I never knew my grandfather. I wish I could have learned about courage from him as he died while trying to save another man’s life. As a proxy my father was not too shabby in passing on that message. As a boy suddenly thrust into the unimaginable situation where he and three siblings were left to be raised by a widowed mother, they clung together as a family and worked ceaselessly to endure the hard times. Labor was not something to be celebrated but a necessary element of existence. He delivered newspapers and worked other part time jobs until he graduated from high school to help support his family and then went to work full time. He never had the opportunity to go to college but he never stopped learning. When he and my mother joined together to give birth to two Baby Boomer children, they probably did not even know any other kind of life but were committed to giving us the opportunity that they never had. The hope of a better life was not a cliché in our family.
Dad worked with his hands and was a brilliant machinist, toolmaker, technician, inventor and before he retired was an instructor at a technical institution. He was revered as one of the best at teaching not only the mechanics of the job but also at creating an aura of impeccable work ethic that was the goal of his students. How lucky I was to have such a powerful man and leader as a father! How ironic that most of the online community that I work with would have probably not even bothered with him. Our job seeker advocacy is extremely nearsighted as we see the world through the eyes of degreed professionals and offer advice to job seekers as if the rest of the world is just like us. They aren’t. Nobody is acting selfishly or out of self interest, but the statistics show that we are for the most part ignoring a large portion of the population who needs help desperately.
The US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps tabs on unemployment data and slices it by age, gender, race and just about any other way you could imagine. We usually see only the headline summary that the latest unemployment figures are around 8.3%. The breakdown by education looks something like this:
- People like us (with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher): 4.3%
- Those other people (with some college or associates degree): 8.2%
- People like Dad (High School graduates with no college): 9.3%
- Those people invisible to us (Less than a high school diploma): 14.9%
I look at this breakout and feel so ashamed that most of my work has been in the wrong place.
There is no quick solution although during an election year you can bet the farm that it will be politicized to the point that there will be no credible answer to the looming question: How can we gain full employment? Our system of government allows for the freedom of individual and corporate action to tackle hard problems and fix them. So really, it is up to me and there are several areas of focus that needs to be shifted in order to truly reach everyone.
- Communication – Not everyone is computer literate or spends time online looking for a job. The methods we sometimes take for granted needs to be rolled back a notch and tailored for those who need a job and not a better resume. Local job advocacy groups are begging for volunteers. Do I have the time to do as much there as I do online?
- Education – Involvement by corporations looking to be good citizens of the community where they reside can be instrumental in giving the local unemployed population a leg up in finding gainful employment. They want work, not handouts. Does my involvement with the local Chamber of Commerce give me a bully pulpit to champion this cause?
- Compassion – These economic times are hard for even those who have a degree. While they still fare better than those without formal education, those who “are not like us” are people too. In some instances they enjoy benefits of a forced existence that gives them value beyond education. My father’s lessons still ring in my ears.
It is on this Labor Day that I set my eyes on the goal of helping more than I have before and asking…no, begging…my friends and colleagues to do the same.
Image credit: Happy Labor Day vichie81 / 123RF Stock