2019 was the best year in human history. It’s all downhill from here.
That’s the claim made in a fascinating book I’m reading, called The End of the World is Just the Beginning by Peter Zeihan.
The book is long and complex, but I will recklessly attempt to summarize the ideas from the book in a few bullets. Per the book, the world is in trouble for two main reasons.
- Back when everyone lived on farms, children were free labor. So people had lots of children.
- When industrialization happened, more workers were needed near factories, in cities, and so people moved to cities. When you’re living in a small apartment in a city, children are very expensive, noisy luxuries. So people started having fewer children.
- As a result, over the past 100 years, most countries have had far too few children and this has become a crisis. Take a look at these graphs showing Italy’s demographics over time to see a powerful example.
Globalization (or rather the end of Globalization)
- After the Second World War, at the Bretton Woods Conference the US basically agreed to use the US Navy to ensure safe travel across the oceans, and easy global free trade, for anyone who allied themselves with the US rather than the Soviet Union in the cold war.
- This led to global trade, easy access to goods and food, regardless of where they came from, and generally low prices.
- However, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, there has been less incentive for the US to continue doing this, and so the US is gradually becoming more isolationist – focusing more on its own interests, rather than being “the world’s policeman”.
The book argues that the result of these two trends is going to be pretty disastrous. Most countries are unable to provide food and energy for themselves, won’t be able to ship it in from elsewhere so easily, and don’t have enough young people and children to provide a viable workforce to support an aging population. So it will generally be pretty grim. (Hence the “end of the world” in the title.)
Let’s all take a deep breath for a moment. And another deep breath. That’s better.
Is this true?
Now look, I don’t know how seriously to take all this. I don’t have a PhD in GeoPolitics (is that a thing?), but this thinking does line up with some trends we see in real life.
Shortages in skilled workers
One of the biggest problems for our clients is a lack of skilled workers. This is partly driven by historically low unemployment, and partly driven by experienced telecoms technicians reaching retirement age.
Supply Chain Issues
Has anyone used the phrase “supply chain issues” recently? Oh wait, EVERYONE has. This is impacting us in our personal lives, but is also a huge problem for fiber construction projects.
Obviously our current supply chain challenges are exacerbated by the pandemic, but tensions with Russia (and China) and labor shortages at ports are all part of the picture.
You may have seen that the US Congress recently passed the CHIPS Act, which provides $52B to bolster the semiconductor industry in the US – with the goal of filling a very important hole in the US supply chain. In other words, the US doesn’t want to rely on foreign imports for a very critical piece of technology, hence we’re making a huge investment to create a domestic semiconductor industry.
Are these worker shortages and supply chain issues a temporary, post-pandemic glitch, or are they beginning of our decline into deindustrialization? I don’t know, but having read the book, I’m now at least considering the latter, gloomier option.
Reason for Hope
If you live in North America and work in the telecoms industry (nearly everyone reading this?), there are some reasons for hope, despite the forecast apocalypse.
- The US has more young people than other countries. This is basically because the US is so large, and instead of living in cramped apartments, the baby boomers moved to the suburbs, where children were less of an inconvenience that in the city. So the Millennial generation (with all their flaws) is actually pretty big.
- The US will have fewer supply chain issues than most other places (believe it or not). We are actually able to grow enough food and provide enough energy and various other raw materials to support civilization. There are some exceptions – which the CHIPS Act is striving to fill – but compared to most places, the US is surprisingly self-sufficient.
- As workers in the telecoms industry – providing critical communications infrastructure to a local community – we are already living and working locally. So if the global supply chain infrastructure falls apart it will hurt but it will hurt us less than other people.
An Announcement (August 2022)
After all this talk about worldwide historic trends, I’m going to absurdly switch from macro to micro, and share what we’re doing at Award Consulting to respond to the shortage in skilled telecoms technicians.
When I first started the business, and with my first few hires, I relied on experts with decades of experience in the telecoms industry. I continue to be delighted by Stephen, Nathan, Darrin and Rita, as they provide excellent service to our clients.
However, for the longevity of Award Consulting, and for the future of the industry, it’s imperative that we train up a new generation of technicians to support our communications infrastructure over the coming decades. In August 2021 we hired David Wunderlich, who became the first team member without a telecoms background. We have been delighted by how quickly he has developed wide-ranging expertise in telecoms, under the mentorship of the other team members.
Buoyed by that success, we just hired Natasha Willardson, who began her apprenticeship in the world of VoIP, SS7 and Metaswitch a few weeks ago – and we are excited to watch her grow in the coming months and years. Existing clients will start to meet Natasha working alongside her mentors very soon. Be sure to say hi, and welcome her to the industry. I told her telecoms people are really friendly, so don’t let me down!
We are committed to building a team of experts that will be around for the long-haul, who you can rely on when you need in-depth expertise for your voice network. This will require a balance between experience and new talent – and critically, we are investing in our people, to create more of these talented, experienced technicians. If you have an active support retainer with us, we make our team available, as an extension of your team – working side-by-side to solve problems and to share our expertise, for everyone’s benefit. If that sounds interesting you can learn more about our support retainers here.