A Chicago Workday

At 4:00 AM the drive to the Denver Airport is rather peaceful. Only now as we approach 5:00 AM are people starting to show signs of life. People all seem to be waking up. Economic activity is about to happen. Nothing in this part of the airport terminal is open for business. Nobody is about to get coffee or breakfast. I have already started to think about writing during the flight. My plan is to start writing about modernity, economics, workplace skills, and learning a trade. That combination of things seems to be at the forefront of my thoughts this morning. Maybe writing about them throughout a two hour flight will produce something useful. It is also possible that the inquiry will be devoid of inspiration. That happens from time to time. A solid false start can build the foundation to better prose down the road. Stranger things have happened.

My flight was only about half full. Getting connected to the Southwest Airlines WiFi with my ASUS Flip Chromebook was easy. My Chrome web browser redirected to the Southwest website and things worked normally. Flying to Chicago should be an exciting time. However, my attention is mostly focused on other matters. Work has been full of an avalanche of escalations. Most people who know enough to know better fear the tyranny of tiny tasks in the workplace. My problem remains a little bit different. If every single issue is an escalation, then defining normal becomes problematic. I make every effort to work with people in a positive and proactive way.

Economic theories are easier to read about than to build on your own. However, over the next couple of months we are about to build our own bottom up economic model to explain our place in the economy. This is not about building a budget or anything like that. It is a basic exercise to figure out within a rolling 30 day period what type of economic transactions do you participate in and how do you aggregate a ton of these scenarios to build a model of economic participation. I’m sure that sounds simple enough. It is very possible. We will build it together. I have also written some basic web crawlers to grab advertisements to see what people are trying to sell during the same window.

Within the last 30 days I did engage in a variety of economic activity from refueling my car to getting a haircut. Like a number of Americans I have a certain number of household related activities: electricity, water, gas, mortgage, cable, phone, and cleaning. Those types of things are easier to model. We should be able to model out what types of interactions commonly occur and for what percentage of the population. The other things that happen define the parts of the economy that are more complex to model. People engage in producing things and people engage in providing services. The complex mixes of those things define the current state of the economy. Over time the models we are building can help illustrate shifts or changes in the economy. This bottom up method of evaluating the economy will provide a more accurate method to forecast short term economic change. The items that become a part of the model and the items that fall off the model are incredibly important to modeling change in the short term.

The intersection of technology and modernity is changing the social fabric of America. It is changing the way we think about careers and about engaging in the workplace. Technological advances have been changing the economy. New companies have risen and fallen. Some blue chip companies of the past have adapted some of them did not. Automation will change everything. It will change things in ways it has only started to influence. We need to understand and describe the economy of the future to ensure we as the workforce are ready and able to adapt. The next generation of scholars to attend colleges and universities may very well face a radical shift in employment opportunities based on economic forces.

Outside of building economic models I often try to explain the value of higher education to people. Plenty of benefit models exist. Some of them even show interesting returns on investment from higher education. My explanation serves a slightly different purpose. I want to help people understand how to maximize the opportunities college provides before the journey is over. For most people the college experience really is about the overall experience. It is a time to learn and grow. It is a time to meet new people and to learn about new things. I frequently tell people that the experience part is great and it is important and ultimately relationship and life skills you learn are valuable. My journey after college has been about being a practitioner vs. a pure academic. That view of the world has helped me focus the guidance I give others on two key concepts that anyone in higher education should understand and be able to explain.

First, learning specific skills in college that translate to the workplace is important. Jobs are often won or lost based on the skills you bring to the table. When I look at a resume and conduct interviews I am evaluating what knowledge, skills, and abilities the candidate brings to the job. Second, learning a trade might narrow your career path, but it helps define that career path as well. Medical doctors, dentists, lawyers, and accountants all attend institutions of higher education to learn a trade. That trade directly translates to a specific career path. Both workplace skills and trades are important in marketplace. Some trade specialize based on skills or other factors, but certain skills are not part of a trade they translate to a variety of different careers.

Opportunities exist. Modeling out those opportunities is a worthwhile exercise. It is something that we will continue to explore throughout 2016.