When the employment-robot-futurist-dystopian people start their rants about the modern economy, they usually point to traditional blue collar jobs that are falling behind. Farmers are suicidal. Desperate coal miners vote for Trump. There are sobs for the steel workers, the automakers, and electricians.
Actually, there’s a huge need for talent blue collar workers. And I’ve been hearing more and more middle class parents who are willing to explore those options for their kids. It’s probably because they all know people with white collar jobs who are having a hard time making today.
At least once a week, there’s a new story about a desperate adjunct. The Wall Street Journal has a book review today about a new book, The Adjunct Underclass. And the New Republic has a fabulous article about the adjunct-equivalent in journalism, the freelance writer.
What do adjuncts and freelance writers have in common? Well, they are highly skilled jobs that require major education and investments of time to do well. They pay really poorly. They are high status and not well understood. They are white collar jobs. And I’ve done/do both. Ha!
Those jobs take advantage of primary parents who need 1/2 jobs and of highly optimistic and stubborn individuals who keep hoping and hoping that things will pan out. They never do.
If we want to teach our kids employment skills that they’ll need today, flexibility is probably important. Not because robots are stealing jobs, but because other forces at work that are making intellectual work irrelevant. They should know that paying dues, aka doing low paid, grunt work, is fine for a very, very short period of time. After that, if there isn’t respect and proper paycheck on the table, they should walk away.
About twenty years ago, Steve sent out job applications for assistant European History professorships around the country. When the colleges bothered to reply, they told him that he was one of hundreds of applicants. So, he got a temp job on Wall Street as an administrative assistant and then stayed.
It was the smartest thing, we did. He could have been like my friends, tying together one crappy job after another, until it was too hard to do something else. And Steve was a champ for walking away from a vocation to simply do a job.
I think high schools and colleges should be straight up with students about where they can find work after graduation. They should be some guidance about the cheapest and fastest education path to those jobs. Of course, there are no guarantees, but every student in a journalism program today should read that New Republic article. Every student entering a graduate program in English literature should be presented with the numbers and that adjunct article. There should be complete transparency.
We’ve cracked down on shady for-profit colleges for hiding employment figures. I think every educational institution should be held equally accountable.
UPDATE: I should say that I get paid a lot more per article than the New Republic guy.