“Give us your huddled masses … or maybe not!”

On the forefront of political discourse, again – is immigration reform … or should I say what’s the best way to keep out or kick out the Mexicans. And intertwined into this dialogue is jobs. The two seem to be forever at odds with each other. “Them damn foreigners are taking away our jobs!” can be heard far and wide.

Nothing could be further from the truth. But then again I don’t live in Arizona or watch Fox News, so maybe I don’t know what the real truth is.

Regardless, one thing I do know – jobs are created primarily by small business and small business requires creativity. Yet all our “standards-based” public education system has done is to stifle creativity and new business development. It seems the most creative Americans ended up that way only by resisting the conformity of conventional American schooling and its “lock-step” rote memorization curriculum.. Even our large corporations, hardly a haven for entrepreneurial thought, say they often have to look overseas to find creative thinkers.

In addition, information tech positions, the employment drivers of the economy and the exact type of jobs our schools are supposedly training our students for – remain unfilled. And it’s not just high-tech jobs. Crops rot in the fields, because migrant workers are afraid to go to work for fear of being deported, rightfully or wrongly … because of the Draconian racist immigration laws passed in numerous states.

And we continually complain about balance of trade issues. “China is beating us at our game,” beats the drum! Yet when we invite the best and brightest of other countries to go to college here, we kick them out when they’re ready to be productive members of our communities. And then we’re surprised when they go home and start the businesses they wanted to start here, only to “kick our butts” further exasperating our balance of trade problem. And on top of it, the “insane clown posse” wandering aimlessly throughout the halls of Capitol Hill, refuses to acknowledge that immigrants are co-founders of 40% of Silicon Valley firms, a prime sector of the American future. I guess that’s what happens when your vision carries you only as far as K Street. At least Sarah Palin could see to Russia.

Our jobs problem is not about unemployment … it’s about the unemployable. There are jobs out there, they’re just not the jobs the American unemployed can perform (at least currently). At present, there’s a gap between education and the available positions. Unfortunately this problem isn’t going fix itself overnight. But in the interim, poaching the best talent from abroad seems to be a pretty good solution. Any coach will tell you the best offense is a good defense. And whoever has the best players is going to have the best team. Goes for sports, and goes business!

What is a small business supposed to do if it needs talent … engineering and programming and even farm workers – and can’t find it state-side? Nothing … that’s right, they’ll do nothing. They can’t hire anyone and they can’t grow. Give one for the racists and paranoid over small business and the economy!

What if we ran our country like the NBA or MLB? 18% of the NBA is foreign-born and 28% of Major League Baseball comes from abroad. Imagine if professional baseball spent the time and money, often years, to season a prospect – only when they’re ready for the big leagues … kick them out of the country. Yet that is exactly what we do in the business world.

“Should we kick him out too?”

The hypocrisy of the clowns in government is bewildering. You don’t see a New York Senator complain when Mariano Rivera (Panamanian) takes the mound in the 9th for yet another record-breaking save. You don’t see Phoenix Suns fans, elected officials included, complain when Steve Nash (Canadian) shreds the defense with another game winning assist. And you sure didn’t see U.S. Representative John Culberson of Texas’s 7th District yell “commie” when Yao Ming (Chinese) of the Houston Rockets slammed down another dunk.

In the beginning of the international integration of professional sports you heard, “those foreigners are taking away jobs from good Americans.” But quickly the jingoistic “hoots and howls” wained as people realized the quality of the games was better with these “foreigners” … a lot better.

And not only did they not take away jobs, they made the leagues much more profitable – creating more jobs for all types of American born workers. For example, the NBA juggernaut extends well past the court into corporate boardrooms and into the closets of males and females ages 8 to 78. This produces jobs, lots of them. And this is just one of many examples. The list is endless.

I believe the one main obstacle to this country’s economic prosperity is our immigration policy … not trying to keep them out, but just the opposite – not finding ways to bring them in. Contrary to what the government believes, there’s really very little they can do to alter the fate of the economy. All I ask is they abandon their paranoid self-defeating immigration policy – and allow business, especially small business to hire the talent they to make our country competitive.

If our businesses don’t hire them … someone else, somewhere else will. And we may not like the result.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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High unemployment is here to stay … so what are you going to do about it?

I had a discussion yesterday with Sandy Maxey on Twitter about the unemployment issue here in the United States. Up till now, I’ve just had cursory thoughts about it. Everybody seems to have a solution. On one end we have full-scale government job creation intervention. And on the other, some profess in the unabashed free market. Of course the solution probably lies somewhere in between. Here’s my take on it.

First, not all short-term issues need to be “fixed.” Economies, just as the seasons, cycle and repeat. Just as you can’t expect your tulips to bloom year round – the economy isn’t always going to be bullish. There is a limit to prosperity. We don’t live in utopia. And very often our short-term interference does more harm than good.

We have evolved into a pampered society. We expect things to always be rosy. I don’t mean say that there are not people who are hurting … because there is. But for most of us – our plight is greatly overstated. Our individual wellbeing will ultimately be dependent on us ourselves. How we each deal with our up and downs is the determining factor, because our ups and downs will happen.

Second, we are witnessing a profound shift in the employment needs of the marketplace. In years past, we made things and we, along with world bought these things. Today, such is not necessarily the case. Manufacturing jobs, jobs which defined middle class are gone – and probably won’t be back. There is nothing government intervention or lower taxes can do about it. Efforts to nurture declining industries and their corresponding jobs will do more harm than good. It may not seem like that when you’re trying to pay the mortgage – but it is what it is.

Middle management job fair

This doesn’t mean there aren’t employment opportunities out there though. Unfortunately, our education system and most of all our attitudes towards jobs and security haven’t kept pace with reality and the changes in the marketplace. Our education system keeps churning out college graduates with middle management skills – yet the prospects for these jobs are bleak. We educate more and more want to be lawyers, yet technology is making much of the legal field obsolete.

The biggest culprit in this chasm between labor supply and demand are the parents of our youth. “I want my son and daughter to go college.” It doesn’t make any difference whether there’s a job at the end of ten of thousand of dollars of debt – they’re still going to college. It doesn’t even matter what the degree is in – “they’re still getting one.”

Now to my third point. The jobs that will fuel our labor recovery don’t exist … at least not right now. And I can’t tell you what they’re going to be. They’re just going to happen. What we as a country has to do is create a workforce that excels at being able to change … to adapt. We have to get back to being a country of entrepreneurial spirit. This is where the job and the opportunities will be – not with the Fortune 500. Our biggest problem is our reluctance to give up old perseptions and norms. We have a middle-aged unemployed workforce that is searching for jobs that aren’t there. We have college graduates searching for a secured career like their grandparents had.

Who would have guessed that the internet would have become what it has and spawn the opportunities it has. Nobody. Even five years ago, who would have predicted there would be ten of thousands of people creating cell phone applications – from their home. Nobody. There will opportunities that will surface that entrepreneur will take advantage of. But these entrepreneurs may or may not be in this country.

In fact, our insistence in holding on to outdated institutions has actually put us a disadvantage in creative thinking. We want things like they were. Even from a personal standpoint – we whine about gas prices, yet few of us make changes to our lifestyles. “Take a bus a day a week to work – not me.” Rather than take advantage of opportunities that higher gas prices have created – we bitch about it. Inactivity will do nothing but drop you further behind.

Well, things have to change. There’s no going back to the good old days of the past (even though they might not even have been so good). The crucial skill we have to learn and embrace is the ability, and even the mastery of being able to change and adapt. We have to learn to see what’s not there and take the risk to make it there. We may stumble, or even fall down. But if we know how get back up – who cares! We need to nurture our own personal Phoenix (see the post about my daughter’s tattoo and you’ll get my drift).

This new adaptable attitude has to encompass our entire lives including what we put value in. If you’re a parent, quit pushing your kids into a career and lifestyle that makes you feel good and impresses your neighbors. You won’t feel so good when you’re the paying off their college debt while your son or daughter lives in your basement looking for a job – unsuccessfully. And get over the “white picket fence” syndrome. While owning your own home might have been the American Dream for generations past … it’s no longer. In most cases, all it is is a ball and chain mortgage strapped to you that limits your geographic flexibility. You have to be able to go to where the jobs are. And owning a house certainly puts a crimp in that, especially in this market.

We can all sit and listen to politicians talk about what they’re going to do to jump-start the economy and lower the unemployment to pre-recession levels.  But they have no better idea than you do or I do. Only you know what your own personal answer is.  You have to take matters into your own hands. But please, loosen up your criteria. Whatever security you had in the past is probably gone – so deal with it. When you think things are bad … they could be a lot worse. I know. For two years I rotated between living in motels and a tent (with my teenage daughter). And in hindsight, neither one of us is any worse for wear. If anything we’re both a lot stronger and more empathetic.

I know I’ll get comments bagging on my lack of sympathy. And they’ll be right. Sympathy is not my strong suit. But what I do have is empathy. I’ve been there and know what it takes to completely change my frame of reference and really come to grips with what’s important to me.

All I ask from you is develop the skills to adapt and see the opportunities that out there – not the ones you wish were out there. And please help your children do the same. Don’t cement their view of value and the world with yours.

“The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.” So get out there create your own heaven.

Please comment. Your views and insight, pro or con, are valuable and make the post.

Also follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg. There’s always good stuff happening there.

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The government isn’t going to help you … so get over it!

I originally wrote this post two years ago but with recent developments in Congress recently, it is might be even more relevant now than then. This last Thursday, the Republican led voted to cut $40 million out of the food stamp (SNAP) over a period of five years.

For literally thirty years, I voted in every election. It didn’t make any difference what was on the ballot. It could have been a presidential election – or even just a local bond initiative. It didn’t make any difference,  I voted.  I even spent three years as my precinct head when I lived in Orange County, California.

There were two things that were mandatory viewing in our house when my daughter Alex was growing up – both days of the NFL Draft and every election. I even took Alex’s 6th grade teacher to task when she assigned math homework on the night of the Clinton / Gore election. Election day is to learn about elections, government and all things related – not math.

Election day is a big deal for me and it started early. I cried when I was a fourth grader in 1968 because Humphrey lost to Nixon. “If only the blacks in the south side of Chicago would have come out and voted, then Illinois would gone Democrat and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives which would have voted in Humphrey.” Needless to say, I was into elections.

The last two years have saddened me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t need to go in detail the reasons why. Let’s just say government has become a “useless abyss of self-centered attention grabbing clowns.” They have completely lost their way and I see no hope in sight.

But probably more than government itself, I’m saddened by the people, the people who have come to rely on government – and those people who have championed their causes. The safety net so many have depended on, is rife with holes and the seamstress in charge has been laid off. But yet I hear the same chorus sung to the same audience. “Please fix the net.”

Government assistance is not what it used to be

I read an article in Harvard Business Review (read the article here) last week about the plight of inner city youth and the success the program, YouthBuilders, is having. But as with so many of these government assisted programs – funds are being cut and their survival are in question. The author made the comparison of the benefit of funding YouthBuilders rather than incarceration (the likely other alternative). His solution is to further inform the voting public of the benefits of the former over the latter, in hopes they will vote for candidates that favor the preemptive assistance strategy.

In theory all this makes sense. If you give the people the information, then of course they will make the right decision. This theory assumes government works, though. This a big assumption and most likely a wrong one. Below is the comment I submitted on what it’s going to take to fix the things that need fixing that government used to fix but isn’t interested in fixing anymore (wow, that was a big breath).

Charles, I feel for you and the others who have obviously spent much time and energy pondering our county’s urban dilemma – the state of urban youth. Unfortunately I disagree with your approach.

In your closing, you posed the question – “Would more information help sell the public on the benefits of the programs you described?” I believe it’s your hope that by providing detailed analysis, the light will be turned on in the pubic’s head and we will be on the road to “making the right decision.” The problem is – people seldom make decision based on rational and analysis. They make decisions on emotion. Just take a look at the insanity we’re witnessing with our political bodies throughout the country. If anyone actually looked at the implication of these “half-backed” scorched earth ideas, there would be revolution in every state and locality, in addition to D.C.

The public assistance pendulum has swung past the reach of those who truly need it. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. There needs to be a different approach – a different plan of attack.

The power to solve our urban woes does not lie in Washington nor even in a state capital. It lies in the streets – in the streets of the neighborhoods you’re trying to change. For any meaningful change to take hold and have staying power, it has to come from within the community. And no matter where the community is, it has resources. The solution lies in maximizing these resources.

When all we do is obsess over why the government isn’t there to help prop us up, we lose the focus to help ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean the community as a whole – not just us as individuals. Everyone has resources to offer … and I don’t mean money. Around every corner there are mentors, there are tutors – there are role models. They may not be as easy to find as in the suburbs – but they’re still there. You just have to look a little harder, and be a little more creative.

Rather than fight and obsess over what probably won’t be there – find the answers in your neighborhood. Take the components of successful projects such as YouthBuild and figure out to implement them yourself as much as you can. They may start out abbreviated – but with time they will end up larger and stronger than ever. The strength is there. The resources are there. But it will take resolve and focus to solve decades of old problems.

But maybe this is the time – the time when it looks as if the light is dimmest. Maybe the solution is just around the corner … with our friends and neighbors.

That kind of sums up where my head’s at. Everything is local. And the solutions lie in our neighborhoods. It’s where we live and it’s where help is … at least where it should be. The future I want will lie in the neighborhoods, not in the capitols, not in the boardrooms. The problems we have, as well as the opportunities, will be addresses by us on the ground floor. Nobody in the silos of conceit and self-indulgence has any interest in anything but themselves.

Some may think protests or demonstration may be effective in changing the status quo. I don’t. Direct implementation is though. We are going to have to band together, as stakeholders in our future, and fix things ourselves.

The faster we admit it … the faster can get going and do something about it.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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