Those who pick up skills along the way generally keep employed, or solving unemployment on the personal level…

November 21, 2013

I was looking for something to write about in this space and then I ran across an article about something like 38 people applying for each low-wage job (part-time at that?) at a new Walmart store opening up in Washington D.C.  I didn’t even finish the article (yet). What caught my eye was some statistics it was using about the unemployment rate among those with various levels of education, such as no high school, high school, college. And as you might expect, it said the rate is lower among those with higher educations.

And then there is always the ongoing argument or discussion about the worth of higher education, to include the fact that so many college graduates, already deep in debt from borrowing to finance their education, cannot find jobs.

At 64 years of age, I can safely say from what I have observed the key to employment is being willing and, more importantly, able to do what someone else needs to be done. Yeah, works almost every time. Regardless of your education (well most of the time) if you are able to perform work (manual or otherwise) someone else needs to be done you will have a job.

Simplistic I know. And yet so true.

As my dad always told me: you should learn a trade so you have something to fall back on if what you really want to do does not work out. I did not follow that advice to a tee, that is not directly.

His advice was not original. People have been advised that forever.

In my own life I just bumbled along. But somewhere in my late middle age I learned the truck driving trade (not my first pick of things I always wanted to do) and have not been without work since (save a bout of disability due to health).

Now I don’t for a minute suggest that is the key. No I would suggest a far better trade or skill. And yet, it worked for me.

Not all trades or skills require a degree or license or such. People just learn things by doing them on various jobs and find that what they learned comes in handy on other jobs.

Now the following is not exactly an example of what I am talking about but it comes to mind nonetheless:

Once another trucker and I arrived at a newspaper to deliver rolls of newsprint. But there was a problem. The lift truck the man at the newspaper dock was using would not work. Well my trucker friend in another job did some work on forklifts. He found the problem — it was something about a loose fuel line as I recall — and fixed it. Now there is a man who could get a job. He picked up some skills along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes you have to be not too narrowly focused. It helps to be somewhat multi-talented.

What I am trying to say is that people who want to work and who in fact end up getting work are usually those who open their eyes to what is in demand at the time and also who pick up skills along the way. And that can start young. I am not a good example personally, and yet in my younger days I was certainly offered a lot of opportunities:

My dad was a newspaperman, but he grew up on a farm and there he learned some skills, such as carpentry and home (and farm) electricity wiring, and plumbing. He did a lot of handy work around the house. I should have paid more attention. But once when I was little he was wiring a light switch and said: “pay attention, you might need to know this some day”. Years later when I had a home of my own, that came in handy.

During high school and at times later I did some amount of farm work, driving tractors and such. On one occasion I worked for a farmer and he said if I stayed on through harvest he would have me drive a big truck from field to processing plant. I went on, though, and became employed in journalism. But wouldn’t you know it? years later I attended a short course in truck driving and went into driving semis — the earlier offer by the farmer could have come in handy later.

And here’s a real good one as far as I am concerned:

When I was in the army in Germany I was a crew member on a tank. As tank crew members we did crew maintenance. As part of that, when mechanics needed to work on our engines we undid various bolts to assist them in getting at the engine and transmission which was then lifted in one unit right out of the back of the tank. But I had a fellow crew member who was a black guy. I mention his race only because I’m trying to make a point. There is always the lament that unemployment is high among minorities. Well he went a step beyond crew maintenance. He learned how to undo the brakes, something the mechanics usually did. I had no clue. But he took it upon himself to learn. Now there is someone looking to build skills for future employment. I mean you never know.

And this holds true in all types of work — in the field, in factories, in offices, everywhere.

All of this is easier said than done, I know. Sometimes you are kept busy and not offered the opportunity to do anything else. But some people just seem to ignore that roadblock.

I don’t claim to be among those. But I will pat myself on the back for the following:

When the newspaper trade finally played out on me during that era of corporate downsizing a couple of decades ago I sought help through some public agency (veteran’s?). After a discussion with a counselor, the guy tells me:

“I could put you in a training program but I see you as someone who is just going to go out there and get a job.”

Really. He said that. I was discouraged, temporarily. I mean how much help is that? But then I did what he said. I was desperate for sure. And sometimes that’s what it takes.

I should add, now that I think about it, that tagging along with my dad as he made photos and covered various news stories, to include fires and floods, gave me a head start in journalism.

All this does not solve the lingering unemployment problem and the fact that there are way too many people and fewer and fewer jobs, due to the rapid movement of technology even more than economic conditions.  But when you’re unemployed it’s a personal problem that public policy and politics and such is not likely to solve for you personally. I was just making some observations from that personal point of view.


Hey check out my new video edition of Tony Walther’s Weblog: