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Institutions haven’t caught up with the transient advantage economy - first job edition

In my soon-to-be-published book The End of Competitive Advantage:  How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business, (to be published June 4th)  I argue that many of the strategic and management processes we inherited from a more stable strategic time simply don't work as environments become more volatile and uncertain.  What I'm starting to look at now is how other institutions, beyond business, have made the assumption that businesses will be around for long periods of time and therefore are to be relied upon to tackle certain societal tasks.  As advantages become short and companies struggle to cope, they are renegotiating many of these tasks in ways that I'm not sure we are paying enough attention to.

Take young people's careers.  It used to be that companies hiring recent college grads would recognize that they don't have experience and invest in them.  They would get training, development experiences and some mentoring.  The logic behind this was that the company could benefit for the long term from having an increasingly skilled (and perhaps even loyal) workforce.  Today, of course, loyalty is a thing of the past, a victim of relentless downsizing and cutbacks, which are themselves a consequence of the heightened pace of competition.  As a result, the benefit to any particular company of providing a lot of training and coaching appears to have dropped.

So what's happening?  I see it with our children and their friends.  Basically companies are expecting them to finance the creation of valuable skills and gain experience before any organization will make a commitment to them.  Endless internships, one after the other. "Volunteer" assignments just to get a letter of recommendation or exposure to someone who might – someday – be in a position to offer a position.  Working in an administrative or clerical capacity just to get one's foot in the door. And young people doing jobs that employers claim require 5-7 years of experience without being considered for the positions themselves.

It's an unintended, if predictable consequence of employers trying to maintain as much flexibility as they can and hedge as much risk as possible.  But it makes it awfully hard on those first job seekers in an already down economy.

So what do you think some solutions could be?  I'd be very intereted in your ideas as I start my next round of research.

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