Contributors

Occupy This Workforce

Ruminations on the protests on Wall Street.
 
 
By Elliot Clark 
 
So September 27 I rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. It was a very exciting day. Our Corporate Responsibility Magazine Commit!Forum hosted 650 corporate executives talking about sustainability and corporate citizenship. Our partnership with the New York Stock Exchange had resulted in the offer to ring the closing bell. We only had one obstacle to a perfect day. We had to walk the executives joining us in the luncheon at the NYSE and the closing bell ceremony through the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration.
 
 
Occupy Wall Street is a true spectacle. There are a few inherent contradictions. First, there are no banks left in Lower Manhattan. I do not mean to quibble. I get the meaning and importance of symbolism, and I know they left the bull statue. But there were lots of other kinds of bull there as well. Aside from the “Satan Runs Wall Street” signs, there were some interesting and disturbing aspects to the crowd. If Satan had run Wall Street, I would have felt safer walking our guests through this group, because I am almost certain that Satan has really good security and one of those nasty three-headed dogs. There was a mostly peaceful but disheveled looking group of somewhat dispossessed, mostly young people, but they seemed angry. That is what struck me most. They were for the most part all young.
 
 
Civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau aside, has been largely the province of the young. The theme of most of their signs and rhetoric, from what I heard, was about the plight of the poor at the hands of the banks and the capital system in America. They may have a point or they may not. That is not what is bothering me. What is bothering me is, what are they are doing there? It made me recall my column from last issue about the declining quality of the workforce based on generational attitudes.
 
 
Why was I thinking about the workforce? It may be that I am just an aging, judgmental curmudgeon. Actually, I admit I am an aging judgmental curmudgeon either way, but it could be that I have a point. It has to do with the nature of solving problems. In today’s millennial generation, “getting involved” and taking action for some involves sending a tweet, posting a blog, signing an online petition. And to me that is relatively meaningless.
Sitting in a park and decrying the wrongs of capitalism is laudable—for perhaps one day.
Peaceful demonstration is both contemplated and protected in the Constitution. Doing it for weeks is the province of the angry unemployed, or worse, unemployable. If they really want to help the disadvantaged, they might demonstrate for a day or so on Wall Street and then volunteer in an adult literacy program. The unemployment rate among the college educated is a shade below 5 percent and for the high school graduates over 10 percent; for the uneducated, it is heartbreaking.
 
 
So go do something about it if you have the time to sit on a lawn chanting. Sorry, that is what I think.
 
 
Many of the companies they are protesting about have great volunteer programs for employees to take positive, contributory social action. I am staying out of the fray on “the evil that men do” allegation about the accused companies. (I won’t stoop to making Shakespeare gender neutral to be politically correct.) Some of the companies deserve the protest, but, frankly if you have time to sit on a lawn for weeks, you have time to do something productive.
 
 
But, in truth, if they come to work for you, they will sit on your lawn for a few weeks complaining and then be gone. Their contribution to your volunteer programs could well be Facebook posts as “social action.” I am sorry the pool of the best and the brightest is dwindling like the world’s fresh water supply.
 
 
I reiterate to the HR community: Do you have a plan to compete for the worldwide talent pool? Are you sitting in a room with your leadership, your managed service provider, your RPO service provider and really thinking forward on how to insure you have the best talent available from the crop that is being harvested in the next decade? You need a multiyear plan and multiyear partners, or you will fail, and you will make bad hires.
Just be warned that when you let these bad hires go, they will just come back and camp on your lawn with signs that say, “Satan Runs HR.”
 

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