Human Infrastructure & the Future of the Industrial Work Place

Possibly a suitable image for the current times.

What we are witnessing today the 15 October 2021 is a little different than when I first posted this article on LinkedIn. A colleague has suggested I break this up, so that is what I will do here on Medium.

Turbine Workers at TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)

Author Background

I’m a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a member of a business. I am also an industrial worker, I hold certificates and have worked across the nation. TVA was one of my first assignments and the photo above reflects those first weeks, working maintenance.

(above) William Fitzpatrick

Traditions and Anecdotes

Both the administrative and industrial class are very close in my immediate family, so it comes as no surprise that I would feel compelled to write about it.
I have family that have been statisticians for The Department of Labor and those that have been “pipeliners”. Originally my family came here as many did, refugees from the old world. My family came from Tipperary, Cavan and Claire Ireland. Two brothers who were fed up with the taxation, harassments and landlessness that accompanied living in Ireland as Catholics took their skills and voted for the first time with their feet when they stepped onto a boat bound for NYC. When they arrived, they worked like hell and sent money home (sounds familiar doesn’t it). It turns out that the money simply filled the coffers of the land lords and the local municipal tax authorities, so they gave family an ultimatum, “Get over here because this is the last check, America has opportunity and I will not subsidize the landlord lackeys in Ireland.(paraphrased)

I give that anecdote because whether one realizes it or not, their particular situation may have some similarities to the modern industrial worker and how that worker views the options in front of them. Like the immigrant voting with their feet, the industrial worker has options. So what are we talking about? We are laying the landscape so to speak.

Emmanuel Jimenez — Executive Director of the International Initiative on Impact Evaluation

Allusions & Underpinnings

In 1994 Emmanuel Jimenez wrote an article regarding human infrastructure that highlights some of the issues we see in industry today. The acclaimed economist and risk management savant Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a little on the subject as well and in this article I’d like to highlight some points from these two brilliant men and point out some structural challenges to the current human infrastructure model within the industrial sector here in the United States. Essentially this discussion will confine itself to administrative class and the industrial class, but some of these concepts go beyond that limited scope and they are pertinent to the current environment.

(Above) Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Author & Professor at New York University’s School of Engineering, Dean’s Professor at U. Mass Amherst

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in “how to Own a Slave”:

People you find in employment love the regularity of the payroll, with the special envelop on their desk the last day of the month, and without which they would act as a baby deprived of mother’s milk. Then you realize that had Bob been an employee rather than what appeared to be cheaper, that contractor thing, then you wouldn’t be having so much trouble.

But employees are expensive… You got to pay them even when you’ve got nothing to do for them. You lose your flexibility. Talent for talent, they cost a lot more. Lovers of paychecks are lazy … but they would never let you down at times like these.

So employees exist because they have significant skin in the game –and the risk is shared with them, enough risk for it to be a deterrent and a penalty for acts of undependability, such as failing to show up on time. You are buying dependability.

And dependability is a driver behind many transactions. People of some means have a country house, which is inefficient compared to hotels or rentals, because they want to make sure it is available if they decide they wanted to use it at a whim. There is an expression “never buy when you can rent the three “Fs”: what you Float, what you Fly, and what you …that something else”. Yet many people own boats, planes, and end up with that something else.

True, a contractor has downside, a financial penalty that can be built-into the contract, in addition to reputational costs. But consider that an employee will always have more risk. And conditional on someone being an employee such a person will be risk averse. By having been employees they signal a certain type of domestication.”

Someone who has been employed for a while is giving you the evidence of submission

So with the above, Taleb highlights for us one of the glaring, but not admitted structural issues people face when searching for work. Taleb is telling the reader the truth, something that is often avoided in the business world. Contractor or Employee? As a worker, one trades time and skill for fiat cash to pay debt for things they may not need and for those necessities like water, food, shelter and in America, “fun” (whatever that is). Lets move onto another author which in my opinion reflects the academia model and language that often obscures the boots on the ground reality. Maybe in some way this language makes things more abstract and plateable for policy makers, managers and HR persons.

In the following excerpt Emmanuel Jimenez makes some assumptions, remember it was 1994:

Although the infrastructure sectors are diverse, what they have in common is that public policy has had a great deal to do with how these services are provided and financed in almost all countries. The author reviews the recent literature on two key aspects of that involvement: investment and pricing. While the quality of the econometric evidence varies, recent literature reinforces the view that human and physical infrastructure are critical for economic growth and the reduction of poverty. And the state is recognized as playing a key role in ensuring the efficient, equitable allocation of resources for infrastructure.

In the above quote Jimenez underscores the opinion of the administrative class, that it is the State, the wheel of government policy makers and the “experts” that drive the economy via benevolent policy who prevent poverty and encourage growth.

(above) port congestion

I’d like to compare and contrast these two authors because whether you know it or not, their writings represent the generational challenges and ideological challenges of the future. In fact regarding the industrial sector, this is one of the primary reasons industrial workers are earning so much, they refuse to be slaves and they do not buy into the notion that the employer or the State is their benefactor. This is an unusual concept for people abroad, it is unique to Western workers but it is not at all going away.

Next week we’ll breakdown who the industrial worker is in America.

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Agile Quality International

Agile Quality International

I am an industrial worker, I hold certificates and have worked across the nation.