Career guru Marty Nemko on U.S. job loss and America’s opportunity

By Mark Zetter

The world’s financial engines need a valve job, General Motors lost a wheel, and hundreds of thousands of blue collar and white collar workers in America have been laid off, with scores more overseas also now without jobs.

Given the current economic crisis felt in most productivity-based regions across the globe, I reached out recently to one of California Bay Area’s more visible career coaches, Marty Nemko.

Marty has experience with more than 2,500 career counseling clients. He is contributing editor for careers with U.S. News & World Report, was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was introduced at ABC TV’s Summit on Education as “The Ralph Nader of Education.”

He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley specializing in the evaluation of educational programs (where he also taught) and he is in his 20th year as host of a show about workplace issues on a National Public Radio (NPR) station in San Francisco.

So, we got started, and I thought…Marty might have a few things to say others would want to hear.

Unions and squandered opportunity

For years, U.S. union membership has been falling with American unions rallying members around the cause of stemming U.S. job losses to overseas factories. Many believe American unions have more interest in individual job security and getting ‘immediate wants’ for members such as increasingly higher wages and more benefits than taking a long-term approach and finding ways for U.S. manufacturing companies to remain competitive and producing quality products that can compete globally.

The American auto industry is a prime example of poor union-influenced manufacturing management policies derailed by even poorer product quality. Still, some U.S. autoworkers cannot figure out how or why they lost their job.

I asked Marty what he thought about all of this and unions protecting U.S. manufacturing jobs at the expense of America’s ability to compete globally?

“Unions hurt companies’ ability to survive,” said Marty.

“The most prominent unionized entities — airlines, steel, and auto industries — have been driven into or near bankruptcy.”

He continued by saying, “Even in something as important as education, the teacher’s unions have been willing to sacrifice children’s educations in order to preserve the absurd insistence that after two years, teachers get lifetime tenure, even when a teacher is burned out. And of course, the heavily unionized government makes it impossible to fire incompetents, which results in terribly inefficient government services.”


Marty Nemko - Career Coach


“Alas, the worse the U.S. fares in global competition, the more unions will try to protect their members–witness the UAW’s willingness to let the U.S. automakers fall to the brink of bankruptcy rather than give up the obscenely cushy compensation packages in which un-college educated factory workers make more and have much richer retirement plans than do many Ph.Ds”, he added.

Factory of higher learning

Marty has been a consultant to no less than 15 college presidents. You could say he knows a thing or two about education. I asked what his thoughts were whenever he reads or sees the following terms when he ponders today’s newly-minted college grads setting out in the world as job seekers:

  • bachelor’s degree
  • MBA
  • Harvard
  • higher education

“Some people do school better than they do life”, he says. “These people should get degrees. Employers value them…often without sufficient reason.”


“Companies forced to hire American workers — paying American wages, benefits, and enduring the high rate of wrongful termination lawsuits — will be driven out of business.”

— Marty Nemko


He goes on to say that for those individuals that are self-starters, they’ll learn more of utility to them by finding mentors; reading key articles, attending short workshops, and working (on a volunteer basis if necessary) on projects of interest.

“Then, in applying for jobs, explain how you opted for substance over form in obtaining your education and training,” he adds.

Preparing job seekers

I then brought up the subject of the untold numbers of displaced workers in the technology sector…finding themselves all of a sudden one morning looking for employment in this tough economy.

I asked Marty what he would put on his Must Do List, if he were to develop one for these individuals wanting to weather the economic downturn while preparing for the future.

“If the work product in your field can be sent over the Internet, your job is at risk of being offshored”, said Marty.

“Unless you’re a techie star, to earn a living wage in the U.S., you’ll need to supplement your tech skills with management; leadership, business development, and / or sales skills. Or, become self-employed, for example, as a software developer, then hire offshore workers to do much of the coding, quality assurance, quality control, technical support, and so on.”

Immigration and H-1Bs

It’s been in the news recently that a number of high-tech firms have been laying off American workers while still employing H-1B visa holders.

Relative to this, at the beginning of 2009, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, sent a letter to Microsoft asking Microsoft to layoff foreign workers before laying off skilled American workers. The letter came in response to reports saying Microsoft would be laying off approximately 5,000 workers.

I asked Marty to describe one scenario / outcome he could see happening to the talent pool for jobs in Silicon Valley, the United States, if ‘tougher’ U.S. immigration enforcement was put in place. He said that short-term, he believed protectionism will increase American jobs.

He followed with, “But companies forced to hire American workers — paying American wages, benefits, and enduring the high rate of wrongful termination lawsuits — will be driven out of business. Thus, long term, more U.S. jobs will be lost.”

Outsourcing America’s future

I then turned the focus to U.S. manufacturing and outsourcing and noted an interview on the topic on with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Tom Donohue.

During that discussion, Mr. Donohue said, “The bottom line: outsourcing has made the manufacturing process more efficient and productive… Outsourcing allows manufacturers to buy components from a vast array of suppliers, lowering costs for the manufacturer who is able to pass on the savings to consumers. Outsourcing has also made us work smarter and made workers able to take advantage of one of the United States’ greatest assets – the spirit of innovation.”

Given that Silicon Valley technology companies such as HP, Apple, and Cisco – to name a few – each outsource, I asked Marty for his thoughts regarding Mr. Donohue’s comments and the loss of U.S. jobs. “I completely agree”, said Marty.

“What’s needed to ‘create’ U.S. jobs is to replace our obsession with training more scientists; engineers, and computer programmers…replace this with creating entrepreneurs, instead. Only the latter can create jobs.”

Additionally, he said, “Only the latter won’t worry about having their jobs offshored.”

He went on to say nations like China, India, and other Asian countries will grow ever more capable of doing high-level technical jobs — at a small fraction of the cost compared to U.S. workers.

“For America to ignore this fact is to accelerate the further decline and fall of America.”

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