Out of work? Change occupations (if there are any left)…

July 25, 2010

I’m not a jack of all trades by any means, not even close, but then again when I compare myself to some who have basically done only one job or one kind of work their whole life, then I feel like one.

And I bring this up because I have been hearing of late that there is a greater upheaval going on in this economic crisis than in those in the past, save for the Great Depression, or maybe even more than then. That upheaval is the phenomenon of the disappearing occupations — we’re not talking about no more need for buggy whip salesmen here; we’re talking about much of the work world as we know it going down the drain, what with automation — not just in factory work, but in office work. And even outsourcing plays into all of this.

The point is many many jobs are not only in the lost category right now but they are never coming back, or at least so we are told.

Well, if we have indeed reached that utopian stage where no one is needed for work, we really are in trouble, because, generally speaking, work is the only way most of us get those tickets called dollars that allow us to continue to keep having food and shelter and all the other things we consider life necessities and even luxuries.

But what I really wanted to write here, and as usual got off track a little, is that when I read or hear about someone out of work for a long period of time and not being able to find a job I automatically wonder if they have realized that they might have to change occupations and that they might not even make as much money as they did before. And then again they might actually find something more suited to them and something that pays more than they ever made before.

I suppose a lot have, thought about changing occupations — of course they have. I know from personal experience how hard that is to do. And if we really have reached the point of automation where huge numbers of people will have nothing productive to do, well I don’t know what…

The only bright idea I have in the employment situation is for the government to do anything it can to promote domestic production over consumption in order for more jobs to be created and maintained. People who are employed will consume.

And one crazy thing I read from time to time are those stories about highly educated people who cannot find work. What precipitated these words was a story about a woman reported to be a bilingual PhD who had a secure job at some university but took a chance on another job and then found herself out of work because the Great Recession hit and now she’s been out of work nearly two years and has exhausted her savings and has no prospect of work.

For one thing, she should not be too shocked. No doubt in her studies she has read some literature and history and should know that many famous and learned people spent years, sometimes whole lifetimes, in near poverty.

And for another thing, it would seem she could step down from her ivory tower to do some lower kind of work for awhile. I know there are barriers to that because employers don’t want to even speak to over qualified people. So what you do is you don’t sell yourself with those old qualifications (you might have to lie about your past — and I wonder, could you then later be fired for not disclosing that you were intelligent?).

Not quite the same thing, for sure, but when I was finally forced to leave my so-called career in journalism, I also had to hide the fact that I ever was a journalist – that’s a definite turn-off to most employers for a variety of reasons.

But this idea that many jobs will never come back has surfaced in the recent debates over extending unemployment insurance, the idea being that it may be pointless to hold out hope that we are just tidying over folks till they get called back to their old job — it ain’t coming back.

And we have to ask ourselves as a society how practical is it to have or force a major portion of our workforce to be forever on the move and forever unstable, not knowing how long any job will last and whether one will be able to pay the rent, much less a mortgage payment. But who asks these questions? — not the employers — the politicians (more concerned about their own jobs and retirement at taxpayers’ expense).

But, personally I still think there continues to be a demand for skilled workers in a wide variety of occupations, but many call for a whole lot more diversity these days, and I mean diversity in skills and abilities, not equal employment (although that too).

While in some lower level employment the trend has been to dumb down work so employers can get cheaper labor, the other trend is to make things more complex so it takes a higher level of skill and even variety of skills or skill subsets and understanding.

So education is becoming more vital than ever. But when we say education we may mean technical more than the standard liberal arts, although that standard study of literature and history and such continues to be vital for what I would call the thinking occupations, and Lord knows we need more people who can actually be creative and think.

Meantime, many of us are just left to bumble along.

In my work life my lines of work have included:

Soldier, wood products manufacturing plant worker, farm tractor driver, irrigator, cow milker, newspaper photographer, newspaper reporter, radio reporter, worm farm worker, newspaper editor, substitute teacher, big truck driver — and I may have missed a couple.

Currently I’m a truck driver (have been for 15 years). Could I, would I, go back to any of those previously mentioned occupations? Maybe not unless I was somehow forced to, and then only maybe, due to age and attitude and ability and just plan practicality or lack thereof.

So to displaced workers — I feel your pain.


The public school system needs to take heed. Students need two things: One, a solid education in the basics and liberal arts (I’m calling that one thing) in order to understand and appreciate the world around them and to be responsible members of society, and two, technical skills to enable them to get and hold a job in this modern ever-changing world.

Please let’s drop the everyone gets a participation ribbon and feel good training and get down to business.

I don’t think all young people are soft. I do suspect some of those in charge of preparing them for the world are, though.