Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Auto industry bailout. Just say NO!

Ford had been dying a painful death for years now. It's time to firesale the assets of the company and let the name, the brand, and everything associated with Ford either die off or be sacrificed to people who want to buy a name brand.

Parts will be needed for years to come, but like any obsolete vehicle, they will die off and adapt to other automakers needs.

As for Ford assets, the ones they haven't completely messed up with their Anti-midas touch, can be sold off. Land Rover still has a strong name, even if Ford turned them into crap trucks with their mix and match brand overtake. Volvo also was a once glimmering company that may be salvagable.

Chrysler should part ways with Daimler and firesale the majority of their car making operations. Some brands, such as Jeep, may still be salvagable. I don't think it should be up to the government to ressurrect these companies, but for the free market to let them fail and pick up the pieces.

As for GM and Chrysler. GM has the best chance. If they can weather the storm and make a comeback with their Chevy Volt, then they might have a chance in the future.


What North American governments can do.

Let the companies know, that gradually gasoline prices will be raised, through taxes, to double or triple what they are now. The revenues will be used to offer incentives for fuel efficient vehicles.
The government should also make deals with VW, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and any other successful automaker to ressurrect what they can of the flailing auto sector. The sell off shouldn't be held off as long as possible, but rather used as an opportunity to gradually have America's failed auto industry be taken over by companies who build better cars.

I'm not bothered if 100,000 manufacturing jobs with GM, Ford, and Chrysler are lost in the next five years if 95,000 jobs are created through more sustainable car companies. The pride associated with the American auto sector has been their downfall. They've focused on survival while other companies focused on market needs and quality.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and other companies have been hit by the economic downturn, but they're not bleeding red ink like a severed elephant artery.

Bailing out the North American auto industry with huge cash injections is the wrong long term decision. It is a quick fix and does not solve the underlying problem that they don't make very good cars and can't adapt to changing markets.

GM, rather than slim down and focus on selling fewer cars at better margins, tried too hard to out pace Japanese automaker Toyota. It's the marathon runners big mistake, trying to keep ahead of the leader when you're just an average runner. You burn out your reserves and end up crashing badly.
In GM's case, instead of making just enough cars really well, they made too many cars too poorly and slashed prices into losing territory to make up for the difference.
Ford, more than Chrysler and GM, simply got too big and couldn't adapt to the increased competition making better and better cars.

It's a downward spiral that the banking and economic crisis should serve as a chance to cut and run. Put the broken horse out of its misery with a bullet and cremate the remains. Meanwhile, create a pleasant economic climate for the resurrection of the auto industry. Something better will emerge.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Where the Canadian Liberals went wrong.

More than a year ago, there was the Liberal leadership race. I supported Stephan Dion over two other big name candidates. The other candidates were Michael Ignatief and Bob Rae.
I thought Dion was better than Rae because of Rae's poor leadership record in Ontario, which is the Liberal voting heartland.
I thought Dion was better than Ignatief because Ignatief supported the Iraq invasion.

Dion and the Liberal attacks on Stephen Harper were borderline pathetic. Take Obama's campaign. The democratic attack strategy on McCain centred around linking him to George Bush at every opportunity. This was slightly unfair. As a republican, Mccain had to toe the line most of the time. As democrats, their job was to oppose Bush most of the time.
In reality, I think that few people in the world despised George Bush more than John McCain. It was McCain after all who was Bush's first victim of dirty political smear campaigning.

The liberals came out with the Harper/Howard Iraq war speeches near the end of the campaign. It should have been their starting point. Stephen Harper equals George Bush should have been the message the Liberals portrayed from day one. This was the basis for me supporting Dion over Ignatief. It was the one chance the Liberals had to stick it to Harper. Compare every major policy over the last three years to that of George Bush, and highlight it with the fact that we could be going to Iraq if Harper gets his coveted majority.


Bush comes out with the Clear Skies Initiative.

Harper got his thesaurus out to invent the Clean Air Act.

Clear skies initiative equals Bush
Clean Air Act equals Harper.

Clear is a synonym of Clean
Air is a synonym of Sky
Act is a synonym of initiative.

Three words to three words. I'd wager if some Liberal pundits poured over the two documents they'd find enough in common to lambaste Harper for being a Bush imitator.

This was the groundwork.

The unfolding of economic events could have played into Dion's Green Shift strategy. Canada, if we'd taken the ridiculous profits from oil and put them toward green jobs, could have helped shelter our economy from the American fallout.

Would Toyota be interested in developing the Prius here in Ontario where automotive jobs have slumped? What if the Canadian government promised to subsidize all Canadian sales of greener Canadian-made vehicles and promote low financing options. Furthermore, a green license plate program with free parking in cities and no annual road taxes. This stuff is gold with voters!

If not Toyota, Honda, or Nissan or all three.

It wasn't that complicated. Tidbits of stuff Canadians can relate to.

The fact that the TSE slumped worse than the Dow should have been a rallying cry. Did the Liberals not do the math? It really wasn't that complicated.

A vote for Harper is a vote for Bush.

Bush inherited a strong economy and a balanced budget and went on to gut the American finances and leave huge deficits.
Harper twittered away huge budget surpluses, oversaw the collapse of the economy into a recession worse than the Americans, and if he's elected again, the Canadian cupboard will also be bare.

Hope and change was Obama's rallying cry.

A better future should have been the Liberals rallying cry.

The last word.

I've heard talk of how Canada needs an Obama like election. No we don't. In order to get an Obama style election, we must first have an extended period of abysmal leadership that leads to hopelessness and despair. I'm no fan of Harper, he's not a great leader, but I don't think he'll take us down Bush's road, at least not for another decade and a couple of hoodwinking fear mongering majorities.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Canadian Public Job Search cont'd again.

A few months back, I made it to the interview stage for a pension review job. I estimate that I was a one in a hundred shot and I missed the cut.

More promising are two employment pools at Statscan in Ottawa. What I'm really hoping for however is something that can take me anywhere in Canada, and even beyond in later years. This job is the final stage of the review process, and the chances of an applicant being accepted are 1 in 15 to start with.

I don't expect to get into the foreign service. It's a close second choice of career out of all the prospective jobs I've applied for. First choices don't always work out, and in the meantime I might as well throw my hat into as many rings as possible hoping one of them pays off.

Another fear is that all the government jobs I've been focusing on for the last year will be revoked due to federal spending cutbacks. No matter how well I do on all of these tests, what's the point if hiring initiatives are halted and spun back?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How to Write the Canadian Public Service Exams

More than a year ago, I applied for jobs within the Canadian Public Service, including the Graduate Recruitment inventory and the Foreign Service.

Leading up to the three tests, I studied from the Public Service Exam Prep book, as well as an associated website. The website had five exams for each type of Public Service test.

On the practice website, my marks were in the following range.

Situational Judgement Test (SJT) - 70-85%
Graduate Recruitment Test (GRT) - 80-92%
Written Communication Proficiency Test (WCPT) - 86-98%

I hoped to get near the high end of those marks on the exams, however when I wrote them, they seemed harder than the practice exams, particularly the WCPT.

I ended up with the following results in 2007:

Results of Public Service Commission Tests

Test Your Score Test Date
Graduate Recruitment Test 43.0/55 2007-10-30
Written Communication Proficiency Test 41.0/50 2007-10-30
Situational Judgement Test 76.0/100 2007-10-30

I later heard rumours that people needed to average 86% to get into the foreign service. The marks seemed enormous, especially considering the best I could hope for was probably an 80% on the SJT. I could possibly reach that level if I wrote each test more than once. Your marks are good for five years and a test writer has to wait 180 days before they can retake the test. I was curious to know how many people did just this, rewrite until they got an easier test and maybe a couple of lucky guesses to boost them up five to ten percent from their average marks.

My wife applied for the same jobs this year and we went to write the tests together this Saturday.

Some comparisons to the previous tests.

1) In 2007, I wrote the tests at the Canadian Embassy in Morocco. The advantage was that we used big desks and could spread out and work comfortably. Here in Kingston in 2008, there were 300 people crammed into a University lecture hall. We were all bent over in uncomfortable seats with those tiny sliding desk pallets. These desks are good for scribbling a few notes during a lecture, but not for writing five hours worth of tests. If I could suggest something to the government, look into alternatives. In University exams, they usually give students actual desks in the gymnasium.

2) Despite the discomfort, I found two of the three tests easier, particularly the WCPT. The GRT seemed slightly easier, while the SJT was still a lot of arbitrary guesswork and could potentially be anywhere in my typical range of 70-82%. I wouldn't be surprised if I scored near the high end of my practice test marks on at least two of the tests.

If the foreign service magic number remains at around 86%, then I think everything hinges on a couple percentage points, particularly in the SJT. If like last time, I score 76% on the SJT, I need to average 92% on the other two tests to pull off an 86% average. Difficult, but not impossible.

I'm curious to know the average number of times people applying for the foreign service and the Graduate Recruitment Program write these tests before getting offered jobs.

Worse still is what an applicant is up against. The Foreign Service doesn't give exact numbers on how many people they hire. I think it's around fifty per year.

Over 300 people were writing in Kingston. Most of them had probably applied for the foreign service just because it is a checkmark and they obviously need a job or they wouldn't apply. To compare, Statistics Canada displayed, for one day only, a recruitment ad for a hiring initiative. Over 5000 people applied.

There are over 70 test centres across Canada. Kingston is probably the smallest. Montreal and Toronto surely have more than ten times the number of applicants.

I would guess 100,000 people wrote the tests. If there were 1000 graduate recruitment jobs, you'd have to be in the top 1 percentile. If it was just for the foreign service, you'd have to be in the top 0.05 percentile.

Then there is the possibility that some applicants have a way to get their hands on the tests or answers. No matter how hard the government tries to protect the tests, it's an enormous task to protect one-hundred-thousand documents. The window of opportunity to cheat, take photos, or whatever, is likely there for a few test writers. If you were presented with the test/answers, would you turn it away? If a genius offered to hoodwink the system and sit next to you and slide the answers over, would the administrators be able to pick up on it?
It's a bit like the Olympics. An athlete trains all their life only to see someone catch up and surpass them just as the biggest event of their lives takes place. They've always been better, faster, and stronger than their opponents. They've trained equally as hard, if not harder. Therefore how can they possibly lose?
Who knows how many Olympians really use performance enhancing drugs?
If one doesn't cheat, someone else does.

This is my biggest fear over what I'm up against. How many people got the answers vs how many jobs there are.

If I was presented with the test answers, I'd have to think hard. "I have the test right here. There are fifty jobs. There are 50,000 applicants. How many other applicants have a cheating plan? 10? 25? 100? If I have the opportunity to cheat, surely someone else does. If I have a friend on the inside, and their are a few hundred people on the inside...



Enough said of the potential dark side to this competition. If I get in, I get in on my brainpower.

I hypothesize that my marks can be broken down to the following, with mental errors, difficult questions, computer error, and lucky/unlucky guesses all coming into play.


GRT

Best case scenario - 94%
Worst case scenario - 80%

SJT


Best Case Scenario: 82%
Worst Case Scenario: 67%

WCPT

Best case scenario - 98%
Worst Case Scenario - 86%

I mention computer error because it instructs test takers to completely erase any errors. I find that it's almost impossible to do this. Usually, at least once or twice on a test I answer then change my mind. I did it four times on the SJT, and if the computer marks all four questions wrong, well, there goes four percent that could have boosted me to the next level.

One of the secrets to doing well is pacing. I'd written enough practice tests to know that I can finish within the alloted times, but sometimes just barely. The tests are designed to push you to the limit, so a person who isn't prepared or has English or French as a second language might not finish. For the GRT, pacing is particularly important for certain types of questions. The sequence questions, for instance, once you've practiced enough of them you can figure out all the possible patterns and fly through them in no time. If not, they can really hang you up and slow you down. Same goes for the algebra questions. If you can't organise the variables efficiently into equations, then they really slow you down. This is when panic sets in.

I used my stopwatch to see exactly how much time had passed, and whether I was ahead or behind schedule to finish the exam. I've learned that if I don't keep track of the time, I'm prone to start rushing through questions unnecessarily.
If there is a question I don't know, I lightly mark a best guess (so I can erase it later). I also leave a little dot beside the question and go back to it at the end.

The GRT breakdown

There were two sequence questions I couldn't get on the first try. I went back at the end to figure one out. I guessed on the other. I also double checked half a dozen other questions I wasn't 100% sure of.

I found the math formula questions fairly easy, however I fear being prone to mental error on these questions more than most.

The most difficult GRT questions for me are the word association. They're not time consuming, just frustrating. On one there was an unfamiliar word, and on at least two others there was no obvious answer that jumped out at me.

The SJT breakdown

About sixty percent of the questions are easily answerable, especially when you've studied the basic logic and scenarios. That leaves forty questions to chance.

On some, it could be a fifty/fifty or a most probable guess. The worst were the ten to twenty questions where I felt clueless as to which decision was the best or worst. That leaves my SJT test score the least predictable of all. I feel some of the questions are almost arbitrary in the way you answer them. I'm sure there is some logic they use to justify the answers, but I might see the situation from a different angle and get it completely backwards.

The WCPT

When I first wrote this test in Morocco, it seemed really hard. This may have been due to the fact that I felt rushed to answer the questions because I didn't pace myself properly. This time round, and paced, it felt like a much easier test. Two or three really tough questions can throw a test writer into a panicked rush, and this can drag their mark down an additional ten percent or more. I felt there were no such difficult questions this time around, and pacing myself also really helped...

In summary, in lieu of not having the test presented to you by a friend on the inside, or cheating some other way, there are five things I suggest to improve your marks.

1) Study. Practice any exams you can. The best way to prepare for the Public Service exams is practice, practice and practice. A lot of the practice questions will be similar on the actual exam and you'll fly through them.

2) Pace yourself. Bring a stopwatch. Write down how many questions there are. Write down how long the exam is. Check to see the time. If you are ahead of the game, relax, think things through, and enjoy the challenge of the exams.

3) Bring ibuprofen (or whatever painkiller/relaxant) and some water. Just under five hours of exams is grueling. I needed an advil in the middle of the second exam (SJT) which I'm sure contributes to why I feel I did so poorly on it.

4) Rewrite. If your like me, your bound to screw up at least one test on the first round. Either that, or you get a tougher one. A couple extra tough questions combined with some bad luck could mean as much as ten percent. If you have unlimited shots at writing a test, why not aim for the mark you think you need, and if you miss, try again and again. Aim till you hit the bullseye.

5) Mark your answers on the extra paper provided and transfer them to the answer sheet afterwards. This will avoid any erasing answers that leads to a machine error.

Best of luck

One last thing. My average from last year, just under eighty percent, has recently gotten me one email regarding a job in Toronto. I replied that I was interested and am now waiting for the next stage.

America Votes

As a world traveller who has lived overseas during the majority of George Bush's presidency, I like to think I have a slightly different perspective on the upcoming US election. I've seen what other nationalities, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, think of America.

If people around the world were going to vote for the American president, I'd wager Obama would win with at least 90% of the vote.

In Africa and the Middle East, it would be pushing 100%, with only a few extremists voting for McCain because he would be better for their hate-America campaign.

Obama is what America needs to restore their shattered image. George Bush has taken the most beloved and respected country in the world and turned it into the most despised. John McCain, no matter how hard he tries to differentiate himself, is still a white Republican replacing another white Republican who really fucked things up.

If a president McCain pledged that any Americans remaining in Iraq should be treated as temporary guests, Iraqi people would have a hard time swallowing it. But if a President Obama spoke the same magic words of withdrawal and friendship, they just might. That's the key difference. Obama has a chance to do a lot of symbolic good at a time where it's sorely needed. The times of animosity, go it alone, with us or against us, stay the course and other pigheaded Bushisms needs to come to an end.

With McCain, it might come to an end politically.

But with Obama, it will come to an end politically and symbolically. That is why Americans who love their country, who hope their children can travel the world without claiming to be Canadian, and who hope for a better tomorrow, should vote for Barrack Obama.