6577251ec45b7f001eedb247 Just Another Place

Just another place

Dec. 14, 2023
Mom and Pop can solve the workforce shortage—if we let them in

Have you heard about “revenge travel”? It’s a recent media trope that, once the COVID-19 pandemic was mostly over, everyone supposedly wanted to make up for lost time as shut-ins by journeying to interesting places. 

I don’t know much about recreational travel, but my corollary to this rule is “revenge user groups, technical conferences and tradeshows.” This is because, where we usually cover a couple of in-person events in the average autumn, I foolishly accepted invites and attended seven on three continents during the past nine weeks. Sure, I admit there was a “because it’s there” desire to see if I could do it, but as usual, I learned plenty I couldn’t have discovered otherwise.

First, the Pacific Ocean is really big. I’d flown over it before, but crossing it four times in three weeks to visit Bentley Systems in Singapore and Advantech in Taiwan kept reminding me that it’s similar to driving across the U.S. plains and Rocky Mountains. Getting across Montana or Texas requires accepting that you’re never going to get out of that state. Likewise, that little airplane on the screen on the back of the airplane seat is obviously never going to reach land.       

Second, on a shorter trip to ODVA’s conference just west of Barcelona, I kept running across reflecting pools, which seemed to be in every courtyard and around every corner. I was told the pools are design features and contemplative venues originating from the Iberian Peninsula’s 780-year history as the Islamic states of Al-Andalus during the early 8th to late 15th centuries.

However, as I watched an increasingly angry Mediterranean Sea keep trying to wash away patio furniture and even a mobile snack bar, I had another idea. Perhaps living next to a body of water that’s often trying to sink your boats and drown you might inspire many residents to favor a controllable waterwork with a calm surface. That old illusion of control is always attractive. 

Third, back in Taipei, I recognized the skyline and glittering skyscrapers that characterize all the great cities. However, during several bus rides, I also noticed that every block had dozens of storefront businesses. There were some obvious chains, but it was mostly a series of literally thousands of independent Mom-and-Pop shops and garages that went on for miles.

I was even more impressed when I realized these are the folks who also built the skyscrapers. Of course, big contractors signed the deals and carried out these projects. But where did their people come from? Locals, or lately, from somewhere just as driven. Similar to process control engineers, water/wastewater plant operators and municipal clerks, this was another group of unrecognized support professionals, yet again invisible until something breaks.

Even though I only visited two small slices of Asia, everyone seemed to be open and aggressively ready for business. It’s like the reason Canada is good at hockey—everyone plays. Consequently, I thought it would be a safe to extrapolate, and assume there are just as many fired-up small business owners, workers, entrepreneurs and other capitalists per capita throughout most of that immeasurably larger continent and no doubt in regions beyond it.

Unfortunately, the fierce business spirits I met during my recent travels exist in stark contrast to conditions in the U.S., where one of the main preoccupations appears to be keeping out people who want to work. This “immigration crisis” has always been one of the most misguided distractions ever, but never more so than now, when multiple reliable sources indicate the U.S. presently has 2 to 7 million unfilled jobs.

For the relatively low cost of some temporary housing, language education and training, we could have a highly-motivated group of potential employees to help solve the real workforce crisis. It would be the best investment many cities and other communities ever made, but opposition and building walls seems like the reflexive response. What the heck is wrong with us? Maybe it’s time to give up some illusory control. There’s more than enough work for everyone.


About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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