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The Face of US Employment Has Forever Changed

Updated on May 4, 2013

Adapting To Changes In US Employment

The Industrial Age had a great run. It's over. For some Americans, this was a shock. For those with foresight, it was an inevitability. US history shows a path that transcended from a largely agricultural society to an industrial society to a service society.

Industry in the Colonial Days

In the early American colonies 90% of the population earned their living directly from agriculture. The other 10% of industry was limited to sawmills, grist mills, forges, tanneries and iron forges. Factories had yet to be designed and built. The Industrial Revolution captured England of the 1700s and resulted in production of textiles and cotton. However, English laws prohibited the exportation of industrial machines or their designs and plans.

Samuel Slater Sets Sail for the United States

Samuel Slater set sail for the United States in the late 1700's with plans for textile machines mostly committed to memory. By 1790, Slater amassed financial backing and built the first factory in America. It was located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The factory began to spin cotton fiber. Slater is often referred to as "The Father of the American Factory System."

Another American, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, argued in 1791 that the wealth of natural resources made US industrial development inevitable. Soon after the War of 1812, New England led the way in manufacturing, aided by funding from wealthy ship builders and those in commerce. The result of this encouraged growth of US cities and manufacturing. Throughout World War I and World War II, industrial manufacturing grew as a result of exportation of goods to foreign countries. It's interesting to note that following World War I, American exports were chiefly financed by American loans to foreign countries which enabled the foreign importers to purchase US goods.

Change Is Coming

Until the late 1970s, industrial manufacturing flourished and contributed to a healthy US economy. But, change was inevitable with the late 1940's invention of the computer and advancements in information technology. By 1980, computers were no longer a rare, unaffordable specimen. The advances in computer technology had one unrelenting fact some Americans missed completely. Computers could do the work of a complete staff of employees faster and with less cost. The best example of this is in the steel, auto and farm equipment industries. What began as a largely dangerous and unsafe employment workplaces were replaced by robots commandeered by a computer.

Devil in Computer Details

Today, computers are accepted as a part of daily lives of Americans as never before. Since the early 1990's, this has been referred to as "The Information Age." Computers can process millions of bits and bytes of data in less time than it takes for the computer to boot up. The hi tech industries in the US blossomed and unemployment began to increase as a result. Manufacturing jobs could be done offshore in factories with less expensive labor and manufacturing companies could save billions by manufacturing goods where the least expensive natural resources originated and labor is cheap.

The Employment Shift From Producing Goods in the US to Providing Services

Almost as if by the wave of a magic wand, computers replaced workers who were involved in assembly lines, production and equipment management. US imports grew at a far faster rate than US exports as a result of these policies. The onset of the new millennium saw the rise in unemployment grow to serious proportions.

Where are the Jobs?

Whenever a country experiences a shift from production to service, employees are often caught off guard and are unprepared for the realities and the consequences of remaining too long in a single type of industry. Many Americans today long for the good old days when a job meant remaining with a company until retirement. Today's younger Americans know those days are over. Their struggle is to match their college educations and degrees to the ever changing employment offered in service industries. For older employees, the rude awakening is having to re-educate themselves to accommodate the service employment that is the rule and not the exception.

Will US Manufacturing Return?

The question on a lot of the minds of the unemployed is whether manufacturing and production will return as a means of employment. The answer is likely "yes" and "no." Manufacturing in the US is likely to return only as a result of a shift away from the traditional industries to new, more technologically sustainable industries. Many industries like steel, mining and those associated with limited natural resources won't return as a result of inevitable depletion. New industries that rely on sustainable natural resources will grow on a smaller scale. Service industries as a result of heavy reliance on the Internet will expand as the technologies continue to change.

An Interesting Future for Employees

The more Americans demand convenience, the more they increase unemployment. Those in the medical and pharmaceutical industries rely on hi tech communications to transmit the needs of patients. Banks and financial institutions perform transactions electronically. Even shopping for groceries offers the convenience of online shopping. Learning where to fit into the hi tech world is crucial for those seeking employment. The unemployed must learn to track the paths hi tech is taking, the impact on business and on their own incomes. In other words, those wishing to advance in their careers must adapt to change. Change won't adapt to their needs.


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