This week@work ended with the release of a disappointing September jobs report. On Thursday, an English instructor and restaurant server in Las Vegas shared her views on the value of unskilled labor. In the world of fashion the transition in leadership at Ralph Lauren was the most publicized succession news, but a number of fashion houses are facing business continuation challenges. And, potential college students have one more metric to use to select a college, the Obama administration’s ‘College Scorecard’.
Patricia Cohen provided a detailed analysis of the September jobs report from the Labor Department.
“The Labor Department found that the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent in September, but wage gains stalled, the labor force shrank and employers created many fewer positions than they had been averaging in recent months. While the latest report is only a snapshot of the economy and the weakness may ultimately prove fleeting, it made clear that ordinary workers are still failing to take home the kind of monetary rewards normally expected from a recovery that has being going on for more than six years.”
The low skill areas of the economy continue to be the hardest hit. It’s this group that was the topic of an opinion piece by Brittany Bronson, an English instructor with a perfect view to comment from her other job as a restaurant server. She posed the question, do we value low-skilled work?
“We’re raised, in the culture of American capitalism, to believe certain things, without question, namely that the value of work is defined by the complexity of the task and not the execution of it, that certain types of work are not worthy of devoting a lifetime to.
The labels “low-skilled” or “unskilled” workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities — often inaccurately describe an individual’s abilities, but play a powerful role in determining their opportunity. The consequences are not only severe, but incredibly disempowering: poverty-level wages, erratic schedules, the absence of retirement planning, health benefits, paid sick or family leave and the constant threat of being replaced.
…When you witness a great restaurant server or see a particularly effective janitor at work, you aren’t observing a freak talent, but someone who took the time to learn his or her job and improve on it. Now imagine if more “low-skilled” workers were given the compensation, job security and encouragement to do the same.”
The conversation about valuing the work of low skilled labor has recently centered around raising the minimum wage. While important, it plays into the narrative that value is validated by the size of a paycheck. Ms. Bronson addresses the bigger issue.
“But the more difficult challenge is to redefine the language and perceptions that trap large segments of reliable workers in poverty. All work can be executed with skill, but denying that fact is useful to those who justify the poor treatment of, and unfair compensation for, millions of workers.
Convincing those workers that their treatment is temporary, that if they just keep working harder, learn to do their tasks more quickly, more efficiently, more fluidly, they will eventually surpass it — this is a myth we can’t keep telling.”
On the other end of the economic spectrum, Nikki Baird examined the implications of the transition at the Ralph Lauren company as its namesake and leader leaves his chief executive officer position.
“Ralph Lauren, the company, will undergo a critical transition as its namesake founder steps down, to be replaced by the former president of Old Navy , Stefan Larsson. The transition comes at an interesting time for high-end fashion brands, and for the Ralph Lauren brand in particular.
It’s always tricky when a personality-driven brand’s primary personality steps down, though granted in this case, Mr. Lauren will remain the company’s chief creative officer. New blood means new opportunities, and even brands with very established values and specific lifestyle appeal can lose relevancy during a leadership transition.”
“But Ralph Lauren is making this transition in the midst of a much larger change happening within specialty retail, a change driven by the rise of the internet and consumers’ cross-channel shopping behaviors, and exacerbated by consolidation in the department store landscape.”
The challenge of leadership continuation is not restricted to the fashion industry. Many of the changes that have occurred in other business sectors can trace a direct line to disruption from players outside traditional marketing and delivery channels. Now the spotlight shifts to the world of fashion as a generation of designers departs and executive recruiters seek leaders who will be both relevant in imagination and design, and grow revenue in an increasingly competitive global, digital market.
“The question of succession is a pressing one for many major brands, not just labels with leaders d’un certain âge (Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel and Fendi, is in his 80s; Giorgio Armani, 81). Even among young designers, turnover is a regular occurrence.”
“The responsibilities of branding in a rapidly changing digital age — not necessarily the skills honed in fashion colleges 20 or 30 years ago — have put a new premium on youth and comfort in the digital space.”
“If a brand is not meaningful through the screen, there is very little hope that you can really build a success,” Ms. de Saint Pierre said. “I think we are at a time when the majority of the consumers are coming from non-Western countries. Their education to luxury, their education to brands has not been generational. It has been through a screen. This is a major shift of paradigm for the 21st century, and this is not going to change.”
The last story of this week@work comes from James Stewart, ‘College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution’.
“The bottom line is that no ranking system or formula can really answer the question of what college a student should attend. Getting into a highly selective, top-ranked college may confer bragging rights, status and connections, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to a good education or lifelong success, financial or otherwise.”