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Uncategorized blog posts by Kevin Dee, Chairman at Eagle — Canada’s premier staffing agency.

Building Your Proficiency Through Practice

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that it takes 5,000 hours of “practice” to master a skill … he gives examples of professional athletes (soccer and hockey players) and even some tech leaders (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc.) as examples of his theory.

Here is the thing … going to work every day and “doing your job” is not the same thing as 5,000 hours of “practice”.

• If you want to get better as a soccer player then you invest time in soccer specific training. Playing games is the best type of practice!
• If you want to be better as a recruiter then you invest time in recruiter specific training, including learning on the job.
• If you want to be a GREAT salesperson then you need to be constantly willing to learn about the profession of selling. Again, on the job training is one of the best ways to learn.

Ask yourself some basic questions …

• Do you try to learn from others?
• Do you read books and literature that will help you in your job?
• Do you assess what is most effective under which scenarios?
• Do you debate with your colleagues about what works and what doesn’t?
• Are you open minded enough to accept input, and try new things?
• Do you take advantage of the opportunities your company provides for learning?

The people who excel and get to be great at what they do, apply themselves all the time.

Professional athletes don’t achieve their level of skill without “working at it”, Bill Gates did not get to be as proficient as he is with computers, that led to his ultimate success, without “working at it”.

Every day we go to work to do the job that we are paid to do … since we have to do it anyway, doesn’t it make sense to apply ourself to be the best we can be?

I think a lot of people don’t apply themselves because they feel like they are doing it for “the boss” or “the man”. Some think it is far better to try and get by with the minimum possible effort. Those people are really hurting themselves with that strategy.

We should make the effort, learn and get better for ourselves … because ultimately it is us that benefits. We benefit in increased skills, which are the ONLY job security in our 21st century workforce … but we also benefit in increased self-esteem, personal satisfaction and a feeling that we are doing something worthwhile, not just “putting in hours”.

Are you building up your hours of proficiency … or are you stuck in the rut of “working for the man”?

Make The Most of Your Time

man with clockI write about personal productivity or time management every now and then … its a subject that I have “studied” for many years. Its also a subject that can make a tremendous difference in anyone’s career … BUT we are all a little different, and the same techniques don’t always work for us.

At its core, time management is really quite simple … make sure you get as much “stuff” done, as efficiently as possible while focusing on the most important items first.

There are lots of reasons o try and be efficient … they can range from the very rudimentary “wanting to get through work so as to get back to the real life”; through career aspirations; or even because of the sense of fulfillment people get from accomplishing things.

Whatever your motivation, there are a few basics:

  • Write down what you need to get done … it can be on paper or electronic, as long as it works for you!
  • Assign some sort of priority to the list … it can be as simple or as complex as suits you.
  • Work through the stuff that you need to do.
  • Cross off the items you get done.
  • Add to the list as more stuff needs doing.

Pretty simple stuff … however it is the way you get to drive your day instead of your day driving you.

If you want a little “more” to sink your teeth into then you can read my blog about The Power of To Do Lists.

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Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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CANADIAN IT JOB MARKET – Mini update Jul/Aug 2010

General Observations:

In July Canada lost 139,000 full time jobs, replacing 130,000 of them with part time work … the result was a small increase in the unemployment rate, to 8%. The Canadian Staffing index also dipped slightly by one basis point indicating a drop in hours worked in the Staffing Industry workforce. The drop in work hours is very much expected this time of year, increased vacations being the most obvious driver. In addition, many companies will wait until the Fall to start up new initiatives, creating a lag during the Summer months.

There continues to be volatility in the markets, however the TSX is up a little over this time last month when I reported a reading of 11,586, whereas today it was at 11,788. Of course during this last month the index has been up and down like the proverbial yo-yo, as differing indicators suggest recovery or not! The prime business rate remains at 2.75% having endured two increases recently, however some of the major banks are reducing mortgage rates to try and stimulate borrowing in the housing sector which has taken a hit recently.

More Specifically:

The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) continues to lead the way in the return to pre-recession levels of demand. While we are not quite “there” yet, indications are that demand is beginning to outstrip supply as many contract resources are receiving multiple job offers. This creates frustration for those clients who are slow to “pull the trigger” on their hiring decisions. The finance sector is particularly hot as they make up for the projects that were on hold through the recession, and position for future growth. We are also seeing the system integrators increasing their win ratios, which creates demand for contractors to help them with their projects. The other very hot area has been the telecommunications sector, as established players build out systems to compete in this changing arena and the new players develop offerings to take some of that established business. The Ontario provincial government was a little slow this month, but business is traditionally slow in this sector during the Summer, but this is expected to pick up come the Fall.

July was a busy month in Alberta, while Vancouver and the rest of Western Canada enjoyed the more normal Summer quiet expected in July. In Calgary the oil and gas sector continues to increase demand for contract professionals and while not back to the “crazy times” of a couple of years ago, we are seeing the client demand outstripping the supply of specific available candidates. Edmonton had a busy month, which was not expected but very welcome, as a government town that is where the demand came from. Like most markets, our impression is that there is a pent-up demand across the West that will likely hit in September bringing us closer to those pre recession times when the big issue was finding great people, not finding jobs!

In Eagle’s Eastern Canada region it is Montreal that continues to be the busier market, with a continuing demand for top talent. Like the GTA it is the financial sector, telcos and system integrators that have the biggest demand. Ottawa on the other hand has seen a fairly slow market get even slower as the Summer holiday period hit. The city was busy with tourists, but the job market was very slow. Once again the Fall is anticipated to bring an increase in demand, which will be welcomed by most suppliers.

The following are some facts/indicators we are watching as of time of writing:

> The price of oil is a little over $75 a barrel, down a couple of dollars from last month … activity in the oil patch continues to be busy.
> Natural Gas prices have been trending down, mostly due to Summer usage and increased stocks.
> The markets continue to be pretty volatile, however the TSX was up a little to 11,781 as opposed to last month’s index of 11,586.
> The Canadian dollar was up a little from last month at $97.83c US.
> Prime stayed put at 2.75% after two recent increases!
> Canada added lost 139,000 full time jobs and gained 130,000 part time jobs resulting in a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 8% from 7.9%.
> Eagle continues to see a pickup in activity in most sectors … banks, energy companies, and telcos in particular. There is also some pickup in Municipal and Provincial Government activity. Candidates are getting multiple offers and we are seeing more “turndowns” of job offers, indicative of an increase in demand.
> The Canadian government, while not expected to drastically reduce its spending this year has not really “wowed” the market with its spending. There has not been a lot of new IT business and the National Capital companies continue to suffer a little for that.
> Canada’s Staffing Index dropped slightly, but it was expected with Summer vacations taking a bite out of the hours worked. The index was at 85, versus 86 in June .. still 15 basis points off the benchmark of 100 set in July 2008.

Summary:

Canada continues to perform well in comparison to other countries and the unemployment rates are one indicator of that. The Canadian unemployment rate is 8% versus the EU which is around 10% and the US around 9.5%. The Canadian dollar is also consistently strong and many indicators are good that our recovery is continuing. Having said that, we are not out of the woods yet, Canada’s Staffing index would suggest that we are still 15 basis points off the pre-recession benchmark, and even farther behind the record highs we saw during the boom.

From Eagle’s perspective, all of the major markets are picking up in demand and we are seeing an across the board increase in “multiple offer” scenarios and job “turndowns”. These are indicators of that increase in demand, and good news for job seekers. The Summer slowdown was expected and yet is not AS slow as expected, but given the wonderful weather we have experienced in Central Canada it is no wonder people are taking time to enjoy it and to recharge the batteries.

I don’t anticipate much change to this report next month, but September should see a surge in demand and will be a real indicator as to whether companies are really going to ramp up again.

Do You Make Yourself Clear?

We have all had those moments, some of us more than others, when we realise that we are talking at “cross purposes” with someone. They are thinking about one thing and we are talking about something else.

It is often innocuous, and cause for a little chuckle … each thinking you were talking about someone else, each thinking of a different event in relation to the story. etc.

The real problems come when the communication is not clear and it really needs to be … in extreme cases this could be life and death scenarios such as a co-pilot giving emergency instructions to the pilot (have you read Gladwell’s “Outliers”) or a war situation. It could also be a business situation that could cost a sale, cause a problem or result in a project going off course.

I have blogged in the past about this kind of thing … back in 2006 I wrote an entry called “I said this and she heard that! Later that same year I wrote about communicating with different personality types.

Learning about different communication styles can really give a good insight into why this kind of stuff happens … so if you can take a few minutes I would strongly advise you read those entries to understand the basics.

It should also be said that common sense and a clear approach to communication can solve most issues. Have you ever been given directions to somewhere, set off and at the first junction there are 4 exits instead of three, or the church you were supposed to use as a landmark wasn’t there? Perhaps the explainer rushed their communication, or forgot about THAT turn or a million other things. If you are late for an appointment it might be no big deal or it might mean a lost job interview etc.

Clear communication does NOT come easily, requires some effort and often is as dependent upon the listener as the talker.

Do you ask the right questions?
Do you REALLY listen AND hear everything said? It is very easy to miss a critical word that could affect what you hear.

In a business context, documentation helps … always take notes in EVERY meeting. Do NOT rely on your memory, no matter how good you think it is. Be sure to clarify any potential anomalies. If a point is critical then perhaps ask the question a couple of ways … or repeat the answer to ensure you got it right. (So it costs $23.75 … could that possibly be $2375.00???, perhaps not but a difference in currency could be substantial etc.)

As a salesperson talking to a prospect you are sometimes (most times?) pre-disposed to look for certain “indicators” that might identify a potential client. It is easy to allow that to colour what you hear … somewhat akin to the handyman with a hammer always finding a way for the hammer to be the solution to the problem!

We somehow expect communication to be second-nature, yet there are so many ways we can go off track. Cultural reasons, language barriers, listening skills, a distracted listener, an unclear word or expression, the way we are “programmed” to communicate (personality profile) are all reasons why we mess up communication.

Don’t fall into those traps … be careful when your communication is important.

Happy St Jean Baptiste Day

Continuing with my theme of celebrating diversity and “spreading the word” about different holidays, and celebrations, that not everyone might be familiar with … today I am talking about Saint Jean Baptiste Day.

I know that when I talk with people who are not that familiar with Canada, they often seem to know about some of the historical differences between the French and English Canadians. Yet the essential nature of Canada is its diverse cultures that have both, come together to create this great country, and yet also retained their independent customs.

Its pretty cool to visit different Canadian cities and experience these cultural differences … and yet still all be Canadians. Montreal is very modern European in its feel and Quebec City has an old world feel to it … as examples.

The people of Quebec join together on June 24th of each year to celebrate their Fete National (National holiday), Saint Jean Baptiste Day. This day is a public holiday in Quebec where post offices as well as most stores are closed. St. Jean Baptiste Day is celebrated with large public celebrations such as concerts, sports tournaments, parades and fireworks.

How did Saint Jean Baptiste Originate?

The event originated more than 2000 years ago, in pre-Christian Europe, as the pagan celebration of the summer solstice. It was originally held on the 21st, but with the arrival of Christianity, it transformed into Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, and moved to the 24th. The two events did have several things in common after all. Both celebrated the symbol of “light”; the sun of the summer solstice and Saint-Jean-Baptiste who opens the way for the light of Jesus-Christ. The ancients used to light a great bonfire on the evening of the 24th to honour the sun, a tradition that continued into the Middle Ages. Today, the holiday has lost its religious meaning but has kept its traditional name.

In 1834, Ludger Duvernay, a journalist of the time, visited the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montreal. He was inspired to create a similar event for the French Canadians and in 1843 he established the Saint Jean Baptiste Society to promote the celebration of Saint Jean Baptiste. In 1925, the Québec legislature declared the 24th of June a national holiday.

Symbols

One of the symbols of Saint Jean Baptiste Day is the fleurdelis and in 1948 Québec adopted their current flag as seen above. On St. Jean Baptiste Day many people choose to wear blue and white clothing to the celebrations to commemorate their Fete National, Quebec’s history, it’s heros and it’s people.

Present Day

At the end of the 70s, the Fête takes a political twist. Leaders of separatist parties join the festivities and the issue of Québec independence becomes central. More recently, after the 1995 referendum, the event adapts itself once more to the new realities of Québec. Members of Québec’s many ethnic groups join the celebrations and the Saint-Jean parade is now a wonderful mix of Caribbean music, of Scottish bagpipes and of traditional Québécois melodies.

Just like so many times in the past, this millennia-old celebration has evolved just like the people who’s unique identity it celebrates.

People Judge You … Fact!

Yes people will judge us every day and generally speaking it is not a big deal … most times it just doesn’t matter that much, good or bad.

Having said that … in business, and in our professional lives it is a good idea to give ourselves every edge that we can. One of the ways to do that is to make a favorable impression.

Here are some things I notice (and yes, I admit it … I JUDGE you!)

1. Common courtesy. I notice people that are rude. They are not people I will choose to associate with. How hard is it to treat people with a little courtesy? Read my blog entry from a couple of months ago about Common Courtesy.

2. Grooming. Maybe its a generational thing but I notice scuffed shoes, unkempt hair, poor shave jobs, clothes that are not pressed etc. I notice when people dress inappropriately for their role and I am impressed when people “look the part”! Check out my blog entry First Impressions … Grooming from back in 2006!

3. Act professionally. this one is a little tough and can come easier to some people. I have written a number of blogs on the subject … one very recent entry about Professionalism is worth a read. I also wrote a blog entry in February called How to Behave in the Workplace.

ALL of the above are important … you can look like a million dollars but if you are unprofessional or just rude then it will work against you. None of the above is “rocket science” however there are enough people who don’t seem to “get it” that this is an entry worth posting and by extension, if you are ambitious, I would suggest it is worth a read too.

Giving back …

There are still a lot of Canadians with good well paying jobs, and successful Canadian Companies, who do not “give back” to the society that gives them that quality of life.

What does that mean … because we are all responsible for our own success, right? Why should we give back?

Yes we are the architects of our own destiny, so we need to earn our place in society … BUT if that society is not there then we cannot be successful.

Everything we do has to be put in context.

Our success comes in the Canadian economy, in Canadian communities, possibly through a Canadian education and Canadian experience.

So … would we be equally successful is we lived in a poorer nation, a nation at war, a nation that was not a part of the industrialised world?

What if Canadian society deteriorated into a “haves” and “have nots” society? Would we see anarchy in the streets, riots and political unrest, kidnappings and drug wars?

Our society is struggling to provide a social net for those who need help, and if those of us who can afford some money and/or some time give back to help that cause then we are really helping ourselves.

A society where everyone has a chance is a great place to be … we have that today, but we need to keep working at it, so everyone needs to do their bit.

That is a rational argument for giving back … the other answer is that you receive more rewards from giving than it costs you to give. For that answer you’ll just have to take a leap of faith and believe me … and the many other people who say the same thing.

Take a minute and read an old blog entry of mine … another dollar to charity.

A Career in Government?

I live in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa which is where a large majority of civil servants also live and work. In some respects Ottawa is a little more like Washington than perhaps London, England, The government is the primary employer in both Ottawa and Washington, whereas London also has a strong private sector economy.

I have never worked for the government, but have worked for some very large organizations with their own bureaucracies that seem to be inherent in all large companies.

I wrote a blog entry some time ago about why government workers get a bad rap and thought it would make sense to balance out the score card a little.

We have three levels of government here in Canada, Federal, Provincial and municipal. The civil servants who work for these governments are tasked with implementing the policies and laws imposed by the politicians and law-makers. I have upon occasion been quite vocal about some political decisions … but that really doesn’t reflect on the civil servants who just implement the wishes of our politicians.

Having lived here for many years I know lots of people who work in government and guess what … they are just like everyone in the private sector.

> There are various levels of motivation, there are various levels of skill, there are various levels of commitment and drive … just like in private sector.
> There are different frustrations … government typically don’t go bankrupt, or need to worry about the bottom line. However companies don’t often have radical swings in corporate direction depending upon who is running the show.
> In private sector you can often get things done purely based on ROI, in government you have to demonstrate fairness to all suppliers, include all stakeholders and keep your political masters out of the press!
> In private sector if you have a great idea, run with it, implement it and make it successful then likely you will be financially rewarded, perhaps even with your own company. In government you will likely be rewarded with more responsibility!
> We like to think we work long hours in private sector and those government guys all go home early … I think the reality is that there are plenty of government workers who put in long hours and plenty of private sector workers who slack off.
> In private sector if we need to get rid of someone we can fire them, in government its “possible” but the pain is so acute that very few people get fired.
> In private sector we can act and make things happen quickly … the bureaucracy in government can make it very frustrating for people to make things happen quickly.

We NEED to have capable people in both public and private sector … and that’s exactly what we have. It would naive to think of government workers as in any way less capable than private sector workers … or vice versa. Each has a different environment and different challenges … the good people navigate to the top in either world.

Recently when talking to some people about potential careers, I have suggested that government could actually be a great career. There is plenty of opportunity with the coming “Baby Boomer” retirement wave, there is an appetite for change and government invests in its employees through training and career advancement.

Worth a thought if at this time of year you are one of the thousands of new graduates considering your options.

We Can ALL Benefit From Some Help Sometimes

“Many hands make light work.”

“Two heads are better than one.”

There are many sayings that relate to the same issue … that there can be power in a group.

A good friend of mine ran a strategic planning session recently, which included many strong personalities, with a diverse and sometimes opposite set of opinions.

He wanted to demonstrate up front that by working together the group would be able to achieve much more than each operating separately. He chose to start the session with a little team building exercise.

1. He told them all to have a pen and some paper … and gave them 2 minutes to come up with as many uses as possible of a styrofoam cup.
2. He had asked people to tell how many uses they came up with and identified the average and high numbers.
3. Then he asked them to pair off with the person next to them and to develop a list together … and of course they were able to come up with many more answers.

This was not rocket science, but it made people think a little when even such a simple example can produce such a result.

Maybe the thought for the day should be … are you taking advantage of the brains around you?

Or are you trying to do too much on your own?