people’s workplace reality than (more…)

I Think This Is An Important Topic

And, um, I’d like to suggest that we should pay more attention to it?

A recent discussion on Twitter raised some provocative points about communication norms in workplaces, especially those norms associated with gender. The research of linguists and sociologists such as Deborah Tannen has shown that men and women communicate differently, especially in the context of work. Men tend to present their views and opinions directly, while women tend to frame their statements with qualifiers such as “I think” or “in my opinion”.

In any workplace, the dominant group’s norms – both linguistic and behavioural – usually become (more…)

Post-Secondary Institutions and Precarious Work

In February, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study of precarious employment in Ontario colleges and universities. Last week, some of the challenges identified in this study became very real when contract workers at York University in Toronto went on strike. The bargaining issues that the union and the university haven’t agreed on include job security for contract workers and guaranteed funding for teaching assistants.

The CCPA report is extremely valuable – not only because its analysis has suddenly become even more relevant, but also because (more…)

Engineering Change

In January I made an unexpected trip to Edmonton, where I lived in the early ‘90s while I attended the University of Alberta.  Some things have changed, some are the same – like -30C weather that time of year – and some have adapted, like the student newspaper the Gateway. When I was a U of A student the Gateway was a once-weekly newspaper, but it now posts most of its stories online, and the print version is a monthly magazine.

An article in the January issue of the Gateway  caught my attention because it reminded me of a terrible event (more…)

Harry Leslie Smith’s ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

Harry Leslie Smith is just about to turn 95, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.  But he has also given a tremendous gift to the world: his new book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.

His publishers were kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book. Ironically, the print copy they sent by post appears to have been lost by the Royal Mail – a organization  that was publicly owned for almost 500 years before it was privatized, in the belief that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector. That’s exactly the kind of flawed economic reasoning that Smith condemns – the “free market” logic that says competitive markets will result in superior products and services, and that says better government is less government.

The spread of that ideology has led to decreases in the amount and availability of state-supported services, such as publicly-funded health care and social assistance. By recounting his own history, Smith shows the very real improvements that those services can bring to individual lives and to the overall well-being of society. He also strongly makes the point that governments should work for the betterment of all, not just to help the rich become richer.

Smith grew up in (more…)

#MeToo and Making Things Different

The #MeToo movement has generated a lot of discussion, not only around the numerous revelations of sexual misconduct, but also around what organizations can or should do to prevent those incidents from happening in the first place.

This past weekend, Christy Clark, the former premier of British Columbia, wrote an opinion article in The Globe and Mail newspaper, titled “Turning #MeToo into a tangible shift for female leaders“. Here’s some of what she said in that article:

I have been in politics for more than 30 years…Over those years, I saw plenty of men behaving badly. It made me promise myself that I would do things differently should I ever get the chance to lead…Our Speaker was a woman, our government caucus chair was a woman and our Lieutenant-Governor was a woman. The two first female attorneys-general in BC history were appointed, Our 125,000+ civil service, finance ministry and largest Crown corporation were run by women, and more than a third of our government board appointees were women.

Appointing women to high-profile positions has a lot of symbolic value, and having women in those positions is certainly better than not having any women in power at all. But here’s the thing: (more…)

It’s Everywhere…Again

The last couple of weeks have been full of news about workplace abusers and harassers being called out. It seems that every time I look at Twitter there’s a link to yet another story about an accusation of inappropriate behaviour. It’s good that this behaviour is being brought into the open. But two decades ago there was also a huge uproar about harassment when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was accused of harassing the staff in his office.

So it puzzles me why we apparently need to have this same conversation all over again – especially when most organizations now have statements or policies about zero tolerance for workplace harassment or abuse.

These discussions of high-profile incidents of obvious harassment also have another effect. They distract attention from other forms of harassment. Harassment isn’t just the big incidents; it’s also the little things that happen over and over again.

Earlier this year, a study pointed out some very good examples of smaller, ongoing harassment. Alice Wu, the author of the study, was (more…)

Same Question, Different Answers: How It Happens

How can two studies researching the same question come up with two different answers? That was the dilemma that several media outlets recently had to confront, with the release of the results of two studies looking at the impact of the city of Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage rate for workers in that city. Even though the studies were looking at the same issue, they came up with results that contradicted each other.

The results of the first study indicated that the wage increase didn’t reduce overall job numbers or hours of work. Media: “Yay! Minimum wage increases are a good thing.” But then the results of the second study indicated that the wage increase caused declines in both numbers of jobs and amounts of work. Media: “Um…okay, maybe minimum wage increases aren’t that great.”

The fact that these studies had different results doesn’t mean that one study is right and the other is wrong, or that both studies are wrong and nobody really knows what happened. The studies are admittedly not easy reading – both use complex forms of economic analysis that, frankly, I wouldn’t try to explain because I would probably get them wrong. But we can still look at how the studies were designed and carried out to see if there are reasons why their results might differ.

Here’s a table that (more…)

Ask Not What Amazon Can Do For You

The mighty Amazon has announced that it is looking for a city in which to locate a second North American headquarters (“HQ2” in Amazon-speak), to supplement its operations in its home base of Seattle.  It’s also released a set of specifications describing what it’s looking for in a new location. The reaction to this announcement has resembled the 1960s TV game show The Dating Game, in which a single man or woman would ask questions to three blushing men or women on the other side of a wall. Based on the answers, the questioner would choose which of the three they wanted to go on a date with, and then the lucky couple would finally get to see each other and go on a fabulous night out.

So Amazon has asked its questions, and 238 cities and regions throughout North America have answered, with (more…)