By most measures, the Minnesota economy is thriving. Employment is high and general-fund revenue has been exceeding projections; 2019 state income was about $24 billion. By February, we will have more complete numbers that are likely to show record employment and revenue.

In our state of 5.4 million residents, some 2.8 million people are employed in Minnesota. About 6% are self-employed and 21% are part-time employees. Four in 10 of the employed population work fewer than 39 hours in a week. The gender breakdown is 52% male and 48% female. Ethnically, nearly nine in 10 of us are white.

Mentoring connections

I have spent decades as an adult mentor to young people, some of whom are deep into their careers. Others are not. Why is it that I have so many requests from these younger friends for help in finding a new or better job so they can pay their bills?

Most of those who are struggling tell me that they believe the free-enterprise form of democratic capitalism has somehow missed them, and many are skeptical about the whole thing.

Asking for advice from those who know

I did a survey of sorts of business leaders I personally know, probing as to what they are expecting of their current and future workforce.

Here is a sample of what I learned.

1) The No. 1 quality the workforce needs is common sense. This is an ability to bring practical, sound judgments to everyday issues. It is breaking down a course of action to address sometimes complex problems that can be widely understood and acted upon.

2) Knowing one’s field eventually will require workers to have an on-the-job grasp of what to do. Such specialized knowledge comes mostly through self-education. “You learn by doing,” said one manufacturing CEO.

3) Self-reliance, too, will require a kind of gumption to get things going through acquiring relevant knowledge and goals-setting. I was reminded by a health care executive that Thomas Edison, a genius by any standard, said this required 99% preparation and 1% inspiration.

4) An ability to listen and ask questions is a necessity for workplace success. “This is how all of us learn at whatever we do,” offered a retail small-business owner. She also suggested that one had to know the business to be of greatest value to management and customers.

5) Communication — both written and verbal — is essential to pulling things together. Good employees must find informed answers rapidly, understand the implications and build cohesive teamwork with others involved to get things done.

Qualities of character and other ideas

Consistently, I heard that three qualities of character — honesty, initiative and a strong work ethic — were the backbone of good workers and leaders.

Finding a qualified career mentor in the workplace can be a most useful idea. I might add that patience, too, has a calming influence on workers.

The bottom line, I tell my friends who are seeking advice, is to learn well from those who know, be conscientiously productive during your working days and, at the end of a work career, give of yourself to build a better society by helping others succeed.

 

Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management-consulting firm.