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Book review: The Coming Jobs War

This review first ran in the Nov. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Coming Jobs War

By Jim Clifton

Gallup Press

$27.50

If you go by the results from the latest Forum Research poll, 65 per cent of us will be voting for a new mayor in Hamilton's 2014 municipal election.

That gives us 36 months to find ourselves a candidate.

Some of us will settle for a recycled politician or media personality who could bring some measure of name recognition to the mayoral race. 

But what if we broke with tradition and instead recruited a business leader from the private sector?

A leader who'd bring a wealth of senior executive experience, business acumen and an entrepreneurial spirit to council chambers.

A leader who’d be a champion of entrepreneurs and small business owners.

A leader who’d make our city the start-up capital of Canada, where small business was the business of Hamilton.

A leader who'd have a singular focus on creating good-paying, sustainable, knowledge economy jobs for Hamiltonians.

A leader who wouldn't spend a dime of taxpayer money on anything that didn't create jobs.

And a leader who’d rally business and civic leaders to drive down high school drop-out rates and build up a highly skilled, entrepreneurial workforce.

This is exactly the sort of leader who'd win the vote of author and Gallup chairman Jim Clifton.

“If you have a weak mayor, your city is going down,” warns Clifton. “If you have mediocre city council members, your city is going down. If you have a humble set of leaders on your school board, your city is going down.”

Sounds extreme but Clifton says the stakes are high. We’re heading into an all-out global war for good jobs. Right now, there are 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world. But there are three billion people who are working or looking for work. That leaves us 1.8 billion jobs short.

“If you were to ask me, from all the world polling Gallup has done for more than 75 years, what would fix the world – what would suddenly create worldwide peace, global wellbeing, and the next extraordinary advancements in human development, I would say the immediate appearance of 1.8 billion jobs – formal jobs. Nothing would change the current state of humankind more.”

Cities will be on the frontlines in the global war for jobs, says Clifton.  Cities are where entrepreneurs connect with innovators, commercialize ideas, launch start-ups and grow the small and medium-sized private sector companies that create the majority of new jobs.

To win the jobs war, a city needs to get its act together. All the key players  — all politicians, every business and local institution – need to be on the same page, fully engaged and aligned.

“Everybody in charge of anything needs to focus on job creation. If they divert their attention, vote them out. Be ruthless. If the bike path doesn’t have anything to do with job creation, there is no bike path. The jobs war is what should get city leaders up in the morning, what they should work on all day and what should keep them from getting to sleep at night.”

Cities that win the jobs war won’t be looking to other levels of government for handouts, says Clifton. “Free money eventually makes you more dependent. Free money, entitlements, more bureaucracy, less of your control – all these things make individual initiative, meritocracy and free enterprise weaker and less competitive. You have to jumpstart your city yourself.”

Winning cities will have mobilized what Clifton calls their local tribal leaders.  “All prosperous cities have a self-organized, unelected group of talented people influencing and guiding them. These are people who care very much about the success of their city.” Tribal leaders are loyal, highly successful, usually wealthy, respected and well-known. They have the influence, money, connections, speed and access to create jobs.

And along with waging an all-out war for jobs, winning cities will open a second front to battle high school drop-out rates. Clifton says cities should aim to cut drop-out rates in half by doubling student hope.

“Gallup has found that kids drop out of school when they lose hope to graduate. The reason they lose hope of graduating is because they don’t feel excited about what’s next in their lives. Having no vision or excitement for the future is the cause of dropping out of school.

“Parents, teachers and mentors would be wise to consider managing a student’s confidence and hope as much as or more than the mechanics of division and multiplication. And the prize for a student is not graduating but rather a job – even better, an exciting career.”

Along with building confidence and hope, cities need to foster an entrepreneurial spirit within their young people. “The scarcest, rarest, hardest energy and talent in the world to find is entrepreneurship. Innovation by itself has no value until it is chosen by talented entrepreneurs.

“If the image of free enterprise and entrepreneurship is going up among your youth, you will experience job creation. If it is trending down, may God be with you.”

The Coming Jobs War should be required reading and a call to action for Hamilton’s tribal leaders. If Clifton has it right, this is the group that will decide whether Hamilton wins or loses the global jobs war.  We’ll never be the best place to raise a child if we’re not the best place to get a job, start a business and grow a company.

For Hamilton to win the jobs war, we desperately need our tribal leaders to lead the charge in cutting high school drop out rates in half, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in our next generation of Hamilton employees and business owners, and recruiting a 2014 mayoral candidate who will make job creation job one.  

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