Less on-the-job training, more like on-your-shoulders

The Chronicle of Higher Education, obviously not an impartial source, released a very interesting op-ed recently: In short, that more companies are expecting colleges and universities to graduate job-ready workers with certain career skills. Students (and probably more keenly, parents) are showing great willingness to track what’s desired, seek it out, and essentially pay for their own job training before ever approaching potential employers. This reduces speculation on a candidate’s “potential”, and saves companies a lot of time and oodles of cash.I find this to be an especially vital subject, as we know that education costs are such a barrier to financial success and even if you get past entry, post-graduation educational debt can be so crippling. It strongly reminds me of how Wal-Mart employees rely so heavily on Medicaid and food stamps as the Walton family gains a larger and larger share of global wealth. American CEOs make 425 times what average U.S. workers make …. where does all that money come from? Clearly, in many places, training is a budget line where some $ can be moved around.
It’s an old argument to me, and a deal that I accepted years ago in my own professional specialty. Journalism school has always struggled to balance its idealistic principles, complex coursework, and essential moral/ethics training with its public identity as a highfalutin’ vocational school. J-school was the bellwether, I guess… even back in the mid-1990s, it was known that journalism was — and certainly still is — among the lowest-paying industries which largely require a bachelor’s degree at the entry level. (I was THRILLED that my first job paid $23,500: ~$2,000 more than that national average. Like that was actually really good. *rolls eyes at the exploitation rampant throughout the whole industry, then and now*). Back in the day, however, a journalism career didn’t require college degrees at all! (Famous example: Peter Jennings was a high-school dropout, and oodles of other scribes never finished college.) As my very dear departed professor/mentor Mr. Conrad Fink used to describe it, newspapering was a working-class gig. You turned up every day, you showed smarts, initiative and moxie, and you learned everything else on the job. (I paraphrase. RIP, sir.) There we were, a generation or two later, paying more for less, and the degree offered no guarantees of employability whatsoever. Of course now the prospects are even worse and j-schools still exist, so… yeah. Bellwether.

But beyond my own sector, I do bemoan the growing general perception that academic majors are “useless”. Used to be that intellectual pursuits and purely academic majors demonstrated cooperative intelligence, an ability to take in the works of great thinkers, and the mental skills needed to synthesize and create new ideas. In other words, at the very least, it demonstrated that someone knew how to THINK and LEARN, aka was highly trainable. Now (and I’m guilty of this too) when I hear someone has a degree in something that’s not obviously applicable to the job market, I think “oh, he must be rich/connected/unfocused.”

I’m not proud of that impulse and I think it’s a shame that this is now normal. This goes beyond the loathsome anti-intellectualism of many Americans. The disrespect for education I worry most about comes from those who are educated. It’s executives that are benefiting most from this offloading of training expenses! It’s the best minds in the country destroying the public sector and younger generations! That is beyond immoral, it’s damn short-sighted.


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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