Book Review: “The Coming Job’s War” by Jim Clifton

Four stars

Gallup Press – $24.95 (hardcover) – 225 pages

Job creation is a topic that dominates the national media, as well as state and local news. While there is plenty of rhetoric to go around with job creation discussions, few pundits have been able to quantify how serious our national employment situation might be in coming decades.

Written by Jim Clifton, the Chairman and CEO of Gallup, The Coming Jobs War begins by laying out the perilous job forecast for the United States. The book's doom-and-gloom analysis will leave many readers detached and hopeless – until Clifton turns more personable and positive in Chapter 4.

In hindsight, perhaps it was Clifton's intention to start out with a flurry of attention-getting Gallup information (after all, the man does have six years of comprehensive global research at his fingertips). His prediction going forward is that the world's growing population will demand 3 billion jobs, while the supply will only provide 1.2 billion.

Today, with jobs being the main factor for peoples' defining of themselves, Clifton predicts that the society with the most jobs will come out on top (and the rest will ultimately lose out).

His dire warning paraphrased: Jobs are now the currency for economic might, and if we as a country simply maintain the status quo, then we are in deep trouble.

It is behavioral economics that is the cornerstone of the book's prescription for competing for future work and prosperity, or as Clifton calls it, "our World War III." Armed with an arsenal of research from Gallup, Clifton uses the bulk of The Coming Jobs War to illustrate how solving most of our ills involve an approach that is far different from the one classical economics solutions has so tightly held on to: politicians and policy makers.

"So the big leadership breakthrough within behavioral economics is to manage, lead and build strategies in the before, not the after," he says, suggesting that we as a society more accurately make policy decisions based on more economic and social demands because "… military force, religion, or personal values won't work in the future like it has in the past."

Clifton is able to show how behavioral economic data tracks what goes into a consumer's buying decision before they purchase a product or service, noting that all of these small decisions are lost in most of the ways we try to create jobs. Clifton discusses how innovation is great, but without skilled entrepreneurs who can connect the innovation with paying consumers, that innovation is useless.

Entrepreneurship, instead of standardized tests, he posits, should be a skill set that is revered in our schools. The ability of workers to problem-solve and reinvent themselves for market conditions should become the standard.

This approach to job creation includes factors that bode well for the Grand Traverse region and – if we pay attention – to Michigan, as well. This includes local leadership that can orchestrate people and resources, and entrepreneurial innovation where start-up companies supply the majority of new jobs. Although Clifton claims that major job growth can only be accomplished in cities, that doesn't eliminate strong ongoing efforts that in smaller areas like Traverse City.

Clifton ends with a flourish, taking good swipes at the unhealthy lifestyles of many Americans (which costs us billions annually) and our failing secondary educational systems. He also offers up reasonable solutions, but not without paradigm shifts for those making major policy decisions.

Synopsis: If you're looking for a book that will clarify steps for our national economy to take going forward, this is it. The challenge will be getting leaders to read it as well.

Wendel is the Regional Director for Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) in Traverse City. The MI-SBTDC assists businesses with one-on-one business consulting, market research information, and entrepreneurial training. The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments is the host organization for the MI-SBTDC in the Grand Traverse region.