I attended a meeting last week where the discussion centered on entrepreneurship and what skill sets are required for success. One of the guest presenters told a short story regarding the power of positive thinking in response to a participant comment. The story was about a radio ad selling a DVD training program on using the power of positive thinking to get what you want. In response to the ad, the presenter sent a certified letter to the company asking them to envision receiving a check from him, then when they got the check to go ahead and send him the DVD’s. Needless to say, two years later he still has not received his DVD’s.
In 2009, Mike Rowe of Discovery Channels “Dirty Jobs”, gave a TED talk entitled Learning From Dirty Jobs (TED talks are short 15-20 minute talks devoted to sharing Ideas Worth Spreading, you can find them at Ted Talks and I highly recommend them). During the talk he reveals a moment of anagnorisis (a moment when someone makes a critical discovery) during the filming of an episode which resulted in a peripeteia (a turning point) for him. During the filming of an episode he realized that he had everything wrong and that the notions of work he thought were sacrosanct, were in fact not. He makes the claim that as a country, we have declared war on work and that the war has been waged on four fronts: Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Washington and Technology.
I reflected on his comments regarding the war on work and believe there is merit to his argument. As a young man, my father tried to steer me in the direction of learning a trade because trade workers would always be in demand. At the time I had a “dirty job” and fell prey to the Hollywood glamour of “brainy” jobs and office life, so trade school became a non-option for me. I went to school, earned a degree and set off in search of the office utopia Hollywood promised. The point Mike Rowe made about the media’s erroneous portrayal of the american worker is that they are portrayed as either a hero or a punch line. He uses the typical portrayal of an overweight plumber with his pants too low as the punch line example. Looking back on the conversation with my father and reading a recent report by Forbes Magazine claiming a shortage of skilled-trade workers, I am beginning to have my own moments of anagnorisis and peripeteia.
In 2011, Peter Thiel (founder of PayPal) shifted his view on the importance of a college pedigree from being the most important thing in our society to one that removes some of the luster from the advanced degrees. Mr. Thiel concluded that “we are experiencing a bubble in education, similar to the housing and financial market bubble” and that examining other forms of education was a viable alternative. A recent article by CNNMoney quotes a Georgetown University study that states “nearly 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now make more than those with bachelor’s degrees”. While we constantly hear stories of looming shortages of doctors, very rarely do we hear tale of shortages of skilled-trade workers. According to Forbes in 2012, 53% of skilled-trade workers were over the age of 45, with 20% of those workers above the age of 55.
I have always known that there is a need for all types of workers to make the world go round, but as I focus on helping workers improve their skills, I understand more than ever the value of various types of education. Hollywood and Madison Avenue need to change the way skilled workers are portrayed—even though it might not be sexy—and help give future generations pride in skilled jobs. The government needs to examine policies that make it difficult for skilled-workers to do their jobs efficiently and effectively and then remove these barriers.
As a society, perhaps we all need a moment of discovery that brings us to the realization that being educational lemmings is not always best and often the route to success is defined individually and not in the current pop culture perception. As a society, we need to stop thinking “the check is in the mail” and write the check ourselves. Stop saying, “I’m just a plumber” and proudly proclaim, “I’m a liquid waste removal technician!”