Greetings from Washington, D.C. where Thursday at least half of those seated at the Thanksgiving Table wondered for what they have to be thankful.
These are stressful times in your Nation’s Capital, where 38 percent of the population reports to assignments in Federal agencies. And everyone here who works on the GSA schedule wonders — not if but — how the Trump Administration will reshape their lives and livelihoods.
The palpable anxiety experienced here goes well beyond the government-hired workforce. That is because the Federal government is supported in its many missions by enterprise. Small so-called “Body Shops” to large multinational consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte enjoy lucrative contractual arrangements embedding their talent in Federal agencies. Some contractors work with top-secret clearances and earn six-figure incomes.
What has always made the D.C. area stick out from the rest of the U.S. was this: because the Federal workforce was always a constant and often expanding generator of incomes, [we] weathered economic turbulence better than any other metropolitan region. In the 1970s, the bedroom communities of Detroit, Milwaukee, and Chicago were battered by inflation and company downsizing while D.C.’s suburbs expanded. Back then, Montgomery County, Maryland and Fairfax County, Virginia touted the best quality public schools and standards of living in the nation.
Life here, at least in the suburbs, was great.
Now, as we enter the Age of Trump, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the Federal workforce will likely go through a considerable, if not massive, transformation. And some here who have risen through the ranks and fast up the GSA scale may suddenly find themselves out of work.
But so too may some of the rest of us.
Between the pace of global acceleration and climate change described in Thomas L. Friedman’s new book, Thank you for Being Late, and electoral repudiation that led first to Brexit and then to Trump, our global workforce has been jolted. And here in the U.S.:
- Professional talent who built steady careers in large enterprises will find themselves on-the-beach as their companies seek new ways to increase profits, extend performance, and achieve market differentiation. According to a new Wharton study, it no longer pays to work at a larger firm, and;
- Gig workers who, since the Great Recession of 2008, found bliss through self-determination, agility, and adaptability, now wonder what will happen to the health coverage that they may have finally gotten as a result of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).
It is understandable how so many of us feel unease, if not all out dread, about 2017 and beyond. Anxiety abounds. But it is in such times of great uncertainty that many professionals will find their calling and achieve their greatest success.
Take something that I and many of you care about: climate change. Even if Federal agencies, like the EPA, are suddenly stripped of some or most of their ability to monitor and regulate carbon emissions, the case has already been made within business and the energy-producing sectors that climate change is real, and, it is imperative that they steward responsibly to mitigate their own climate-changing impacts. A seismic shift caused by reductions in government regulatory oversight could conceivably provide MORE, not LESS, incentive for business to contract with or hire full-time talent to establish and scale measurable and meaningful carbon footprint reductions. It might seem like an odd causality, but losing government oversight might have the unintended consequence of actually bringing greater urgency to these challenges, and in doing so, more engagement and hiring opportunities.
Truth be told, we don’t know what will happen in 2017 if — or when — the Trump Administration takes a giant flamethrower to the agencies that are chartered to ensure that our air is safe to breathe, water is safe to drink, and earth’s resources and endangered species are protected.
But we are a different nation now than we were in 1969 and 1970 (before EPA came into being) when GE poured fish-killing PCBs into New York’s Hudson River and the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. Back then, famed economist Milton Friedmansaid the social responsibility of business was to increase its profits. Now, nearly 50 years later, it is certainly well accepted within the Fortune 1000 that along with profits it is important for business to preserve the planet and protect people.
We in the clean energy and sustainability workforce find ourselves straddling a tightrope between anxiety and opportunity. As long as we don’t look down or back, but look ahead, we know this: our best days lie ahead.
NOTE: Condolences to the family and friends of the brilliant songwriter and performer of “Tightrope,” Leon Russell, who passed away earlier this month and inspired this post. Mr. Russell was 74 years old.
DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the new professional career empowerment podcast, Green Suits Radio. He is author of Tailoring the Green Suit: Empowering Yourself for an Executive Career in the New Green Economy and member of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). He is also Founder and Managing Director of The Green Suits, LLC, which provides talent recruitment, workforce planning, and success management to green business and social good enterprises.
Photo credit: Tightrope Walker, Getty Images.