July 7, 2009

Brian Anderson: Live first, work second

A few weeks ago, Dr. Jim Hawkins led an end-of-the-year meeting with the entire administration and staff of Dalton Public Schools. I was honored to be able to say a few words about our community and the role education plays in our ability to compete as a desired place to live, work, and play. One outcome of this meeting was the challenge for members of the school system and other community leaders to take part in the reading, reviewing and discussion of two different books this summer.

The first book reading took place between June 15 and June 30. The book was “Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Head of the Next Generation” by Rebecca Ryan. Ms. Ryan is the founder of Next Generation Consulting (www.nextgenerationconsulting.com). She writes and consults from the same view of the world as Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” and Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

For my summer reading, especially on vacation, I like to read novels that are action-packed and typically of the military and espionage genre. I knew that reading a business self-help type book would be a challenge. To Dr. Hawkins credit, he chose the first book very wisely. It is only 117 pages long, and is filled with lots of exhibits and illustrations. Ms. Ryan is also a fantastic writer.

So you ask — so what? Why should anyone read this book much less a large group of professionals who affect the lives of many people on a daily basis. Why should business, government, education, and other community leaders try to understand the next generation?

As Ms. Ryan puts it, “we do it because we need the next generation to work in our companies, buy our products, participate in our government, live in our cities and patronize the causes we care about.”

Most of us who know our community have lamented that retaining our best and brightest is a challenge. We are losing the core young professionals who we need to keep. Those who grow up here and go off to college are not coming back at the desired rate. And we are not competitive with many communities around us for attracting this necessary component to our community. Ryan does an excellent job laying the foundation of why we must understand the next generation in order to be able to attract it.

Consider these insights and trends:

Three out of four Americans under the age of 28 said a cool city is more important than a good job.

Those entering the work force today have less education that at anytime in the past 70 years and most new jobs will require more education than ever.

America’s 500 largest companies are expected to lose half of their senior managers over the next five years.

There is a smaller pool of new employees to replace retiring Baby Boomers, thus a shrinking talent pool.

According to Ryan, “these trends will put stress on every institution: the workplace, non-profit organizations, the arts, Social Security, health care, government, etc.” If community leaders work to understand these trends and how we can prepare for them — we improve our ability to compete.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation on workforce development concerns/trends. The data from the U.S. Chamber was consistent with Ryan’s insights and forecasts about the serious comparative disadvantage we are facing as a nation in the area of preparing next generation workers.

Ryan warns that our “efforts to integrate Live First at work, in our communities, and in our organizations will get sidetracked, downplayed, and sometimes buried.” But if we work diligently to understand our desired consumer who enables community improvement, we can implement the strategies required to compete with our neighbors in Georgia, in the southeast U.S., in America, and globally. The answers are right here. It is up to us to enable integration, assimilation, and the success of the next generation. I applaud Dr. Hawkins for his leadership within our community and for his encouragement to join in for community based learning.

Together the solutions to our opportunities are within us. I encourage any leader of any organization to read “live first, work second” by Rebecca Ryan.

Brian Anderson is president and CEO of the Dalton-whitfield Chamber of Commerce.