Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

There’s nothing worse than being an expert at something obsolete

Self_checkout   Some years ago I accompanied a friend of mine to the INEM (the Spanish unemployment office) to register as unemployed – it was 2010, the Government had finally acknowledged there was a crisis (too late), and my friend was the latest victim of company cutbacks. We took a ticket akin to being at the meat counter at the local supermarket, and some 20 minutes later were served (I mean, attended). The half interested, state employed worker on the other side of the meat counter continued her conversation with a colleague, and then looked at us, giving my friend a look that said, “What the hell do you want?!”, rather than “How can I help you?”. My friend gave her the ticket with the number – she was asked for her ID card, and that was that… or so I thought. My friend was given another ticket for another queue, on the same floor of the 1970’s quick-build aesthetically ugly office. We waited just over an hour, before being attended by a woman who looked as though the mere sound of my friend’s voice was causing her physical pain. There were two people attending this counter. She checked my friend’s ID card, tapped a few times at a keyboard, and then sent my friend upstairs to a third, equally long queue. An hour and a bit later, a man in a 1960’s suit, reeking of tobacco, checked the papers that my friend had from the company that had laid her off. He tapped a few times at a keyboard, then handed the papers back – all the time managing to speak to her without once looking up – excellent customer skills. He finally slammed an official looking stamp on a piece of paper, handing it to my friend – she was now officially unemployed.


Why am I recounting the painful experience of public sector workers at the Spanish unemployment office? Spain, as with many European countries, is faced with bulging and increasing debt levels, with outdated social benefits systems based on equally outdated social models, and an even more outdated public sector employment system that guarantees a job for life. At some point, something is going to have to change. However, like it or not, accept it or not, this entire administrative process will eventually be automated down to a fraction of the time it takes today, eliminating the need for three agents to at the most one, or perhaps none at all. Unskilled people, with a job for life, will find themselves unable to work in the new environment, the public sector will pick up the bill, and the tax payer will fund it.


An ex-work colleague told me some time ago that those planning the education system of our children are faced with a challenge: 60% of future jobs do not exist today. How can education planners prepare our children for jobs that right now do not even exist? And for those of us already working, how can we make sure that we are prepared in case our job is one of those that disappears? At the very least, our jobs will radically change – we cannot be so naive to assume that the job we do is immune to future change.


As individuals, what can we do to ensure our future? We should always be learning something new, whether personal or professional. Learning a language, a new piece of software, a new skill, or at least actively seeking to improve something, become better. If not, you’ll find yourself an expert at a company, the employee who has been there 20 years, who has witnessed 3 office moves, who remembers employees past and present, the anecdotes, the urban-legends, and who one day, finds themselves unemployed, griping that the company never gave them a chance, never trained them, that their job has been given to somebody younger and cheaper.


There’s nothing worse than being an expert at something obsolete.



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September 28, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment