On a cold winter afternoon some 20 years ago, I walked into a pubic school superintendent’s office and walked out even colder. My role then had been to help prepare select high school students for technical post-secondary programs and careers. I was naïve; his intent was to enlighten me.
Even then, the inexorable, aimless career drift of high school graduates (and dropouts) had been in full swing. And of course, now, with a post-pandemic 10 million fewer jobs in the U.S., and more than 11 million receiving some form of federal jobless assistance, an employment fog has drifted over much of America.
We’ve been spoon-fed a post-war myth about good versus not-so-good career paths, about what constitutes dignified employment.
There are kinds of work that lead to respect amongst your peers, preferred neighborhoods that send a message to others that you have arrived, that you are intelligent. It is a well-intentioned storyline that kids pick up on very early. Heaven forbid our little Farquhar should aspire to be a plumber, a drywaller, a track hoe operator. That won’t do at all. They must have a “better life.”Is there a shortage of high-wage jobs in this country? Pull up to any construction site, call for the guy or gal in charge and ask the person to take a stab at that question.
There are 680,000 construction firms in the U.S., and collectively they have a shortage of around 300,000 employees. Going forward, there is but a single new, skilled worker for every three that are retiring. These though, are “jobs of last resort … not a rewarding kind of middle-class career,” says Brian Turmail of the Associated General Contractors of America. With more than a little sarcasm, he adds that they would prefer to be “sitting in some kind of fluorescent-lit cube farm.”
This pandemic has not only furthered the split between society’s haves and have-nots, it has perpetuated the farcical fragmentation of the (increasingly underemployed) college-educated nobility from the serfs. We perpetuate this nonsense while new housing starts are a 5-year high and the decaying infrastructures of our metropolises are crumbling. If you are destined to fix or build something to earn your daily bread – well, that’s the booby prize.
I’m observing these ironies first-hand as the general contractor on a new residence in Latah County. As I cut checks to concrete contractors and HVAC specialists who earn more dough than I ever did, I’m humbled, even grateful for those who know how to properly lay a slab on grade and design/build a hydronic heating system.
During lunch breaks, we sometimes have a good laugh about the wisdom of going $40,000 in debt for a 4-year university diploma.
Mike Rowe, host of the cable series, Dirty Jobs, says “that’s the trope, the bromide, the platitude that informs so much of what passes for good advice today … that getting a 4-year degree is the best hope of being happy.”
When I look back upon that cold winter day, I find myself tipping my hat to that school superintendent, himself a symbol of a society adrift. He did enlighten me though — to the tragic consequences of chasing someone else’s dream.
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: https://www.usresistnews.org/