The Great Resignation—What Is It, Really?

An Interview with Mark Perna

Posted February 11, 2022 by Mark Perna

EWP founder Mark C. Perna recently joined the Develop This! podcast host Dennis Fraise for another fascinating conversation about the current state of work in America. The Great Resignation—what is it, why is it, and what can we do about it?

Continuing to do things the way we’ve always done them is the definition of insanity, and that’s never been truer than in today’s fast-changing world. Employers everywhere must pivot if they don’t want to fall behind. Mark shared several actionable strategies employers can take to connect with and then retain top talent in a challenging employment climate.

Mark and Dennis also talked about the shift to flexible work and how in an employee marketplace, this is creating massive challenges for industries like manufacturing, healthcare, education, and many other industries.

Additionally, they touched on Mark’s mission of Education with Purpose & Employment with Passion and the Call to Action livestream experience on March 9.

Catch the episode here:

Listen to the interview

Or check out the transcript below for the full conversation:

Welcome back to another edition of the Develop This! podcast. I’m Dennis, and today I’m joined by a good friend of the show, Mark Perna. And if you’ve listened to our previous shows with Mark. You know that my opinion, he’s America’s thought leader on a lot of things, all things to do with generations and engaging them in the workforce. Mark, welcome back to Develop This!

Well, Dennis, always great to be here. Good to see you.

Good to see you too, my friend. So hey, I want to dive right in, and let’s talk about a couple of things that are hard to escape right now.

One is the Great Resignation. If you’ve been underneath a rock, you probably haven’t heard the term “the Great Resignation.” So, you know, I did a lot of reading on this, Mark. And one of the things that encapsulates this, and we have this from a number of authors, is historically low unemployment rates, historically high quit rates, millions of Boomers suddenly retiring. And you know, I’d add to that, you know, historically low birthrates and all that is remaking work in America. So for people that are maybe not for merit, the Great Resignation, what’s going on?

Can you help us here a little bit, kind of maybe defined in broad strokes what that is?

Yeah, absolutely. And then some of the things you talk about, you know, it really sets up as the perfect storm of situations that has created the situation we’re living in now, where roughly 50% (and this is what’s predicted of the Great Resignation, is 50%) of our employees out there over a two-year, roughly period of time will likely quit their jobs. So, many have also called it the Great Reshuffle, where they’re not necessarily quitting, but they’re being now selective as to where they can go and what they can do.

And so, you know, it’s become an employee marketplace. So, you know, it’s all in their favor. There’s a lot of organizations out there that are, you know, offering all kinds of things and reshuffling how their culture works in order to be able to attract and retain top talent.

And so the Great Resignation is as you called it, and people around the country are calling it, is a thing. It’s an issue and a challenge that’s going to continue to face us for the next 18 months, potentially longer than that.

Over 20 million people have already quit their jobs here in 2021 and moved into either something different or have left the economy altogether, so to speak. And they’re just doing something else, if to join the gig economy. But there are lots of options and opportunities today, and it’s creating quite a challenge.

Yeah, you’re right, Mark. I mean, I would just look at some of the labor statistics. And you know, when you look at what they talk about in August, 4.2 million people leaving their jobs or quit their jobs in September, 4.3 million people.

I mean, it is stunning. I mean, and we have a total of approximately 11 million open jobs out there. And as you said, Mark, it’s an employee market right now. And you know, I was just reading about that, you know, and who knows where to go with this pandemic, you know, who thought we’d be sitting here at this point talking about it again? You know, things flaring up bad. But I was reading an article that talked about how people that were working remote are now being in some cases asked to come back the office, and they’re just like, I’m not doing it.

You know, they’re simply not going to do that. So I find that to be really interesting. And then of course, you know, when you add in—and I’m a Boomer and I say that proudly—but you talk about that with low birth rates, I read an article that said the pandemic has accelerated some of these things that were coming down the pike by 20 to 30 years, that we’re seeing more Boomers leaving the workplace early because they can. And like I said, there’s nobody coming up behind them.

And I think that’s where, you know, if you look at 76 million people being in the Boomer population, you think about those people exiting en masse. I mean, that was always going to be a problem, right? The silver tsunami we talk about.

But, so, coming up behind that, we have these younger generations that a lot of people, especially Boomers, sometimes kind of dog them like, you know, because we were perfect, we were that age, right? We were the ideal employees. But you know, you’re the expert on this. But do you have hope with these younger generations?

Yeah, I think they’re incredible. I think the, you know, the challenge with younger generations is, you know, there are certain things that have to take place in order to be able to get them, you know, ingrained in your culture.

And you know, a big part of that is vision and purpose. They have to have vision and purpose and know the answer why for everything they do. But they also have to have a human connection. They have to feel as though there’s, you know, that you know, you see them, hear them and that they matter.

So you know, I could go on and I could do an entire two or three show arc on simply what do they need and how do they need it? But all of that is so important to them.

But I think they’re extraordinary. And I think, you know, once you know what they think and what makes them tick, I think you can unleash their passion, purpose and performance in any organization. But you know, as it kind of plays out in the Great Resignation there’s you know, you mentioned the Baby Boomers that are moving off into the sunset and some of them are moving, you know, sooner because they don’t want to deal with all of this. And I think that’s going to continue to happen. You know, it’s called the silver tsunami of retirements.

And as they’re exiting the workforce, there just aren’t enough people coming into it. You mentioned 11 million open jobs in America, and the skills gap is extraordinary, continuing to grow. You know, there’s, you know, a few million people that are unemployed, but there are millions of jobs that are open and the people are unemployed, can’t do the jobs that are open. So there you go. Skills gap.

And so all of this has roots in the education system, it has to connect into employment and employers have to recognize that the world and the game has completely changed.

And in looking at that, you have to recognize that if you continue to do business the way you’ve always done business from an HR and employee perspective, you know you’re not going to fare well in where we’re going in 2022.

And so what you have to recognize is that you’re going to have to tap new talent pools. You’re going to have to connect with these rising generations. You’re going to have to create purpose, not just a paycheck. It can’t be just about the money.

Money is important. It’s all on all our lists. And the older you are, the higher it is up on the list, but it’s on the list. But purpose has to be the number-one thing for younger generations, for both millennials and Gen Z.

And so, you know, having mental health resources available, social and environmental responsibility in your community, being able to give back, giving them something bigger than themselves to be a part of—all of these things have to be things that you’re incorporating into what’s happening.

And you know, and frankly, you and I were talking about this, you know, a little bit while back, you know, according to a national survey, 90% of younger generations today want flexibility in their work. 90%, I mean, now I’m not here to say, you know, you need to create as a manufacturing company or as an agricultural company, you know, all this flexibility, you have to figure out how do you create flexibility and still get and achieve your goals and objectives? I’m not an operational performance guy, so I can’t tell you how to do that as a manufacturing entity or as an agricultural company or what have you, I said.

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But that’s what 90% are looking for. So in order to compete in a world where 90% of people can do either things virtually or join the gig economy, which means they can do multiple kinds of jobs, they can do a little here, a little there they can, you know, and they can scrape enough to get by.
So all of these things are, I think, are at play as we move forward.

Yeah. So you talked about, you know, this is early 2022. And so, you know, when we talk about the Great Resignation, there’s a couple sectors that, three sectors in particular, you know, education, healthcare and manufacturing, that seem like there was a struggle with that flexibility issue, you know, because it’s very difficult. They’ve got to—if you’re a hospital, you have to staff people, right, you can’t just let people go. But we’re seeing those three areas really being disrupted. I mean, you look what’s going on in healthcare.

I mean, we see nurses especially, you know, leaving their current positions and maybe taking what some people are calling the great promotion. You know, you can take a job that pays significantly more. Now you might be traveling and maybe that’s your own form of flexibility.

And with educators, we’re seeing, you know, the teacher shortage. I know a lot of areas you just can’t get a substitute teacher. I mean, it’s just almost impossible with manufacturers. I know in our area, we’re seeing that some of the manufacturers that the new people are being forced into a lot of overtime and their turnover rate is dramatically high. 20, 30, 40% of the people are leaving the job.

And so those three sectors in particular are going to continue, I think, to be impacted. What do you think in 2022?

I think they’re going to be, I think they’re going to be gutted to some degree, and I don’t know to what extent it’s going to happen. This is just me being a little bit of a futurist looking out over the landscape over the next 12–18 months. But what I see, you know, healthcare is a great example of this.

The burnout is extraordinary. From everything I see everywhere you go, people who are in the healthcare industry, are exhausted, they’re working crazy hours, they’re trying to make up shifts for people who are sick. They’re, you know, they’re kind of all in. And you know, I think there’s going to be a great deal of reshuffle over the next twelve to 18 months in the healthcare industry. For people who are like, just this is not what I thought it was going to be.

For those people that are all in on the purpose of education, you know, they’ll stick it out longer. But for those of you who just get burned out, they’re going to try to use their talents and their skills somewhere else.

And there is an ability for them to do that in the, you know, with Great Reshuffle going on, which is creating opportunities for them to look in other fields. In education, I’m deeply concerned about education. You know, as I work with educational organizations across North America, and what I’m seeing across the board is that you mentioned that, you know, you can’t get substitutes. Well, not only can you not get substitutes, but current teachers are picking up what substitutes used to do, so teachers are now also substitute teaching and teaching as well. So everybody is trying to do double duty, if you will.

But the challenge is we’re in the middle of a school year right now. There have been people who have left, teachers who have left in midstream, but most are likely to leave somewhere in the March, or commit to leaving somewhere between the March and May timeframe when their contract discussions come up. And they say, You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m going to go do something else. Because for educators, it’s become extremely hard. The kids are pretty feral out there. They’re looking for a human connection. They’re not getting it. They don’t like virtual, they don’t like hybrid. And when they’re back now in the classroom, they’re acting up because they’ve missed an entire 18 months, in many cases, around the country.

And so that’s creating a perfect storm in education that there could be quite a lot of folks that don’t go back in education. But for, you know, it’s a topic on healthcare and education for a second, here’s the big problem with those two industries.

Let’s assume for a second, 50% is what they say is going to leave or reshuffle in America. Well, about three weeks ago, there was a national survey of teachers educators across the country and 48% of them said that they had considered quitting their job in the last 30 days.

48% of teachers across America. Well, if you look at that and you say to yourself, Well, OK, if a lot of those people quit their job and go do something else for every person who leaves education or healthcare, that is a net -1 in the industry.

You cannot simply add someone who out there today is an accountant and make them a teacher and make them work in the healthcare industry. They can’t do it because you need certifications in the education. And you need the credentials, et cetera, et cetera.

So. So for every net -1 in industries that require a great deal of education and certification, you cannot simply replace them. And so my fear in both healthcare and education coming into 2022 is that the impact of the net -1, net -2, net -3 creates a series of ripple effects across our economy.

Because at some point, if you lose enough teachers—and I’ve said to a number of superintendents and people who run educational organizations around the country, I’ve asked a very simple question: What percent of your staff has to quit for this to be a cataclysmic event in your business model?

And the numbers they fire back at me are low. 3%, 5%. 8%. And when you look at that and you say, but 48% say they thought of quitting in the last 30 days. That’s an extraordinary thing to balance.

Yeah, the numbers are just scary stuff. I used to joke about when I started working on workforce issues, you know, eight years ago, that I used to sometimes just shut off my office lights and just rock in the corner because it just, you know—

Hey, nobody puts baby in a corner.

That’s right. That’s right. But you know, so that’s where we are today, right? I mean, we’ve got people that want more flexibility. You know, and I think and rightfully so, a lot of people have reset their lives. You know, what’s important my life. Is my health important? Is my family important? You know, I’m not going to be, you know, and I’m certainly guilty of this as I think a lot of Boomers were, that our job was everything to us, but that’s what we kind of if they needed me to work 60 hours a week, OK, that’s what I would do.

And that was just my mentality. And I don’t think I’m the only one there. But I think the younger generation, I think correctly so, has identified: Look, I’m not doing that. I want to have a little bit more life, you know, not just in balance, but there has to be just an equal importance to my family and to what’s important to me.

And so, you know, Mark, so this is where we are, right? And we’ve got all these people out there that are frustrated and people are changing jobs. Some people have just left. They’re doing the gig economy.

So what’s our path forward? Education has to be one of the keys, doesn’t it, to all this?

It does. It connects to everything. I mean, you know, the pipelines from education into employment and then on into economic development to create the viability for each of our regions, and you know, and communities across the country is critically important. So all of these things, I think, are tied together and what you’re talking about really is the difference between a work-life balance and a work-life blend.

Older generations had a work-life balance, but younger generations are looking for a work-life blend. They want to be able to do what they want to do when they want to do it and be able to work when they want to work.

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That’s that 90%. They want flexibility. And of course, as this plays out, as we spoke a moment ago about manufacturing and in the agricultural sector, is that becomes very difficult because we need someone to start at this time and we needed them to go home at this time.

And where has that? That is very possible. You know, just recognizing again that that all of these people are looking for flexibility and in an employee marketplace, they can go somewhere else and find the flexibility. And so that’s the challenge that every organization, every employer has to balance, is that this is kind of where we see ourselves, you know, as we continue to move forward. You know, I think continuing to do things the way we’ve always done them, I think, is a prescription for really falling greater behind.

And here’s one of the biggest challenges, I want to throw it on the table. I think for employers, you have to recognize that the fear in employees going out and starting and working for a company in this economy right now, is every industry is looking for employees.

Everyone across the board, which means every organization doesn’t have enough people. Well to go and start a job in an organization that doesn’t have enough people, means I’m going to get hammered going there because I’m going to have to pick up the slack in some way.

I’m going to have to work more hours, forced overtime, all of these different issues and challenges that are that are coming ahead. And it’s you have to recognize as an employer that employees’ perceptions of coming to work in your organization is that, I don’t want to be hammered because here I am, right?

You know, if you want to kind of balance some of the things we’re talking about, one is the work-life blend, right? I want to be able to work. I want to be able to do my life. I want to be able to have, you know, make good money or decent money. And I want to be able to do all the things I want to do. I want to have experience because experience is everything to them.

But on the other side of that coin, if I go to work for an organization that has 20% less people than they need to truly operate, I’m going to get hammered. I’m choosing not to do that.

So you have to recognize as you go out into the marketplace to attract and retain top talent, you have to recognize, you have to create the culture and you know, and kind of the impression and the perspective that that’s not going to happen.

You have to be upfront and let employees know that here is what it is. Here are the skills that are necessary, hire skills versus work history and hire the skills that are necessary and take care of those people with everything you’ve got.

Yeah, I mean, those numbers are just staggering, because even like in the manufacturing world, they estimate by 2030 that there will be 2.1 million unfilled manufactured jobs in the United States. 2.1 million unfilled jobs, to your point mark about. I’ve got to start someplace where there’s not enough people to begin with.

I think that’s a that’s a really salient point because it’s just, and I know we’re seeing that in our plants, and so there’s a lot of talk about manufacturing 4.0 with the economic development world, which is really, you know, employers are going to solve this on manufacturing the best they can.

Part of that’s technology, you know, but again, that we need more people who have those skills because when you put in more robots, you put in more technology. Education becomes even more important. It’s not like you can just walk onto the floor and you can fix automation.

You know, so this is this is such a, you know, like you said, it just makes my head hurt a little bit trying to get my arms all the way around. That’s why I appreciate people like you that are out there trying to lead that charge, you know, and help us understand, you know.

Because like you said, I probably, I was guilty early on of being one of those people that look at younger generations, not in a negative way, but just different than we were. And, you know, I’m certainly, through reading your book and, you know, listening to you talk, you’ve kind of opened my eyes, Mark, to whether there is a lot of hope on the horizon. If we can figure out how we connect with these younger people and you talk a lot about experiences, that I know we’re working on that in our area, but you know, kudos to you for, really, you know, flying that flag high.

Well, thank you, Dennis. I appreciate that. You know, I think it’s just important to recognize that the world’s changed. And I think, you know, people recognize, you know, maybe at a surface level that the world’s changed.

But you got to get down to the tactical level that the world has changed and you have to adapt and pivot accordingly. We are clearly at an inflection point in this country as to where we’re going in employment and how we are going to connect with the younger generations to drive purpose, drive vision, drive culture, you know, how we onboard them, how we create the experiences that are necessary for them to want to work with us.

I do it within my own company. You know, I’m constantly working and I’ve got, you know, in 23 years and I’ve got, actually 24 years, 23 people, you know, that support what I do across North America. And I’m in the, you know, the wonderful position that I’ve hired over that timeframe, never fired, and no one’s ever left me. Now, granted, I don’t have hundreds of employees, I don’t have thousands of employees, that’s a different deal. It’s a different animal,

But still in the creating of the vision and in being able to work with the, you know, the incredibly talented individuals that work with me, you know, they buy into where we’re going and I’m constantly adapting what we’re doing and how we’re doing it so that that I’m not only mining from each of them, their very best talents and skills and the things that they can add to our shared journey. But I’m also inspiring them to go beyond and for us to make a bigger difference in the things that we do on a daily basis.

So all of that has to happen because young people today, Generation Y Millennials, as well as Gen Z, Gen Z is kind of super sizing that, eight to 24 years old, almost 25 years old now. You know, they need to make a difference.

They want to be able to connect to something bigger than themselves. Your position as an employer must be to give them that they have to know that their contributions, adding something to the greater good.

If they do not feel that, then this is a transactional arrangement. I am simply giving you a little time, you’re simply giving me a little money. And when something better comes along, I’m out of here and I will leapfrog my way to the dollars and opportunity that I’m looking for.

That’s where we are. So as employers, we have to recognize you have to flip the script and you have to create a culture and an opportunity that allows the revolving door to slow down.

Yeah, I mean, this is such an interesting time, you said this an inflection point in this country, it certainly is. I think a lot of us have to look in the mirror as employers and say, Are we doing it right? I mean, we’ve got to change, especially those of us that are older. You know what, I pride myself on, I’m trying to stay up on trends just like most of us. But you know, it is a challenge to try to redefine how you work and how your organization works and all those things work. That’s one of the things I love about you.

You do have a couple of things coming up that I think are is, you know, I’ve had no question that I’m a big fan of what you do, but you have a March 9th, the Education with Purpose Call to Action, that’s a livestream event. Tell us about that.

Yeah, it’s actually Education with Purpose and Employment with Passion. And so what we’re really doing is we’re putting two things together and trying to get communities, employers, educators, parents and so on to really understand the power of education working very closely with our employers, everything from apprenticeships to internships to, you know, making sure that young people understand all of the different pathways that are possible across the country.

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And we need to do that at younger ages. So in elementary, middle schools, high schools, we need to be, you know, preparing young people today for all of the opportunities that are possible so that they can pick and choose based on what they want to accomplish in their life.

And so the national Call to Action on March 9th is 2–4pm Eastern Time, but it’s really set up so that any organization can connect to their stakeholders. Where I can, you know, spend two hours, you know, laying out where the world has changed, why it’s changed, here’s the younger generations, here’s what they think, here’s what makes them tick. And then lay out, how do we best connect, engage and answer why for them so that they can move forward?

And then for the employers that are going to be there, you know, it’s how do you attract and retain top talent going down to the tactical level? What kinds of things can you do, some of which we’ve talked about even on this on this podcast. So, you know, being able to do that because what I recognized at kind of a foundational level is that a lot of people just don’t know how to do these things. And so I’ve really made it part of my organization, and my personal vision is that we’ve got to be able to deliver this tactical knowledge.

What do they think? What makes them tick and how do we adapt accordingly in order to be able to unleash their passion, purpose and performance? So we have to do that. We have to get smarter, we have to adapt. That inflection point is here and for the next 18 to 24 months, we’re going to have to do things differently than we have ever done them before.

But the companies, the employers and the educators that are willing to make that change and put in the time and effort to do it, will be significantly better off than those that kind of stand pat and want to continue to do what they’ve always done, which, as you and I both know, is the definition of insanity, which in today’s world is truly insane.

Yeah, absolutely. Such great stuff, Mark. You’re also doing an in-person conference in Cleveland, I think, on September 21 to 22. And that’s your Take Action conference. Tell us a little bit about that. Sounds like a great event.

Yeah, actually, we’re just in the process of pivoting. I think what we’re going to do is because of the change in the economy, what we’re doing is, I think, we’re going to back off of doing it in person and we’re going to be doing virtual symposiums and summits to bring people to do the actual facilitated planning necessary across the country to kind of light up and inspire our communities to, you know, again, make that not only a call to action, but then how do you take action from a community standpoint?

And so after a lot of soul searching over the last month, even for myself, I decided, you know, there’s only so many people we can do this with if in what we were originally deciding to do in Cleveland in person.

And so now we’re in the brainstorming and strategic planning development phase of how do we blow this out? Because way more people than I could put into a room need to be able to do some facilitated planning and get the ball rolling with their stakeholders on how do we start moving forward? How do we pivot effectively and how do we take that next step?

So yeah, that’s interesting. I appreciate you giving us that update because, you know, I think it just kind of underscores what we’ve been talking about is that we’re all having to pivot.

We’re all having to reinvent ourselves. And probably, you know, every day and every week, we need to be looking at how we’re doing stuff and that we need to change. And so kudos to you for being able to do that because this is just such a, you know, I’ve never been—on one hand I look at everything we just talked about today and it just makes me like I said, it just really it’s one of those things that is almost overwhelming. The other hand is, I think economic developers are uniquely situated to be those conveners, those connectors to make things happen in our communities.

I know we’re out there, like a lot of organizations, we’re swinging hard and this is our, I think our shining moment, our opportunity as economic developers to really help our communities to be that bridge, to connect them to people like, quite frankly, like Mark Perna, to go out there and do the work that needs to be done because someone has to lead on this stuff. And I think that’s the role of the economic developer.

And let me just, let me just tack onto that because I know some of the things we talked about are kind of identifying what some of the issues are, some of the challenges we talked about, a couple of things strategically, you know, that people need to consider as they start moving forward to attract and retain top talent.

But let me just go one step further. I think this news actually is positive. I think this is the single greatest time in history to shift the paradigm and literally set your company up your region, up your community up, in order to adapt effectively so that as we go through this inflection point in community by community, this is the time to make the effective change that changes things.

You know, it doesn’t happen overnight. But in order, I mean, the skills gap was growing before the pandemic, before this hiring issue. It has supersized where the world has changed today, but I think this is the single greatest time, I think this is a positive moment because for those people that grab a hold of the moment and are willing to do, you know, some key things which I don’t think are overly difficult, it’s more of an understanding and then adapting accordingly.

And if you can do that, you’ll set yourself up for the future.

Yeah, everything is right, either a problem or an opportunity. It seems like we have a huge opportunity, a promise of Mark. That’s one thing I love about you and your work.

I mean, it’s so inspiring. And you know, I always, like you, look forward to these conversations with you, and I appreciate that you’re out there fighting the good fight. Any closing thoughts for our listeners, Mark?

No. I just want to wish everybody, you know, a Happy New Year 2022. I can’t believe it’s 2022. And you know, it’s, you know, get out there and understand the younger generations is the first point. Then adapt accordingly to what they’re looking for. And you can unleash their passion, purpose, performance. Everyone can do it.

Everyone can find a way, no matter where you are, no matter what your business is, no matter what your region and the issues and the challenges associated, is understand at the tactical level what those issues and challenges are, pivot accordingly, but you can do it.

Younger generations, you know, I mean, just to share this as we kind of get ready to wrap up, is invest in training in younger generations because most people think they don’t want to learn anything. Wrong, 83% want to learn skills to perform better in their current role, 83% of them, 76% see learning as the key to their advancement, and 50% want more time spent viewing online training than other generations. So young people today are hungry to learn how to do it right. Find ways to teach them so that they can connect to that and do better for you.

Yeah, good thoughts, Mark. And I’ll just leave our listeners with this. No one climbs Mt. Everest without a sherpa. You know that Mark is my sherpa. He’s the guy that’s really helped me understand this, and I appreciate all your wisdom.

So if you’re not plugged into Mark, please do yourself and your community a favor and make sure you do that because, this is like Mark said, this is that inflection point. So this is this is our moment where we can really make a difference in our communities where they do make a difference. But there such an opportunity out there. So, Mark, thank you again for taking your time to share your thoughts and expertize with our listeners.

And to our listeners, you know, we wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to a really outstanding 2022, and thanks for listening.

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About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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