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Real assets walk out the door every day

As I See It

As Mississippi moves from a work-based to a knowledge-based economy, employee training and development becomes ever more important.

In years gone by the physical plant and equipment were the assets to be guarded. Now, increasingly, our most valuable assets walk out the door at five o’clock every day.

Though the workers leave the machines and computers behind when they go home, they take the experience and skill-sets with them. If they don`t come back, we’re in deep trouble.

Long gone are the days when a worker could be trained to do most jobs in a matter of a few minutes or hours. Increasingly, weeks or months of training are required to keep the factory or office humming along.

What does this shift to knowledge-based work mean to business? It means that our workers are our most valuable assets and we need to invest heavily in the care and feeding of our workforce. Nothing less than a sea change in attitude toward employees is taking place across America and that change is likely to continue to gain momentum into the foreseeable future.

This increasing awareness of the importance of keeping quality employees on board comes at the same time that business is stumbling under the weight of ever increasing healthcare costs. The standard, time-honored tradition of companies paying the entire cost of health insurance for their employees is faltering as health insurance premiums escalate at 15%+ each year.

The truth is employees aren`t really aware of the costs of employer-provided health insurance. Unless you write a check for it out of your own pocket, you don`t really grasp the significance of any cost. Businesses are finding that they can`t pay competitive wages and shoulder the entire load of employee health insurance as well.

So, we have the situation of ever-increasing awareness of the value of good employees while simultaneously combating the reality that comprehensive benefit packages are just too expensive to continue without some employee contribution toward the cost. This is tough to sell, but it is the reality of the modern work environment.

To keep our employees maintained like well-oiled machines, business must constantly invest in maintaining and developing employee skills. There are fewer and fewer jobs where skills don`t require periodic tuning. The old idea of teaching an employee how the job is done and that being the end of the story is just that, an old idea whose time has come and gone.

As an extension of its commitment to public education, in recent years, states have assumed a large measure of the cost of training employees. State-supported worker training is a big piece of the enticements offered to new businesses to locate in our state and for existing businesses to stay here and expand their operations.

Similar to the healthcare debacle facing businesses, the increasing demand for training comes as states all around the country are facing budget crisis and lessening their commitment to workforce training, which jeopardizes economic momentum.

Some argue that worker training is a form of corporate welfare, and that companies should pay for training their own employees. Regardless of the merit of the arguments against state-supported workforce training, it is an expected service and failing to provide it will drive business away. Businesses and employees pay the taxes that keep the government going and, in turn, government provides the environment for business success that benefits all of society. Thus, training is a public expense that will not go away.

Probably the biggest shift in managing employees reaches beyond the nuts and bolts of providing health insurance and workforce training. There is a shift away from boss management toward leading. Philosophically, this is a big change from watching over distrusted employees to be sure they don`t shirk to providing leadership to incent employees to perform

Leading and bossing are worlds apart. One is motivation by intimidation and the other is leading by listening and encouraging. The knowledge-based work place of today will not permit motivation by intimidation. The work product is frequently intangible and not subject to inspection and, even in the manufacturing arena where product inspection is possible, you can never motivate a worker to world-class production through intimidation.

The business landscape is constantly changing and the pace seems to be quickening all the time. Everybody needs to grasp the concept of investing in themselves to keep their skills up to date. Nothing less than a commitment to lifelong learning is going to be adequate to keep pace with the dizzying pace of technology. And, lifelong learning is a good thing in itself.

Thought for the Moment – I’ve never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation. – film producer Mike Todd (1907-1958)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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