“Jobless recovery”, it is a term that is becoming part of the modern lexicon.  But, should we be surprised we are experiencing a jobless recovery?  As a country we have been purposefully heading this direction for decades and now that we are arriving at our destination it is creating serious change and havoc, and none too little consternation.

On the legislative and policy side of the issue, we have been mandating ever higher employment expenses through wage increases, individual safety expenses, hiring regulations, building codes, hours of work, age restrictions, ergonomics, and a wide variety of industry standards, and expecting the business community to absorb them as part of a profitable business model.

On the innovation side of things, we are creating technologies, software, hardware, and business efficiencies that continually reduce the number of labor hours needed to produce almost anything.

The two paths are finally crossing and more changes are still ahead.

As an example (and this only addresses the hardware and people side of this issue but is a handy illustration), when I first opened a startup restaurant we hired people to cook, serve, bus tables, wash dishes, and all the other jobs that needed to be done in our place of business.  If we had a particularly busy Friday night, people would work longer to finish up and I would hire another person to help out the next time.  This model worked well for the first few years and then our labor as a percentage of income began to rise.  A short review showed the minimum wage hikes (which, properly so, increase all the wages in the restaurant), increased benefits, in the form of unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance, paying more dollars as a percentage of social security benefits, and ancillary other costs were starting to add up and were rapidly throwing our profitable business model out of whack.  In addition, our vendors were experiencing the same pressures and the cost of food and beverages were also rising.

So, we took a look around and decided having extra people working extra hours was not going to be the path to financial success because very few of our customers were willing to pay $5.00 more for a pizza to cover the increasing costs of getting it to their table.  Our decision was to purchase extra plates, glasses, flatware and bus tubs, and then build more shelving to hold them.  We could now hold those dishes until the next morning when it was slow and our dishwashers didn’t have lots to do.  So, someone lost a job.

This was the beginning of the cycle for us 25 years ago. Next on the list was the addition of a highly productive conveyor oven that meant we didn’t need a cook to babysit pizzas and turn them for even cooking. So, someone lost a job.  The cycle continues as we are now producing the same sales with 17 or 18 people instead of 22 or 23 people.

This is a small snapshot of what has happened all over the country and in the much larger industries the impacts have been far greater.

The John Deere Co. is close to introducing a farming tool (tractor) that will be computer programmed and guided by GPS to till, seed, and fertilize large tracts of land, all without a driver onboard.  The auto industry has moved to highly competent robots to build cars.  More and more innovation, and technological help is being added to the industrial, manufacturing, agricultural, service business mix every day.

It seems to me we should not be surprised by where we have ended up.  It was the ultimate goal and stated outcome, it was the beacon on the hill.  Now we deal with the unintended consequences of success. We cannot go back to sweat shops, mistreating workers, having unsafe work places, no social security or disability net.  We just shouldn’t be surprised by having arrived and not really having a game plan for the next steps.  We are going to have an employment problem for quite some time, as well we should, because we worked so hard to get here.

This is what dramatic economic and social change is.  Now is the time to for further innovation and ideas, innovation that leads us through the toughest parts of the dynamic change we have brought about ourselves without leaving millions of people behind.

Success is hard, roll up your sleeves and sweaty work hard!  Are we ready to embrace our success and begin the process of moving to the next success model for our community, and country?