By: Graham Lane
Published: May 4, 2017, Winnipeg Sun
A few weeks ago Great West Life announced it would reduce its workforce by 13%. Facing a changing insurance market disrupted by technology and competition, one of Winnipeg’s largest private sector employers plans to cut its overall workforce by 1,500 positions. Its Winnipeg headquarters are to be reduced by 450 through attrition and buy-outs.
GWL is adjusting its business model to deal with new market realities — referred to in its media release as “changing technology and customer expectations”. Aside from a day or two of anxious headlines, the announcement brought forth little public concern. Nor should there be. It’s how the private sector works — never stand still, constantly innovate, improve customer service, reduce costs — or lose business to competitors who are striving to deliver a better product.
What about the 450 people in Winnipeg who will lose their jobs? Some will take early retirement; others will use severance packages as a temporary bridge to finding other work. Most will use the skills they have learned and land in a good place.
The economy is a dynamic place — new jobs are constantly being created, just as others are being lost. The famous economist Joseph Schumpeter called this “creative destruction.” We all benefit as the relentless, invisible churning of the marketplace generates new products, services and jobs — improving overall living standards amid advancing technological progress.
Ford’s automobile forced buggy-whip manufacturers out of business. Today, the smartphone and the internet disrupt entire economic sectors. Uber is upending the taxi business while AirBnB is doing much the same to hotels. Retail stores open and close as shopping shifts to online vendors. Soon there will be electric driverless cars and trucks disrupting the muffler shop business, reducing freight transport jobs and costs while making our costly, old style transit systems obsolete. Media is going digital, as is banking and financial services.
Going back to GWL, some younger tech-savvy consumers are declining to pay for human financial advisors when so-called robo-advisors and smart phone apps claim they can organize’ financial portfolios using computerized mathematical rules (algorithms) to automatically allocate and, hopefully, optimize clients’ assets.
Let’s contrast the dynamic hurly burly of the private sector economy with the relative moribund morass of our public sector. Welcome there to monopoly world — a comparatively customer unfriendly place. Producing unremarkable service, it is a technological laggard where costs only go up. Bloated top-heavy payrolls with layers and layers of slow-moving bureaucracy are the norm.
Our health monopoly has had patients dying on waiting lists. Our education monopoly is no better, big on social engineering and green indoctrination while too often producing students lacking basic math and literacy skills. The inadequate outputs of our public monopolies are paid for with constantly rising debt, taxes, fees, even exorbitant traffic fines — and, of course, billions from strings-free federal transfer payments.
Imagine, as part of a serious effort to control costs and improve services, a 13% staff cut throughout ‘monopoly world, done over two years a la GWL. It’s an action routinely common in the private sector. Not here in Manitoba’s public sector. Our government’s recent budget revealed little stomach, capacity or skill for real reform.
And that’s where we need to start. A vision. A Plan. Some Leadership.
— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward, manitobaforward.ca.
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