I watched this TED Talk recently, and though it's more than two years old now, the message from Mike Rowe, producer and host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, resonates strongly enough to still be talking about it today. Rowe outlines what he calls America's War on Work, supporting this theory with numerous examples of how we, as a culture, have marginalized manual labor and those who do it, thereby creating a culture that turns down it's nose as those who are out there doing the ugly jobs that are necessary to keep our civilization running.
Mike Rowe on TED Talks - The War on Work

As I thought more about this, I began to feel that America has done a disservice to our citizens by over-promoting the value of post-secondary education, or more to the point, by devaluing the work performed by those without higher education.

I recently worked with an employer to review and revamp their recruitment processes. During our conversations we looked at several job descriptions, and I had the employer summarize the position and the day-to-day work that this person would be performing. On a few occasions, the employer was requiring a college degree (not caring what the degree was in) for jobs that did not require any knowledge associated with higher education. Often, employers consider the 4-year degree to be a baseline, which shows that a candidate was able to dedicate their time and energy to a specific process over a long term (and while it should also dictate a certain level of intelligence and problem solving ability, that's just not always the case anymore). This employer was willing to potentially disregard applicants who had several years of relevant work experience and track records of success because of this knockout clause- 4 Year Degree Required-, while they were spending their time receiving and reviewing candidates with irrelevant (or non-existent) experience because they had a college degree. While this is common practice in the recruitment processes of larger organizations, that doesn't mean it's the best practice.

As I puzzled over this divide between what skills, knowledge, and ability a candidate truly needs to perform a job function, and the skills, knowledge, and abilities that recruiters place as prerequisites in job ads, I began to think about this from the job seekers side.

Back in 2002, the US Census published this report that found that high school graduates would earn 1.2 million dollars during their lives, on average, while college grads would earn 2.1 million dollars on average. That means that a college grad will earn approximately $900,000 more during their lives- a seemingly very impressive number, and strong argument to the value of a 4-year degree. I decided to see break this down further, to see just how much of an affect this has on financial stability and buying power for an individual. What I found was a little surprising. Check this out:

First, let's take out the state and local taxes from that $900k, and say that the actual difference in take-home pay over the life of a worker is closer to $600,000 (being generous), and let's assume a 40 year work life. This equation shows that a college grad will earn about $15k more annually over 40 years, than a high school grad, or $1,250.00 more per month, or $288.46 more per week, over 40 years.

Now, using a 12-month income of $25,000 for a high school grad, this breaks down to $480.77 per week. I believe it's also safe to assume that most high school graduates will likely have hourly jobs, not salaried, so this works out to just over $12 an hour for a 40 hour work week. If we add the $288.46 weekly for earning a college degree, we can reasonably find that a college graduate will average around $769.23 per week. Assuming the college grad is working a salaried job, they are likely working far more than 40 hour per week. For the sake of this calculation (and to support my theory here), let's say they average 50 hours per week annually. When you break down their $769.23 weekly pay into real world compensation per hour- college grads are earning $15.38 per hour.

Okay, so $288 per week, or $1,250 a month, is nothing to sneeze at. But really, how much effect does this have on the quality of life for an individual? A nicer home? Maybe, but only if you don't want nicer cars or clothes to go with it, or nicer furniture to fill it with. Nicer cars- sure, as long as you're willing to live in the same neighborhood and send your kids to the same schools as non college grads. I guess what I'm saying here is that we need to be realistic when we steer our children toward 4 year colleges, and away from apprenticeship programs or trade schools. We need qualified people to keep our machines running and our stored stocked with food and supplies. We need people to fix our appliances and patch our roads. We need people to prevent the outbreak of disease and illness by doing all the jobs associated with keeping America clean. What's more, we need all these people to feel respected, appreciated, and full of pride. I don't know about you, but I sure want the guy who patched my roof to have pride in his work, and I want the people who clean the vegetables before they come to the grocery store to have pride in their work, and I want the mechanic who runs under the plane as I'm boarding to take pride in her work.

It's time to end the War on Work, to cease and desist in the marginalization and lampooning of those who perform manual labor, to put pride back into the hearts and minds of every American and not save it for those who stayed in school longer in hopes of earning $3.38 more per hour.

Views: 128

Comment by Ronald Peterson on November 29, 2010 at 1:04pm
Jason: While I couldn't agree with you more that all work is honorable the statement "..that America has done a disservice to our citizens..." doesn't make sense. There's no cabal named "America" that degrades work of any sort and we're a collection of a huge number of individuals and organizations alike that produce statistics, analyses and opinions. Ron Peterson
Comment by Jason C. Blais on November 29, 2010 at 1:57pm
Ron, you make a great point, and in my efforts to get to the meat of the matter it seems I have been lazy with my language. However, I do believe that the degradation of the value of jobs that don't require a formal education does come from leaders in both the government and private sector. I have attended my share of economic development summits and meetings, and the message continues to be that all effort and attention should be on high-wage, high-skill job growth, with the undertone being that low skill jobs are not valuable to the growth or sustainability of a region. When I say America, I mean the political and commercial marketing engines that fill the airways with their self-serving rhetoric. I certainly wouldn't argue that high paying jobs, and science/technology jobs are not wonderful and important (I do work for a tech company), as they do provide for increased incomes for income and spending, which in turn drives increased tax revenue and job creation, theoretically. The issue as I see it is that as we've turned our eyes toward the development of these types of jobs, we've turned our backs on the what Mike Rowe calls the dirty jobs.
Comment by Karla Porter on November 29, 2010 at 1:59pm
I recently wrote about what I coined "The Jobs War". There is some similarity in ideas. In my job, workforce development, for a metro area of just under half a million, with the 9th lowest educational attainment of the top 100 metros, the the picture could not be clearer. Not everyone is a college degree candidate. but everyone is a post-secondary education candidate. But, first we must fix the dropout crisis in which 7000 children quit their education a href="http://www.all4ed.org/files/GraduationRates_FactSheet.pdf" target="_blank">daily. Whether that be a CDL license or forklift driver certificate, CNA license or PHD, unless you attend a vocational technical high school you do not graduate prepared to work beyond the least of the unskilled labor jobs. Even then, you will lack understanding of employer expectations. You will not qualify for more than a minimum wage job which is not a family sustaining wage. Warehousing and manufacturing now requiring technical skills. There should be no fear of a society of people "too educated" that is a fallacy. Through 2018, only 30% of the Occupational Outlook's top 20 fastest growing occupationsdo not require some form of post-secondary education. All require OJT and we all know the amount employers are willing to invest is diminishing not increasing.There is nothing wrong with motivating everyone to continue their education so they can reach their full potential - you'll never get 100% of youth to go to college but minimum wage just doesn't cut it. Minimum wage qualifies for public assistance and we all know who pays for that.
Comment by Karla Porter on November 29, 2010 at 2:01pm
Hmmm.. I would like to request a better comment box. maybe a preview option?
Comment by Paul Alfred on November 29, 2010 at 7:52pm
I agree Jason, Skilled Trades are important, but I have some scary facts The smartest 25% of people in China outnumber the entire population of America. But they have 1 billion plus people ... I live in Canada and I can tell you plumbers, airplane mechanics, carpenters, electricians make really good money but they all have to go to Skilled Trade schools and pass exams .. The Government does put out advertising to allow folks to encourage their kids to keep their options open ... The key in the end an education after High School 2-3 years for Skilled Trades or 4 - 8 for Professional Careers is going to be the deciding factor for Competitiveness in the Global World we live in today ...
Comment by Sandra McCartt on November 29, 2010 at 10:28pm
If we dumb down the American education system any further Sarah Palin will end up as president and we can all go live on moose meat.
Comment by Ronald Peterson on November 30, 2010 at 7:42am
Sandra: I understand the average college graduate in this country doesn't even read one book a year so there's precious little room to dumb down much further. If we get Sarah Palin as president we can all substitute craziness for education anyway.
Comment by Scott Pugh on November 30, 2010 at 10:40am
I forgot where I heard this point: in the US it's easy to find a good lawyer but difficult to find a good mechanic. Germany's vocational education system is also part of the reason they have success exporting manufactured products and have higher wages.


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