1860 and the Challenges of the Future (Part I)
What similarities emerge between the U.S. economy of today and that of 1860?
- The first trait we are looking for in our employees is trade literacy. In other words, people who understand the basics of 21st century trade and economics.
- While many of the required changes in 1860 concerned retooling the country's physical infrastructure, the changes we need from 2008 onward are primarily in the realm of "human infrastructure."
- We must compete in the 21st century world economy. And like the policies President Lincoln promoted, it is going to take a multi-pronged approach.
- Back in 1860, sweeping economic change threatened a largely agricultural economy and a rural, insular way of life.
- Abraham Lincoln and the Congress of 1860 faced a situation remarkably similar to what we are going through today.
Abraham Lincoln and the Congress of 1860 faced a situation remarkably similar to what we are going through today.
I am, of course, not referring to the Civil War, but rather the often overlooked issue of that day — a rapidly transforming economy and job market. Back in 1860, sweeping economic change threatened a largely agricultural economy and a rural, insular way of life.
In quick succession, steamboat service was introduced. Scores of canals were constructed. Thousands of miles of railroad track were laid. And countless telegraph lines were strung across the nation.
Almost overnight, large numbers of what had been generally self-sufficient local economies found themselves caught up in a changing and expanding national economy.
Competition no longer came from the next town. It came from producers in many parts of the country — and even from industries abroad.
There was plenty of tension then, too. In fact, economic growth was often volatile and financial crises, like the panic of 1857, produced sharp increases in unemployment, large numbers of bankruptcies and runs on banks.
Not surprisingly, many resented the developments that led to this volatility. Protectionist pressures were strong. In 1860, when Lincoln and a Republican Congress came to power, his administration pushed forward several broad policies in response to the new economic environment.
They helped Americans become stakeholders in their nation by increasing their opportunity to own property and establish businesses. They also assigned a role for government to support the economic, educational and technological changes taking place. In addition, they established a transcontinental railroad.
Thus, a climate for Americans to capitalize on innovation and emerging technologies was created. A rising class of entrepreneurs and property owners soon flourished — setting the stage for the U.S. economy to dominate the 20th century and beyond.
Now, we must compete in the 21st century world economy. And like the policies President Lincoln promoted, it is going to take a multi-pronged approach — engaging every corner of our society.
While many of the required changes in 1860 concerned retooling the country’s physical infrastructure, the changes we need from 2008 onward are primarily in the realm of “human infrastructure.” But what precisely should we do as a nation? A good place to start is to understand what the exact skills are that we are looking for with regard to our future workforce.
Take my company as an example. At UPS, we are looking for six specific traits in our future employees. Well beyond our company, I would argue that these six traits have a direct bearing on the kind of education needed to bring people into the workplace who are equipped to succeed in the global economy.
At UPS, we have seen a dramatic demand for people skilled in global trade jobs. In fact, we have added over 20,000 supply chain jobs since 2001.
The first trait we are looking for in UPS employees is trade literacy. In other words, people who understand the basics of 21st century trade and economics.
In my view, a major reason that the term “globalization” has come to be viewed as a menacing force in the minds of many is that we — the business community in particular — haven’t done a good job promoting trade literacy in this nation. Education can change that perception.
At UPS, we have started a company-wide initiative to teach an ongoing global trade curriculum to every UPSer. We are utilizing our employee web site, as well as one-to-one meetings with drivers, management discussions and other channels.
The second trait we look for are people who are adaptable and sensitive to foreign cultures. In 1976, I was among the first wave of American UPSers to work in our fledgling international operations. I was sent to Germany — and it was an eye-opening experience.
Let’s just say we weren’t as cross-culturally astute as we are today. We have learned some lessons the hard way over the years.
We learned that local employees lend more credibility to the local customer base — because they understand the culture, language, legal system and business practices.
Part of that adaptability and sensitivity comes with the third trait we look for — foreign-language skills. When I was a kid, growing up in southern Indiana, I never thought about foreign languages. Now, it is essential to expose children to different languages and cultures.
At UPS, we work in 200 countries and over 150 languages. We have web sites translated into 22 different languages. Foreign-language skills are essential to our business — and will be even more so in the years ahead as we expand our footprint in Asia and the rest of the developing world.
Editor’s note: The second part of this feature can be found by clicking the following link – 1860 and the Challenges of the Future Part II