Think Global Act Local: The Key to Relevant U.S. Jobs in the Future

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Think Global Act Local: The Key to Relevant U.S. Jobs in the Future

Think globally. Act locally. The phrase entered the zeitgeist decades ago as a call for individuals and communities to consider the long-term impact of their actions on the environment.  It has since evolved into use by global businesses as a strategy to serve specific markets and a reason to support local businesses.

Unfortunately, we are missing – or perhaps we have already missed – an equally important application of this principle: Relevant jobs in the future.

The Barriers to Relevant Jobs

The U.S. lost about 5.6 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. Globalization is the convenient scapegoat, but the primary culprit isn’t foreign competition. It is automation and education.

Dramatic increases in computing power that began in the 1990’s transformed production from a complex process to a series of tasks that can be managed from anywhere. In this environment, it is only natural that corporations would move those tasks to the location where they could be done cheaper.

The continued growth in computing power now creates the potential to return those tasks to the U.S. and further reduce costs. The relocation of tasks doesn’t ensure the return of jobs, however.

One problem is a skills gap that has left thousands of higher-paying manufacturing jobs vacant despite job openings that have returned to pre-recession levels.

Another challenge is that automation is completely destroying jobs. Remember those job losses between 2000 and 2010? A study by Michael J. Hicks, PhD and Srikant Devaraj, MS, MBA, PMP at Ball State University shows that 87 percent of them were from efficiency gains enabled by technology.

Disruption isn’t limited to manufacturing.

  • The National Federation of Independent Business reported that 45 percent of small businesses were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings in the first quarter of 2017.
  • Artificial intelligence and robotics are expected to claim almost 500,000 construction jobs by 2020.
  • Brick and mortar retail – already in a death spiral – will continue to be hit hard. Nearly half of the current retail jobs are at risk from increased use of robots and automation. This is on top of job losses that are 18 times larger than coal miners since 2001.
  • The World Economic Forum projects that over 4.5 million office and administrative jobs will be automated by the year 2020.

 Here’s the Reality

Advances in technology will both enhance and disrupt your world in the very near future.

Self-driving vehicles, for example, will make it safer for everyone on the road while potentially reducing congestion and transportation costs. They could also turn truck drivers, taxi and ride-sharing drivers, and valet parking attendants into relics of the past.

The combined impact of globalization, technology, and an under-skilled workforce has left the United States with too few applicants for the higher-paying jobs it wants and too many people with skills that are unnecessary in the near future.

Preparing for What’s Next

Nothing ever changes until we tell ourselves and acknowledge the truth. So let’s begin there.

Too many adults are unprepared for current jobs much less those that will exist in 10 years. It is your responsibility to develop new skills and, most important, a perpetual curiosity to learn.

Likewise, we have too many students in the United States who are unprepared to assume a productive place in the society and job market of the future.

State and local initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise Program that provides free post-high school education of up to two years can help … assuming that students can and will stick with their studies. Adult leadership to prepare and encourage the next generation is crucial.

Beyond that, communities must elect school board members with an eye to the future not the past. You don’t have to believe in a common national standard. You do have to expect your leaders to broaden their perspective on education.

You might think that topics such as future-ready global economy, 21st-century learner, human capital, global workforce, and data-driven have no place in your child’s or grandchild’s education. You are wrong. Thinking about education through the lens of the past dooms future generations to irrelevance.

Virtually every job will have higher expectations and/or global competition in the future.  The good news is that we can usher in the next great generation of prosperity if we get this right. It is time to think global and act local.


Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit , email, or call 972.980.9857.

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.