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Andy Rooney doing his usual 60 minutes sound off segment decided a while back to take on the unemployment issues plaguing the nation; among his insights, the reason middle management had been hit so hard in the recession is that we have too many bosses and not enough people willing to “do something,” we have to many executives, people in middle management and not enough plumbers, bricklayers. He goes on to say that one of the problems with executives is they won’t take the job picking up trash on the side of the highway offered by the county supervisor because they believe they should be the county supervisor. Also among his suggestions, observations was the idea that students taught college is the way should perhaps put in a day as a plumber then go home and read Shakespeare. This well meaning diatribe was not without some anecdotes of his difficulties gaining employment at times in his life; however, not only did it carry the tinge of grab whatever work you can find when you are desperate, but the idea that people should stay in those whatever you can get, “doing something” employment situations rather than seek out what they want, ever.

But upon further examination, one has to ask if these opinions, would be nuggets of wisdom really hold water; firstly executives can’t get a job picking up litter on the side of the road for two reasons: 1- they, being a former executive, would be looked like what are you doing here, their resume no doubt throw in the trash, and 2- cities do not usually pay for people to clean litter from the streets. These tasks usually go to convicts on work release or good will organizations like the boy scouts or adopt a highway, presumably because cities cannot afford to pay workers to do the job, nor pay the high wage it would take to get someone to accept that type of job with such bodily risk attached. It is also not wrong for an executive or middle management person, who was not fired for incompetence, theft, embezzlement or any of the headline makers, only fired because of company restructuring, to look for work in his field before going down the ladder and giving up the life he has built. In the case of middle management, there are other things they are better suited for than a job saying you want fries with that or picking up litter; their skills can be put to better use managing a grocery store, a chain of them, an office. The problem, because of his former pay scale no one will let him do that either.

The truth is we don’t have too many bosses we have too many bad bosses like the salon owner who fired one of his workers for her criticism of the work place posted on Facebook. Issues with this again being two fold: 1- we have a boss who has no reason whatsoever to be looking at his employee’s page who is doing just that and 2- we have a boss who is so busy looking at this employee’s page that he is not paying attention to what is going on in his place of business, neither is he paying attention to whether the employee’s complaints of cattiness, pettiness, lack of problem solving have any merit. Her jest that she was going to be her bosses bitch for that night, attending a required company party, may seem over the top, yet what is more interesting is why this woman’s boss had such a party in the first place, why he put himself in that position, opened himself up to the situation, not being a fortune 500 company, a corporate conglomerate, just a simple salon? It is bad business.

He likewise shows his complete lack of understanding of social media. He fails to comprehend that her complaints on line may well bring curious people to the salon to see if the complaints are warranted, which could entice them to take advantage of services offered. At the same time, her joke really had no meaning because most users don’t pay that close attention to what is on Facebook: in reality, this woman could have done far more damage talking to a friend or family member locally, who perhaps knew one of the other employees as well, who would spread word to avoid the establishment to mutual or other friends out of loyalty to her, thus losing the salon local business.

How about the teacher fired for a joke posted on Facebook about hiring a hit man to deal with students; a teacher with no former problems and a good record at the school was dismissed without monitoring, without the opportunity to undergo a psychological evaluation, without the chance prove it was simply an ill conceived joke. In contrast, the Alabama professor with a shady past, clear indicators of at least former mental disturbance was allowed to shoot up a faculty meeting, because she showed no outward signs of trouble. There was the boss caught on tape saying no one wanted a fat person at reception after the receptionist became pregnant and was pretty far along; for the record, she was a fit young woman with an obvious late pregnancy baby bump. We would all like to know where the bosses were when it came to light employees at the Securities and Exchange Commission were looking at porn as much as 8 hours a day; perhaps the American people assume they already know, especially since 17 of the 33 employees are still on the job. We already know what the top dogs at Goldman Sachs were doing at the height of the recession, playing both ends to meet the middle, selling a mortgage package to one set of people saying it was great while telling others to avoid it in order to make a killing.

We don’t have too many bosses; we have too few good bosses. Today companies, retail chains restaurants, places in public service and public welfare are run by people who know nothing about the industry, nothing about what they are in charge of, nothing about what being a boss means, no management or leadership skills. We have bosses that make the average person scratch their head and wonder how they got their position, never mind kept it and still keep it. Why, because they have been on the job for years and still are not familiar with the company’s own procedures, state regulations, district policies related to whatever it is they are responsible for running. The majority of bosses carry this into hiring employees, having no idea what makes a good employee, hiring on the same word of mouth, good old boys club that got them hired years before.

It is interesting that Mr. Rooney seems so disparaging of the college education since even for his “do something” type jobs students are being required to take classes that look remarkably similar to college in addition to whatever certifications, licensures are needed. Plumbers, bricklayers, welders, mechanics are now educated in the collegiate fashion; want to be a librarian, you’ll need a degree in library science, work in a daycare, you need a degree in child development preschool, early childhood education. And there are plenty of do “something” jobs that require a college education or beyond; besides lawyer, doctor there’s teacher, engineer, architect. A bachelors degree, masters in social work carries a plethora of “do something” opportunities with the added benefit of helping make a difference in people’s lives.

Cooks of all kinds, be it a top chef at a major restaurant or the guy making eggs over easy at the local greasy spoon, go to a cooking school of some sort; cosmetology school is the route for people who want to work in a beauty salon. They don’t call manicurists nail technicians for nothing. If you want to drive a truck, there is a school for that, classes for licensing to drive a taxi, limo or chauffeur service. Business colleges and community centers are now offering classes that look suspiciously like college in fields such as medical coding, dental assistant, dental hygienist, CNA, massage therapy, physical therapy assistant. If you want a job decorating home or office space, you need a degree in interior design; Mr. Rooney’s own career choice now requires a degree in English or journalism. The, perhaps unfortunate, truth is you need a degree, certification or class for everything these days; gone are the times where literally pounding the pavement and asking, begging for a job is all that’s needed.

On the flip side you have the unmitigated fact that students looking for post high school careers and educational opportunities aren’t being told how to get “do something” jobs; they aren’t being told how to become building inspectors, food inspectors, wild life conservationists, OSHA inspectors, pharmacists, X-ray technicians, maintenance workers, all of those useful jobs we don’t notice until they’re not there. Plus it is a dangerous thing when you tell young people that is all there is out there for them in a time when more are dropping out of high school, not going to college; it stunts creativity, stifles motivation and innovation. There is also the undeniable fact that even the “do something” job market took a hit in this recession; construction was one of the hardest hit industries as no one was building homes, businesses, cities had to scale back or stop projects for roads, bridges. Likewise having a degree in a “do something” field does not guarantee a job, as evidenced by the people with BA’s in education who cannot get a teaching job, the teacher out of work for 2 years slated to be one of the multitude losing extended unemployment benefits when congress delayed their passage. Engineers working a burger counter for an income, PHD holders mopping floors, this is the employment landscape.

However it goes beyond these tangible realities to the attitude exhibited in Mr. Rooney’s comments held by more and more Americans. He, and people like him, do not understand the toll the get a job mentality exacts on both individuals and the country as a whole, making people feel worthless because their talents, ambition lay beyond manual labor, making people think the only worthwhile job is in factory work, manual labor. At the same time, we don’t think about the stress of being in the wrong job until the postal worker literally goes postal, until the air traffic controller loses it with someone depending on him at 30 thousand feet, until the day trader shoots up his office space, and these incidents are not just confined to high paying, high stress or white collar work places, made clear by the Kentucky worker at a basic, manual labor job who took a gun to work and started shooting over a dispute he feared would cost him his job.

Another inconvenient truth, manual labor employment can, more often than not, lead to early retirement when their bodies start to give out from the strain of running a jack hammer, arthritic knees and other joints prevent crawling around to reach plumbing or do electrical work forcing workers to live on the fringe, go back to school and get better educated or take abuse from people in the supermarket checkout line at 55. During the segment it was pointed out that companies in America are doing more with less, meaning there are less jobs to go around no matter the line of work; despite posting million, even billion dollar profits, nearly every company today, no matter what it does, only hires the number of people it can get away with, the absolute minimum it can get by with. To say nothing of not everyone has the manual dexterity to be a plumber, bricklayer, construction worker, factory worker; a person can excited, enthusiastic about learning these trades and more, if only because they need work, yet never measure up to someone who has a genuine interest, passion or natural talent for say, plumbing. Even someone who commits to this is their life; this is what I do for a living will never be as satisfied, give as much to their work, if their heart lies in teaching, motivational speaking, horticulture, landscaping.

Returning to Mr. Rooney’s example of what college kids should do before going home at night and reading Shakespeare, wouldn’t that persons love, understanding of The Bard be better put to use if he taught it in a high school or college, got hired on at a community center teaching theater to young kids, or as staff for productions like Shakespeare in the park, taught an adult enrichment class rather than plumbing? Because it is all about matching people’s natural talent to real jobs, giving people who like to work with their hands, who are inherently curious about how things work and how to fix them, who want to have a “do something” job the opportunity to be a plumber, construction worker, any one of the different types of repairmen we need and leaving the rest of us do what we do best. Many of the up and coming young people ironically want to help others and are more likely to become nurses, CNA’s, nursing home workers, home health aids, open homeless shelters and so forth, all things we need today. Maybe the person likes plants and works in the home and garden department of superstores like Wal-Mart, works in the floral shop, section arranging the flower bouquets we give to our girlfriend’s, wives, mothers, daughters and friends.

Somehow I find it hard to imagine Mr. Rooney, with his age and stature, being able to endure 8 hours on his feet in a paper hat, mopping a floor or walking about a school unclogging toilets, maneuvering his torso in just the right way to fix someone’s sink. He seems to have forgotten that he made a living, continues to make a living, in a non “do something” job, and while we will always need news reporters, the kind of investigative reporting that 60 Minutes does, he has managed to survive in an industry that has imploded and is now feeding on itself. Not to mention he has been in his career field for years and years; perhaps he should save the advice until he’s had an employment problem in the current decade?

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