22,000 unpleasant surprises
On layoffs in the tech sector, automotive engineering, and the need to normalize double majors
Large technology companies have been laying off a lot of workers over the last three or four months, with Microsoft and Google together releasing 22,000 workers in the last week. Those are large numbers for two of the most dependable blue-chip firms in the technology business, and the announcements certainly give people reason for concern.
■ "Layoff" is a word we should always treat with caution. It's a euphemism, and not a very good one at that. Yet we don't have a good alternative word to convey an essential connotation to the act: A layoff is the employer's fault, not the employee's. It's not a release for cause nor for underperformance. And it's an involuntary departure on the part of the worker. Layoffs happen because something has gone wrong at the strategic level of the company.
■ Jobs in high technology often seem like they ought to be beyond the reach of those kinds of ebbs and flows. A business degree or a tech-friendly computer or scientific degree are often seen as virtual guarantees of employability. But they, too, are obviously not immune from economic forces beyond the employee's control.
■ For all the debate that has raged around college debt and which majors are or are not "worthwhile", the best solution is probably for every student capable of the challenge to go after a double major. One major from a practical field, and one from the liberal arts. The former should make the graduate productive, the latter should make them adaptable.
■ That adaptability is going to be all the more important over time. If even the big growth industries (like high technology) are going to be susceptible to big shifts, while others (like journalism) can find themselves in employment freefall, it's only responsible to try to send graduates into the world with both the tools they will need in the short run as well as the ones that will keep them from becoming hidebound in the long term.
■ Changes are coming for most workers, and often the worst of those changes will come through no fault of their own. You could have done all the right things in becoming an automotive engineer starting in 1993 and not have foreseen that electric vehicles would someday decimate the need for your kind of high-skill work. Preparing people to earn an honorable living, both now and in the future, is a challenge for every educational institution to show they're capable of meeting.