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.