May 2017 Prosperity at Work E-Tip
Economics & Job Creation:
“THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — April 2016”
“You’re not too old to learn that”
“‘System can 3-D print an entire building”
“Human inner ear organs grown: Could lead to new therapies for hearing, balance impairments”
“Assessing Soft Skills to Land Your Next Top Hire”
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Economics & Job Creation:
THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — APRIL 2017
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 211,000 in April, and the unemployment
rate was little changed at 4.4 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported
today. Job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, health care and social
assistance, financial activities, and mining.
Household Survey Data
Both the unemployment rate, at 4.4 percent, and the number of unemployed persons,
at 7.1 million, changed little in April. Over the year, the unemployment rate has
declined by 0.6 percentage point, and the number of unemployed has fallen by 854,000.
(See table A-1.)
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult men declined to 4.0
percent in April. The jobless rates for adult women (4.1 percent), teenagers (14.7
percent), Whites (3.8 percent), Blacks (7.9 percent), Asians (3.2 percent), and
Hispanics (5.2 percent) showed little change. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially
unchanged at 1.6 million in April and accounted for 22.6 percent of the unemployed. Over
the year, the number of long-term unemployed was down by 433,000. (See table A-12.)
The labor force participation rate, at 62.9 percent, changed little in April and has
shown little movement over the past year. The employment-population ratio, at 60.2
percent, was also little changed over the month but was up by 0.5 percentage point since
December. (See table A-1.)
The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to
as involuntary part-time workers) declined by 281,000 to 5.3 million in April. These
individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time
because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time
jobs. Over the past 12 months, the number of persons employed part time for economic
reasons has decreased by 698,000. (See table A-8.)
In April, 1.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by
181,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals
were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a
job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they
had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See table A-16.)
Among the marginally attached, there were 455,000 discouraged workers in April, down
by 113,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged
workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are
available for them. The remaining 1.1 million persons marginally attached to the labor
force in April had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or
family responsibilities. (See table A-16.)
Establishment Survey Data
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 211,000 in April. Employment rose in
leisure and hospitality, health care and social assistance, financial activities, and
mining. (See table B-1.)
In April, leisure and hospitality added 55,000 jobs. Employment in food services and
drinking places continued to trend up over the month (+26,000) and has increased by
260,000 over the year.
Employment in health care and social assistance increased by 37,000 in April. Health
care employment continued to trend up over the month (+20,000). This is in line with
the industry’s average monthly job growth during the first quarter of this year but
below the average gain of 32,000 per month in 2016. Social assistance added 17,000
jobs in April, with all of the gain in individual and family services.
In April, financial activities added 19,000 jobs, with insurance carriers and related
activities accounting for most of the gain (+14,000). Over the year, financial
activities has added 173,000 jobs.
Employment in mining rose by 9,000 in April, with most of the increase in support
activities for mining (+7,000). Since a recent low in October 2016, mining has added
44,000 jobs, with three-fourths of the gain in support activities for mining.
Employment in professional and business services continued to trend up in April
(+39,000). The industry has added 612,000 jobs over the past 12 months.
Employment in other major industries, including construction, manufacturing, wholesale
trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and government,
showed little change over the month.
The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.1
hour to 34.4 hours in April. In manufacturing, the workweek edged up by 0.1 hour to
40.7 hours, and overtime edged down by 0.1 hour to 3.2 hours. The average workweek
for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged up by
0.1 hour to 33.7 hours. (See tables B-2 and B-7.)
In April, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose
by 7 cents to $26.19. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 65 cents,
or 2.5 percent. In April, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and
nonsupervisory employees increased by 6 cents to $21.96. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for February was revised up from +219,000
to +232,000, and the change for March was revised down from +98,000 to +79,000. With
these revisions, employment gains in February and March combined were 6,000 lower than
previously reported. Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from
businesses since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal
factors. Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 174,000.
“You’re not too old to learn that”
One day, our brains will not work the way they used to, we won’t be as “sharp” as we once were, we won’t be able to remember things as easily.
This is what’s been ingrained in us. We’re even led to believe that we can’t learn new skills, or take in certain information such as language, past a certain age.
But, a new theory holds that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, as adults, if we continue to learn the way we did as children, UCR psychology professor Rachel Wu asserts, we can redefine what it means to be an “aging” adult.
Wu has published “A Novel Theoretical Life Course Framework for Triggering Cognitive Development Across the Lifespan,” in the journal Human Development. In the paper, she redefines healthy cognitive aging as a result of learning strategies and habits that are developed throughout our life. These habits can either encourage or discourage cognitive development.
“We argue that across your lifespan, you go from ‘broad learning’ (learning many skills as an infant or child) to ‘specialized learning,’ (becoming an expert in a specific area) when you begin working, and that leads to cognitive decline initially in some unfamiliar situations, and eventually in both familiar and unfamiliar situations,” Wu said.In the paper, Wu argues that if we reimagine cognitive aging as a developmental outcome, it opens the door for new tactics that could dramatically improve the cognitive health and quality of life for aging adults. In particular, if adults embrace the same “broad learning experiences” (characterized by six factors below) that promote children’s growth and development, they may see an increase in their cognitive health, and not the natural decline that we all expect.
Wu and her collaborators define “broad learning,” as encompassing these six factors:
1. Open-minded, input-driven learning (learning new patterns, new skills, exploring outside of one’s comfort zone).
2. Individualized scaffolding (consistent access to teachers and mentors who guide learning).
3. Growth mindset (belief that abilities are developed with effort).
4. Forgiving environment (allowed to make mistakes and even fail).
5. Serious commitment to learning (learn to master essential skills, persevere despite setbacks).
6. Learning multiple skills simultaneously.
The researchers explain that intellectual engagement (via the six factors) declines from infancy to aging adulthood as we move from “broad learning” to “specialization.” They argue that, during infancy and childhood, engaging in these six factors actually increases basic cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory, inhibition, attention), and they predict that the same is the case in adulthood.
Wu and the researchers define “specialized learning,” as encompassing these factors:
1. Closed-minded knowledge-driven learning (preferring familiar routines, staying within our comfort zones).
2. No scaffolding (no access to experts or teachers).
3. Unforgiving environment (high consequences for mistakes or failing, such as getting fired).
4. Fixed mindset (belief that abilities are inborn talent, as opposed to developed with effort).
5. Little commitment to learning (adults typically learn a hobby for a couple months, but then drop it due to time constraints and/or difficulty).
6. Learning one (if any) skill at a time.
“When you look across the lifespan from infancy, it seems likely that the decline of broad learning has a causal role in cognitive aging. But, if adults were to engage in broad learning via the six factors that we provide (similar to those from early childhood experiences), aging adults could expand cognitive functioning beyond currently known limits,” Wu said.
Wu makes the case that we naturally tend to shift from “broad learning,” to “specialized learning,” when we begin our careers, and at that point, cognitive aging begins. As we settle into our work roles, we become more efficient in our day-to-day expectations and activities, and rarely stray from that. Though there are some benefits to it, such as having more efficient and accurate responses in appropriate situations, there are also downfalls, such as holding wrong assumptions or difficultly overriding these assumptions.
“We still need to test our theory with specific scientific studies, but this theory is based on over five decades of research. What I want adults to take away from this study is that we CAN learn many new skills at any age,” Wu said. “It just takes time and dedication. We seem to make it very difficult on ourselves and other adults to learn. Perhaps this is why some aspects of cognitive aging are self-imposed.”
“System can 3-D print an entire building”
The list of materials that can be produced by 3-D printing has grown to include not just plastics but also metal, glass, and even food. Now, MIT researchers are expanding the list further, with the design of a system that can 3-D print the basic structure of an entire building.
Structures built with this system could be produced faster and less expensively than traditional construction methods allow, the researchers say. A building could also be completely customized to the needs of a particular site and the desires of its maker. Even the internal structure could be modified in new ways; different materials could be incorporated as the process goes along, and material density could be varied to provide optimum combinations of strength, insulation, or other properties.
Ultimately, the researchers say, this approach could enable the design and construction of new kinds of buildings that would not be feasible with traditional building methods.
The robotic system is described this week in the journal Science Robotics, in a paper by Steven Keating PhD ’16, a mechanical engineering graduate and former research affiliate in the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab; Julian Leland and Levi Cai, both research assistants in the Mediated Matter group; and Neri Oxman, group director and associate professor of media arts and sciences.
The system consists of a tracked vehicle that carries a large, industrial robotic arm, which has a smaller, precision-motion robotic arm at its end. This highly controllable arm can then be used to direct any conventional (or unconventional) construction nozzle, such as those used for pouring concrete or spraying insulation material, as well as additional digital fabrication end effectors, such as a milling head.
Unlike typical 3-D printing systems, most of which use some kind of an enclosed, fixed structure to support their nozzles and are limited to building objects that can fit within their overall enclosure, this free-moving system can construct an object of any size. As a proof of concept, the researchers used a prototype to build the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome — a project that was completed in less than 14 hours of “printing” time.
For these initial tests, the system fabricated the foam-insulation framework used to form a finished concrete structure. This construction method, in which polyurethane foam molds are filled with concrete, is similar to traditional commercial insulated-concrete formwork techniques. Following this approach for their initial work, the researchers showed that the system can be easily adapted to existing building sites and equipment, and that it will fit existing building codes without requiring whole new evaluations, Keating explains.
Ultimately, the system is intended to be self-sufficient. It is equipped with a scoop that could be used to both prepare the building surface and acquire local materials, such as dirt for a rammed-earth building, for the construction itself. The whole system could be operated electrically, even powered by solar panels. The idea is that such systems could be deployed to remote regions, for example in the developing world, or to areas for disaster relief after a major storm or earthquake, to provide durable shelter rapidly.
The ultimate vision is “in the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years,” says Keating, who led the development of the system as his doctoral thesis work.
But in the meantime, he says, “we also wanted to show that we could build something tomorrow that could be used right away.” That’s what the team did with its initial mobile platform. “With this process, we can replace one of the key parts of making a building, right now,” he says. “It could be integrated into a building site tomorrow.”
“The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years,” says Keating. “The buildings are rectilinear, mostly built from single materials, put together with saws and nails,” and mostly built from standardized plans.
But, Keating wondered, what if every building could be individualized and designed using on-site environmental data? In the future, the supporting pillars of such a building could be placed in optimal locations based on ground-penetrating radar analysis of the site, and walls could have varying thickness depending on their orientation. For example, a building could have thicker, more insulated walls on its north side in cold climates, or walls that taper from bottom to top as their load-bearing requirements decrease, or curves that help the structure withstand winds.
The creation of this system, which the researchers call a Digital Construction Platform (DCP), was motivated by the Mediated Matter group’s overall vision of designing buildings without parts. Such a vision includes, for example, combining “structure and skin,” and beams and windows, in a single production process, and adapting multiple design and construction processes on the fly, as the structure is being built.
From an architectural perspective, Oxman says, the project “challenges traditional building typologies such as walls, floors, or windows, and proposes that a single system could be fabricated using the DCP that can vary its properties continuously to create wall-like elements that continuously fuse into windows.”
To this end, the nozzles of the new 3-D printing system can be adapted to vary the density of the material being poured, and even to mix different materials as it goes along. In the version used in the initial tests, the device created an insulating foam shell that would be left in place after the concrete is poured; interior and exterior finish materials could be applied directly to that foam surface.
The system can even create complex shapes and overhangs, which the team demonstrated by including a wide, built-in bench in their prototype dome. Any needed wiring and plumbing can be inserted into the mold before the concrete is poured, providing a finished wall structure all at once. It can also incorporate data about the site collected during the process, using built-in sensors for temperature, light, and other parameters to make adjustments to the structure as it is built.
Keating says the team’s analysis shows that such construction methods could produce a structure faster and less expensively than present methods can, and would also be much safer. (The construction industry is one of the most dangerous occupations, and this system requires less hands-on work.) In addition, because shapes and thicknesses can be optimized for what is needed structurally, rather than having to match what’s available in premade lumber and other materials, the total amount of material needed could be reduced.
While the platform represents an engineering advance, Oxman notes. “Making it faster, better, and cheaper is one thing. But the ability to design and digitally fabricate multifunctional structures in a single build embodies a shift from the machine age to the biological age — from considering the building as a machine to live in, made of standardized parts, to the building as an organism, which is computationally grown, additively manufactured, and possibly biologically augmented.”
“So to me it’s not merely a printer,” she says, “but an entirely new way of thinking about making, that facilitates a paradigm shift in the area of digital fabrication, but also for architectural design. … Our system points to a future vision of digital construction that enables new possibilities on our planet and beyond.”
“Human inner ear organs grown: Could lead to new therapies for hearing, balance impairments”
Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have successfully developed a method to grow inner ear tissue from human stem cells — a finding that could lead to new platforms to model disease and new therapies for the treatment of hearing and balance disorders.
“The inner ear is only one of few organs with which biopsy is not performed and because of this, human inner ear tissues are scarce for research purposes,” said Eri Hashino, PhD, Ruth C. Holton Professor of Otolaryngology at IU School of Medicine. “Dish-grown human inner ear tissues offer unprecedented opportunities to develop and test new therapies for various inner ear disorders.”
The study, published online May 1 in Nature Biotechnology, was led by Karl R. Koehler, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at IU School of Medicine, and Dr. Hashino in collaboration with Jeffrey Holt, PhD, professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. The research builds on the team’s previous work with a technique called three-dimensional culture, which involves incubating stem cells in a floating ball-shaped aggregate, unlike traditional cell culture in which cells grow in a flat layer on the surface of a culture dish. This allows for more complex interactions between cells, and creates an environment that is closer to what occurs in the body during development, Dr. Koehler said.
By culturing human stem cells in this manner and treating them with specific signaling molecules, the investigators were able to guide cells through key processes involved in the development of the human inner ear. This resulted in what the scientists have termed inner ear “organoids,” or three-dimensional structures containing sensory cells and supporting cells found in the inner ear.
“This is essentially a recipe for how to make human inner ears from stem cells,” said Dr. Koehler, lead author of the study and whose research lab works on modeling human development. “After tweaking our recipe for about a year, we were shocked to discover that we could make multiple inner ear organoids in each pea-sized cell aggregate.”
The researchers used CRISPR gene editing technology to engineer stem cells that produced fluorescently labeled inner ear sensory cells. Targeting the labeled cells for analysis, they revealed that their organoids contained a population of sensory cells that have the same functional signature as cells that detect gravity and motion in the human inner ear.
“We also found neurons, like those that transmit signals from the ear to the brain, forming connections with sensory cells,” Dr. Koehler said. “This is an exciting feature of these organoids because both cell types are critcal for proper hearing and balance.”
Dr. Hashino said these findings are “a real game changer, because up until now, potential drugs or therapies have been tested on animal cells, which often behave differently from human cells.”
The researchers are currently using the human inner ear organoids to study how genes known to cause deafness interrupt normal development of the inner ear and plan to start the first-ever drug screening using human inner ear organoids.
“We hope to discover new drugs capable of helping regenerate the sound-sending hair cells in the inner ear of those who have severe hearing problems,” Dr. Hashino said.
“Assessing Soft Skills to Land Your Next Top Hire”
When you’re hiring a new employee, it can be easy to miss some marks during an interview and focus simply on whether the candidate has the technical skills to do the job on day one. While technical skills are important, it isn’t enough to find someone who can do the job without also assessing a cultural fit for your team. You can often train someone to do a job, but you can’t fix a poor attitude.
“When you don’t examine the character — or soft skills — of a candidate, you may end up with an employee who can do the job, but is still a drain on the company,” said Edward Fleischman, founder and chief executive officer of The Execu | Search Group. “Some of the consequences of failing to evaluate soft skills include a suffering team morale, reduced productivity, lost business, and additional expenses to replace the employee.”
In the words of Porsche CEO Peter Schultz, “Hire character, train skill.” While character and soft skills are important to your hiring choice, they aren’t always readily identifiable in an interview. In order to determine these qualities, Mr. Fleischman says you’ll need to ask strategic questions rather than ones that only require a simple yes or no answer. A careful analysis of the stories and experiences that are shared with you can reveal how the candidate may work and grow within your company, he said.
While there are several questions you could ask, Execu | Search offers six queries that can give you a glimpse into a candidate’s personality and work ethic — and help you make the right choice:
1. What is a challenge you have faced in the workplace, and how did you overcome it?
Problem solving is one of the most in-demand skills in the workforce, so it is crucial that you interpret how a candidate will handle a stressful situation. Not only can you better understand their ability to think on their feet and settle an issue, but you’ll also get a glimpse at how well they can identify a crisis and analyze a complex situation.
If they seemed to sit back or simply follow instructions, they may not be the self-starter that you need in a critical situation. However, if they were quick to spot the issue and worked in a team to fix it, they may have excellent leadership potential within your organization.
2. Have you ever had a conflict with another employee at work? How did you resolve it?
It is critical to your success as a company that you find someone who can work well with others. While disagreements among employees might happen infrequently, it is important to understand how a new hire would address a confrontation. Within their answer, pay attention to where blame is placed in the conflict, as this can point to whether they can take responsibility for their actions or if they are quick to place blame elsewhere.
You may also want to consider the context; was the conflict over office politics or over a work-related decision? If they argued passionately for an operational decision that they believed in, it signals a person who cares deeply for their work. However, if they got into a petty dispute over the office temperature, perhaps they take certain aspects of the workplace too seriously.
3. What was the last new task or skill you learned, and how did you go about it?
The way someone approaches their professional development can be very telling as to how they would grow as an employee. For example, if the candidate says that they took it upon themselves to learn a new skill on their own, this points to their ability to take initiative and build valuable skillsets throughout their career.
But if they reluctantly picked up the skill at their manager’s request or quickly asked upper management for help, they may not exhibit the signs of someone who can adapt or learn quickly. Additionally, those candidates who don’t have an answer for this question may not be keeping up to date with current skills needed in the industry — and that’s a major red flag.
4. Tell me about your biggest professional failure. What did you learn?
In order for an employee to improve on the job, they need to be able to address their own failures —something that requires a great deal of self-awareness. The candidate’s answer can show you how they view themselves, and more specifically, if they view a failure as a disaster or a learning experience. If they didn’t learn anything from their mistake or were upset by feedback they received, this can suggest a lack of emotional intelligence, or the inability to perceive and manage their feelings.
5. Tell me about a time you did more than what was required on the job?
Ideally, a candidate should have a few examples of times where they have gone above and beyond expectations. This shows that they really care about their work, and they can handle normal amounts of stress that may arise on a daily basis.
However, if they never stayed late or worked extra to finish a project, this suggests someone who will only meet the minimum requirements of the job. Additionally, a candidate who boasts too many instances of completing tasks they were not assigned could identify someone who oversteps their boundaries or doesn’t trust their team enough to delegate.
6. How do you plan your work week?
In order for an employee to be a productive team member, they typically have their own habits of how they organize their work and prioritize responsibilities. While they can employ a variety of systems that work for them, be wary if they don’t seem to have any organization in place. Without such structure, they may end up spending more time figuring out what to do next than actually working, which means that they do not have effective time management skills.
However, those who rely on calendars, folders, and lists suggest that this employee won’t let the ball drop on their watch. By understanding how they currently work through a week, you’ll be able to assess whether or not they can be effective from day to day on your team.
Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief —
Hunt Scanlon Media