2022 Year in Review

Annual retrospective

2022 was not a very active year here on The Drafting Table (because it was a very active year at home and at work). I had seven posts, the fewest of any year since I started this blog. However, I've got a backlog of something like 10 partial drafts, so I hope to post at least a little bit more in 2023.  

I did manage to find time for reading, getting through 22 books in '22. A few of them served as starting points for a couple of in-depth posts on water resources in East Asia and rapid improvements in machine learning. I hope to do at least one more lengthy review post on a couple of books, as well as some mini-reviews like I did last year of some of the other books I read, so keep an eye out for those.

Here is the full list of my posts from this year:

And here are links for the past couple of year-end round-ups (which can also take you back further): 2021, 2020.

This past year I got to build a few unique pieces of furniture. I've already shared the tensegrity footstool and tripod lamp (here). A more recent project was a privacy screen / room divider, pictured below. It has a softwood frame and the panels are filled in with pseudo-vintage posters of botanical prints that we found at a cool coffeehouse in Nova Scotia.

I'll also include a comment I made on LinkedIn regarding the labour market here to refer back to in a year or two to see how it panned out:

"Using LinkedIn's 41 ideas for 2023 (https://lnkd.in/g-Wb8A4S) as a jumping-off point, it looks like the year ahead has the potential to be very chaotic in the labour market. There are a lot of competing factors pushing in all directions, so it is hard to predict what the net effect will be. Some of the factors I'm watching are:

  • Baby Boomer retirements. These were going to happen anyway and perhaps got moved ahead a few years by the pandemic. Knowledge transfer often seems to be ad hoc at best; even where the headcount has been maintained with new hires, the decline in average years of experience is a hurdle for efficiency. This factor increases demand for experienced workers still in the labour force.
  • Reshoring. Due to a mix of strategic geopolitical concerns and hedging against future supply chain disruptions, I expect manufacturing in North America to be entering a growth period. Which will provide demand for certain types of workers.
  • AI-driven automation. Some AI/ML tools that were released in 2022 show a lot of potential for automating various routine office jobs, from preparing short reports/memos, to screening a lot of initial inquiries, to graphic design for some applications. I expect this to shift labour demand around in complex ways, but am far from certain whether it would lead to an overall increase or decrease.
  • Inflation. Concern over household budgets might increase the size of the labour force as people choose to defer retirement or further schooling based on their financial situation.
  • Rising interest rates. The rising cost of capital will make it more difficult to justify labour-saving automation. At the same time, it will probably slow reshoring trends and perhaps the start-up scene as well. So I'm not sure what the net effect will be.
  • Possible Recession. We've already seen layoffs in the tech sector (where Baby Boomer retirements are a lesser factor and rising interest rates are a greater one given the tendency to focus on growth rather than positive cashflow), with Twitter being merely the most newsworthy example rather than unique in kind. If it happens, this would likely reduce the demand for labour, subject to caveats about the length and severity of a recession, and considerations about "talent warehousing" mentioned in the linked article.
  • The continuing remote/hybrid/RTO debate. Fully remote jobs allow employers to access a wider pool of candidates and workers to access a wider pool of potential offers. Re-emphasizing an in-person workplace (including as a hybrid approach) loses that flexibility but probably offers more efficiency/productivity (for anything requiring collaboration, anyway). It's not clear to me what the net effect will be.
    I'm sure there are other factors that I haven't even considered here, and I'd be interested to hear about them. Not an expert in these things but wanted to participate in the Big Ideas 2023 discussion.

Personally, I think the wisest course in the face of this kind of uncertainty is to keep your eyes open and maintain optionality as much as possible. Employers shouldn't rush into layoffs and workers shouldn't rush into unionization drives and strike actions. Until some of these dynamics shake out, you don't want to paint yourself into a corner."