The Milkman, The Payroll Analyst and The Great Pause

My grandfather was a milkman. From what my mother tells me, it was a tough job. Maybe not the kind of job you would see as a promising Discovery Channel series, but it had all the qualities of a good old fashion “working man’s” profession. He would wake up literally before the cows did, travel to the dairy, load up his refrigerated milk truck, and drive his route. It didn’t matter if it was raining or snowing. People wanted their milk before the kids woke up and getting it to them, in glass bottles with paper stoppers, was his job. It was an honorable, labor intensive, and respectable way for a man to make a living.


My father was a payroll analyst for Eastern Airlines for over 30 years. Each day he would travel to Miami International Airport, work in his office, and eat lunch from a brown paper bag. Computers were virtually nonexistent so time cards were punched manually. Pretty much everything was done manually back then. He would return home by 6pm (traffic as we know it didn’t exist) with kids happy to see him. He had two weeks of vacation which we coveted as a time to see America, while exploiting the benefits of having a dad who worked for “The Wings of Man.”  It, too, was an honorable job requiring math, attention to detail, and a strong love of company (all qualities that his son unfortunately did not get in the gene swap).  I now can only imagine my father’s and grandfather’s impression of me declaring my major in Theatre….go figure.
It’s hard to imagine today the need for a milkman. The concept of ordering milk from the dairy and having it delivered to your door on a regular schedule when I can grab it from Walmart is almost well …antiquated. It is not like I‘m ordering the latest Netflix horror movie or my next set of sneakers from  It’s milk. I am sure 3 years down the road someone will open and recreate the effect, except the milk will come from New Jersey and be delivered in a cow shaped box by UPS.
On the other hand, any company of any reasonable size has a payroll department. The job, regardless of automation, still exists, and it remains a stable job regardless of whatever the economy throws at it. For wherever there are employees, there will be paychecks. Although paychecks have been replaced by electronic paystubs and direct deposit, there are still people in payroll who make it all work. The reason is because the people getting paid are human, and inevitably no computer will ever take into account all the variations that happen while we do our job. This job is not going anywhere, anytime soon. But Eastern Airlines was a train wreck of a company whose executive ego and self absorbed/self destructive union turned contract negotiations into the kind of corporate politics that you only see in home owner association meetings, the neighborhood toddler sandbox, and today’s congress. They imploded the company. Many saw this coming and headed for the hills before it happened. My father retired.
So wherever you are as you read this, RIGHT NOW (and I feel comfortable saying this because no one reads my article while driving),
 STOP and PAUSE because I want you to think.
Both my grandfather and my father would be unemployed today. 
Because one chose a profession that disappeared because it was no longer needed and the other worked for a company that no longer exists.
So, in this GREAT PAUSE I have asked you to take, imagine now your fate.
Are you in a job that will cease to exist in the next five years? Is your job part of maintaining what is needed today? Are you making buggy whips when Ford is making cars? Are you delivering newspapers in the internet age? Are you fixing copiers when your boss is buying an iPad?
Or… are you working for a company that is doomed to become part of history? Is your company unhealthy? Is it plagued by intense regulation, executive infighting, union/management warfare, or poised to be bought and absorbed? (I promise no references to the Borg…resistance is futile.) Is your company Zayres, Woolworth, PanAm, or any of the other greats we never thought would become vapor?
In today’s economy and job market it is difficult to think about your job in terms of its future over the next five years but it is something you must do. There are industries and professions in full decline and many people destined to be the next milkman. It is easy to see some of the jobs that will be around for a long time as there will always be payroll, finance, supply chain, and transportation needs. There will be growth in many jobs….nurses and tax accountants immediately come to mind. And, while you take your GREAT PAUSE, you should consider these things.
The good news is that, if you do this, you have time to make a plan and strategize your transition. If you don’t think about it now, you will truly be the cow looking at an oncoming train.
You have time, unless your job is a census worker; then, you will be part of history in about seven months and will be able to resume your job in about ten years.
Copyright © 2010 Mike Baumgartner | HR | Consulting | Coach |  Human Resources | Search - CEO, Worklife Survival Center LLC