Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sustainability: Building Individuals and Organizations to Last for the Long Term

There’s a lot of talk about sustainable environments, economies, and resources. However, what about people and the places where they work? At least a dozen times each day I hear people say how busy they are…in many cases, they wear their busyness as a badge of honour.

The Context
I juggle many professional roles – as a counsellor, counsellor-educator, editor of an academic journal, co-executive coordinator of a professional association, and president of a consulting and training organization. In each arena of my professional life, I see the results of chronic busyness – clients, students, colleagues, board members, and corporate clients are scrambling to integrate their complex life roles, meet impossible deadlines, and do more with less.

Skilled worker shortages have resulted in worldwide recruitment, retention, and employee engagement challenges. Absenteeism is an epidemic within some organizations; within others, presenteeism (i.e., showing up for work but not doing much) is on the rise. Supervisory and management time is a precious commodity – they’re busy, too. That leaves an odd mix of workers – some bored with little access to mentors or development opportunities; others burned out from the chronic, relentless stress.

In future posts, I’ll further reflect on sustainability. I’ll be presenting on the topic at a conference in Buenos Aires next week (for more on our travels, click on “Where in the World…?”
September 20, 2008 IAEVG Conference, Buenos Aires
My presentation on Sustainability resonated with many…although the issues are different in some of the Latin American countries represented (just as they are in other regions of the world).

However, in Uruguay, for example, the literacy rate is 98% and free access to university is available to many. The sustainability issue is jobs – not enough of them! Unlike in Canada, there are no visible Help Wanted signs…and there are lots of employees in every restaurant, hotel, and shop.
This was similar to our experience in China this summer. A presenter from Mexico spoke of a similar pattern – highly educated people but not enough jobs.
As we know in Canada, many well educated immigrants and migrant workers are underemployed – but earning more than they could “at home.” The sustainability issue, however, is the impact on families when parents leave children behind to take on temporary employment to pay the bills at home.
Also, as I learned from an Indian colleague at the International Symposium in Sydney, Australia in 2006, some of the off shoring solutions (e.g., international call centres in India) or lucrative opportunities abroad (e.g., Filipino nannies who were doctors at home) are leaving countries with damaged professional infrastructures (i.e., why train to be a doctor or lawyer if you can earn more in a call centre or as a nanny?).
Sustainability…of people and organizations…is a global concern. It is a complex issue, with a tangled web of interconnections. Finding a solution for one group seems to be creating new challenges for another…where do you see yourself fitting in?

In Canada, and other countries impacted by retiring baby-boomers and low birth rates, we are currently facing shortages of skilled workers and individuals/organizations scrambling to do more with less. It’s increasingly more difficult to encourage teens to stay in school, when work (and money) are readily available. Recruitment and retention issues are a crisis for many organizations and individuals are burning out or facing stress-related health challenges.

Where in the World...?

My online students, clients, and colleagues have often remarked on a similarity between my life and the old computer game, “Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?” They’ve mentioned posting on a course site or sending me an email, wondering where I’ll be responding from.

I’ll use this blog to periodically check in and let you know where in the world I am and what I’m doing there…usually my travel involves a mix of business and personal. This fits with the notion of “sustainability” which I’ll also chat about, in another section of our blog. It also links to my ongoing interest in international/global careers.

September 11, 2008 Leg 1 of the Journey...I'm finishing up my "to do" list and packing my bags for a flight this afternoon to Buenos Aires. The business link is the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG) conference - I'll be presenting a paper on sustainability. However, I'm also excited about getting back to BA - wonderful food and wine...and also custom-made leather coats! The people I met last time were amazing - warm, friendly, and welcoming. I'm looking forward to learning more about their country and culture.

September 12, 2008 Enroute to South America...Elite Athletes and International/Global Careers

End of summer in Canada is a strange time to see mounds of ski gear in the boarding lounge of Pearson International Airport in Toronto. However, end of summer in the northern hemisphere means it's the end of winter in the southern coaches were taking their skiers to Chile to kickstart their training season.

In preparation for the Summer Olympics, a similar phenomenon occurred - elite athletes were training abroad. Weeks before the Olympics were to begin, we watched local news in China covering various equestrian teams trainiing in Hong Kong, rowers training in Macau, and other Olympic competitors training throughout Asia, acclimatizing to the heat, humidity, and air quality they anticipated in Beijing.

Several small communities in Canada have become international meccas for young hockey players. Local families billet the players and schools accommodate their training and travel schedules. Similarly, communities across Canada provide homestay immersion experiences for international youth learning Engish or French.

Often, in discussions of global careers, the focus is on multinational corporations, expatriates, or outsourcing. However, many elite athletes and other young people are already engaged in global careers - integrating work with learning, all over the world!

As we left the plane in Santiago, Chile...what do you imagine was the first retail outlet we saw? Starbuck's Coffee! Followed by a store selling Tommy Hilfiger, with the LGS Sky Chef truck just outside the window, restocking our plane for the flight to Buenos Aires. It's definitely a much smaller world than it once was!

September 14, 2008...just off the boat in Montevideo, Uruguay. Continuing the global career theme, as our taxi pulled away from the terminal, we passed shipping containers. These, too, provided evidence of our interconnected world - with containers from China (COSCO), Germany (Hamburg Sud), and countless other places. Although we typically stay in locally owned hotels, we happen to be in a Holiday Inn this time...same logo but different breakfast buffet! Also, interestingly, as I entered our blogspot address from the Internet access in my room, the login instructions came up in Spanish! (Who knew my high school Spanish lessons would prove to be so useful?). Yet another example of our interconnected world - just as we're using blogs to communicate from Canada, others are doing the same in various languages and locations around the globe!

September 22, Santiago, Chile. The interesting mix of multinational corporations and local artesans and vendors continues...from Nike, Starbucks, Air Canada, and National Car Rental to shoe shine stands on almost every block and table-cloth size "shops" on the street, displaying such merchandise as sunglasses, incense, and jewellry (quite typical for kiosks anywhere in the world) to fruits and vegetables, socks and underwear, and even flower seeds and bulbs (it's early spring here!). Many of the TV shows advertised on billboards are the same we get at home (e.g., Desperate Housewives and CSI, shown in English but with Spanish subtitles; National Geographic and Discovery shows are generally translated).

It's clear that we're in a very small world - sharing many common influences but with distinct regional differences. What's challenging is to even try to untangle what's global and what's not...many of the things we've come to think of as local (e.g., Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Versace) are, of course, not local at all. Other things we take for granted (e.g., decaf coffee and peanut butter) are rare commodities when travelling abroad.