May 31, 2012

Putting Work Into Perspective

Marc Comtois

In a recent story, the ProJo reported about the so-called "skills gap" in Rhode Island.

Only 41 percent of the adults in Rhode Island have college degrees. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2018, 63 percent of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.
Setting aside that there is a difference between a college degree and "some" post-secondary education, the theme of the article is that employers can't get enough trained workers.
Advanced manufacturing jobs exist in Rhode Island, but prejudice about them being “blue collar” prevent some schools, parents and students from taking classes that would help students enter these fields, [, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie] White said.

“We need to figure out how to make these jobs more inviting for our young people,” she said. “We need to get the message out that it’s cool to make stuff.”

Justin already addressed one disconnect surrounding this lament:
White’s...We, one supposes, means the collected interests of business groups, government officials, and special-interest advocates.

An alternative path would be to give young adults reason to understand that “settling” on a career is not “cool,” but obligatory — a stark necessity of survival. And then, they and their families must be empowered to make educational choices based on their intimate knowledge of their own circumstances, aptitudes, and interests.

I fundamentally agree with Justin and would add we also have to recognize that some people will make bad choices, with or without the direction of their parents or supposedly enlightened bureaucrats.

We all heard roughly the same thing about choosing our path in the future (particularly at graduation time): do what you love and all the rest will follow. For me, that always calls to mind the late Joseph Campbell's call to "follow your bliss," but any number of successful people have told the same story. Through hard work, perseverance and even a little luck, they kept on doing what they loved and were rewarded (and usually financially).

Now, we shouldn't be in the business of crushing the dreams of wide-eyed 18 or 21 (or 24!) year-olds, but some measure of reality should be injected into all of the good-intentioned encouragement. Namely, you still have to pay your bills along the way. That usually means taking jobs, or even choosing careers, that may not be the most emotionally gratifying or aren't "cool" or "meaningful work", which is something that Thomas Sowell recently commented upon:

What is “meaningful work”?

The underlying notion seems to be that it is work whose performance is satisfying or enjoyable in itself. But if that is the only kind of work that people should have to do, how is garbage to be collected, bed pans emptied in hospitals or jobs with life-threatening dangers to be performed?

Does anyone imagine that firemen enjoy going into burning homes and buildings to rescue people trapped by the flames? That soldiers going into combat think it is fun?

In the real world, many things are done simply because they have to be done, not because doing them brings immediate pleasure to those who do them. Some people take justifiable pride in working to take care of their families, whether or not the work itself is great.

Sometimes this is referred to as working to live instead of living to work. But such jobs can also be a path to a dream. For instance, being a pizza delivery professional (ahem) wouldn't be considered "meaningful work" to a lot of people. Yet, according to it's CEO:
[O]ver 90 percent of our franchisees started as delivery drivers at our stores. They worked their way up to become store manager. Ultimately, they bought their first store. They moved on from that.
Imagine that: from delivering pies to owning a franchise all because they were willing to do supposedly un-meaningful work. There are long term gains that can be made from short term sucking-it-up and working hard.

But even those who cling to as-yet unrealized dreams aren't the first to do so. The bartending musician or waitressing actress aren't unknown to us, after all. Heck, look at Grandma Moses. Finally, as many of us have learned, what you thought was "your bliss" at 18 is often replaced by something else by the time we're 30. Age adds perspective. So do kids.

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I've come to a conclusion based on what I've seen in my friends:

1. The ones who's parents were able to pay for college outright, they're doing REALLY WELL.

2. The ones ranging from 'dropout' to 'some college' seem to be doing pretty well. Most are starting to settle down now that they're 27-30.

3. The ones who took big loans to go to college... Depends. The ones who studied fields that were 'industrious' seem to be doing as well as Group 2. The ones who took loans for liberal arts are too broke to pay their own way, and either their spouses or parents are still covering part of their costs.

I fully intend to tell my own mini-geek offspring to apprentice at a trade late in high school, and to take a few classes at a time afterwards. No need to go 100K+ in debt for college before you even know what you want to do. The most important thing is to BE WORKING.

Posted by: mangeek at May 31, 2012 3:34 PM

I know a few college graduates whose employment was made possible only because of their degrees, and once employed it became evident that all they learned in school made them educated, but did nothing for them in their new jobs.

When bartending I had a customer arrogantly point out to his equally arrogant friend that "the world needs people to make our drinks."

People shouldn't piss off the bartender, and you shouldn't need a college education to learn that!

And, for some weird reason I actually enjoy going into burning buildings.

Posted by: michael at May 31, 2012 4:17 PM

Michael, is there anything dumber than someone, a few drinks into the night, insulting the bartender and asking for another drink? Umm, yeah, let me get you that vodka tonic with my thumb over the spout. Or use the *special* vodka, saved for the drunk people that's zero proof. Pure water.

Or my favorite at a catered event that I once tended bar. Someone came over and got drinks for their whole table, about six drinks in all. The bill came to $45.75 I think. The person handed me a fifty, I gave them back their four ones and a quarter. What'd he put in the tip basket? Not the four dollars. Not a single dollar, not even the quarter. My peripheral vision got a lot smaller that night when that person came back to the bar.

Posted by: Patrick at May 31, 2012 10:12 PM

Great post Mark. Mangeek enjoyed your response except someone paying fully for your education does not guarantee a great job. What if the free ride led to that liberal arts or a black/womens studies degree? The job world mirrors the real world. What is in demand? Things are always changing and adaptability is a huge plus. Are you willing to retool, relocate, take a pay/benefits cut?
In 1991 I left RI due to limited options (much like today). Started on the now defunct Southern Pacific RR with a shovel in hand on a "temp" job. 20 yrs. later I am a senior design engineer in the same industry. Yes the shovel led to the engineering. James Burke had a series called"Connections". Stay in the game, keep a good attitude,use your tools and expect some failure on the road to success.

Posted by: ANTHONY at June 1, 2012 12:46 AM

Not sure what to make of this.

About 1/2 of the millionaires/multi millionaires I know are high school graduates. Some are drop outs.

On the other hand, all of the ones I know are self employed. This post is about potential "employees".

Although they are all gone now, I remember quite a number of guys who invented engineering degrees based on their training WWII. For a variety of reasons, that is probably not as easy as it once was.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 1, 2012 10:52 AM

As a former bed pan emptier,I would say that job is every bit as important as fighting fires or soldiering,but doesn't pay nearly as much,have the benefits or have the respect of those jobs.

If you think it's unimportant,think of laying in a bed,unable to move much for a week. What condition would you be in if nobody helped you on a bedpan?

Posted by: helen at June 6, 2012 4:13 PM
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