The Disappointing 69 Percent

Survey finds “69 percent would rather have a stable job lacking passion than a job they feel passionately about but that lacks stability.”

The Class of 2016 has been released into the world, having not only gone through four or more years of education, but a speech by a celebrity or academician or even comedian that was meant to spur them on their way despite the slings and arrows that are not of Hamlet’s outrageous fortune, but simply life as we live it.

The message that is probably common to every one of those speeches is to excel, to go beyond, to realize one’s potential whether it is as an astronaut or an engineer or a dancer or a designer.

Which is probably good advice.  But will it be heeded?

If we think back over the last decade in the auto industry, there are patterns of behavior that can be discerned on a macro level within those who worked or work in it.

Arguably, if we go back to the pre-2008 Great Recession, there were many people in organizations who had a “get-by” attitude toward their work.  Do what you need to do during the eight hours, then look forward to kicking back on the weekend.  One could make the case that this Margaritaville approach contributed, in part, to the bankruptcies.  Yes, as everyone who has seen The Big Short knows (perhaps not understands, but knows) there were other factors that led to the economic quasi-collapse.  But we need to recognize that there were companies that took extraordinary efforts to deal with the situation without making a visit to U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

And note well that companies are people, so that means people made extraordinary efforts.

Those people exceeded the minimum daily requirement.

During the Dark Days of 2008 and 2009 there were people who, perhaps justifiably, kept their heads down. The rationale here was to keep from having a pink slip Scotch taped to a cardboard box handed to them.  Layoffs were the order of the day, and the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. When that desk next to yours—and the one next to that—is no longer occupied, then you rethink your visibility, with hopes that no one will come by wielding the proverbial ax.  So what you do is whatever it is that doesn’t make waves.  It brings to mind a character from Catch 22, Major Major  Major, who climbed out the window of his office (a tent) when anyone was being admitted to see him, thereby not having to do anything.  This may be an exaggeration, but occupational survival can be manifest in extreme measures.

After we came out of that Slough of Despond and climbed toward the light, those who made it have, by and large, increased their engagement in ways that are clearly evident by the growth of automotive sales.  To be sure some might argue that the sales increase was predicated primarily by the fact that there were plenty of cars and trucks out there that required replacement, but (1) “Cash for Clunkers” managed to take a chunk out of that number and (2) the average age of a light vehicle is actually increasing (now at about 11.5 years), so the car parc isn’t exactly getting any younger.

The cars and trucks that are being designed, engineered and built are getting better so people are buying and leasing more of them.

The people who are doing the work of designing, engineering and producing these cars and trucks are not the sorts of people who can be found populating the panels of “Dilbert.”

Rather, they are what Peter DeLorenzo of Autoextremist (autoextremist.com) describes as “True Believers.”  These are the women and men whose reach exceeds their grasp: they are always striving for better and better things despite all that may be stacked against them.  They, in effect if not fact, remember what they heard in those commencement speeches.

Which brings me to a startling statistic from a survey conducted by Adecco Staffing USA (adeccousa.com), its second “Way to Work” survey of Gen Z and Millennial students.  The kids aren’t alright.

They found that 69 percent of the people surveyed “would rather have a stable job lacking passion than a job they feel passionately about but that lacks stability.”

I remember getting out of grad school and needing a job.  And I was willing to take damn near any job.  I also recognize that college debt nowadays is crippling the options for many bright, young graduates.

That said, I find it rather disappointing that so many are willing to accept something that provides a paycheck and probably little else.

Which leads me to wonder whether in 10 years or so, when these young people who have squelched their passion to achieve stability are in positions of higher influence in the auto industry (as well as other industries): What will they be creating other than products that are massively unexceptional?

What will the industry be then?

As DeLorenzo might put it, “Not Good.”