The Renaissance Work of Art. I write about navigating the unspoken rules in today’s workplace.
Just a year and a half ago, the news was buzzing with coverage about the Cosby Show star, Geoffrey Owens, being video taped by a woman in Trader Joe’s. Her attempt at shaming him for working a blue-collar job was quickly met by an outcry of support for him doing honest work. He since seems to have been pretty busy with acting work according to his IMDB profile.
Many would call this a happy ending. But why was his job working at a grocery store an issue in the first place? And would people see things differently in this day of COVID-19 where grocery store personnel have become so essential and seen as heroes?
On his foundation’s website, MikeRoweWorks, Mike Rowe, popular host of shows, “Dirty Jobs,” and, “Returning the Favor,” shares that, “America has become slowly but undeniably disconnected from the most fundamental elements of civilization—food, energy, education and the very nature of work itself.
Over the last 30 years, America has convinced itself that the best path for the most people is an expensive, four-year degree. Pop culture has glorified the ‘corner office job’ while unintentionally belittling the jobs that helped build the corner office. As a result, our society has devalued any other path to success and happiness.”
The Renaissance Work of Art
A possible silver lining in this tragic pandemic is the renaissance of the skilled worker and society’s deep appreciation for what they do.
To understand just how much our perceptions of work have shifted, the LaSalle Network, surveyed 2020 college graduates on expectations as they enter the jobs market back in February of this year before the COVID-19 outbreak with the following results:
February 2020 data responses:
- 75% were NOT open to a temporary role
- Location was among the top 3 factors ranked when considering a job
- 80% would not take a part time job
- Marketing/advertising was the top industry targeted
- 72% stated their desired compensation was $41-70K
Another survey was conducted just a month after the COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to close down and safer at home restrictions were put in place.
April 2020 data responses:
- 89% of respondent are willing to take a temporary role
- 93% of respondents are open to broadening their job search beyond their original list of target industries and roles
- 92% are willing to adjust their compensation expectations and potentially accept a role that is at a lower starting salary than desired
“A recalibration of our quasi-entitlement has occurred. Our need for all the extra frills has gone out the window. When people are losing their jobs, you start to appreciate what you have and what’s really important and that’s not a bad thing” says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network.
The shift in opportunity has put an emphasis on being employable over items such as ideal job selection. But how does this movement go beyond just dealing with desperate times? We, as a society, have to have a less biased and unfounded distaste towards work itself.
Some key things college graduates and anyone considering a new chapter in their career should be considering include:
Stop letting a job title define your personal worth. If there is anything this pandemic should teach us it should be that all jobs have merit. This idea that one person is more valuable than another due to a few letters in front of their name is ridiculous. Especially in today’s climate, we are seeing that a title has very little to do with what will keep someone on the job or not.
Instead, it’s based on what the person actually does and how that connects to keeping not just a business afloat, but our communities. Impact is king. Title is simply information. Sure, certain titles may come with more pay and perks but those won’t be very stable if that title is tied to a job that makes very little real impact beyond itself.
We need to also be careful about the recent language of essential and nonessential. “In regard to an economy, I don’t think there is any such thing as a nonessential worker,” Mr. Rowe has said recently. “This is basically a quilt,” he said, “and if you start pulling on jobs and tugging on careers over here and over there, the whole thing will bunch up in a weird way.”
Let’s all change the way we identify with work. The less our titles, educational background or roles define our sense of self, the more we can choose work that fits our purpose and connects to who we really are. “The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work,” says Rowe. Our bias of viewing some jobs as beneath us is actually leading many to forego employment or pursuing a booming job market, simply because society doesn’t see blue-collar work as desirable. But why?
Many of those jobs provide a solid if not a desirable source of income. Many are in dire need of skilled workers. Healthcare being one of those industries. It’s not just the degreed jobs, but the jobs that require a certification or two vs. years of college. Yet, their demand far exceeds the talent pool pursing the work.
Reassess the value of an education. A college degree shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time any more than it should be seen as the sole path to a career. In most cases, a degree and work experience are the ideal combination. Education definitely broadens your knowledge-base, but work ensures the knowledge is imbedded in how you make decisions. The same way that driver’s education ensures you know the rules but driving on the road is what builds your skills as a driver in a variety of situations.
Also, we need to move away from the notion that only a four-year education has merit. Sure, there are career paths that absolutely require degrees such as the path of a lawyer, accountant, teacher or doctor. However, there are plenty of jobs that only require certifications that are much less cost and time intensive that support a successful career.
Focus on transferring with your transferable skills. Many of us get so tied to an industry, company or role that making a leap into something new seems like we are settling or that it’s impossible. The truth is, all of us come with transferrable skills that set us up to be excellent at quite a few jobs that could benefit multiple companies and industries. The more we all embrace the value of transferrable skills and design our resumes to reflect that, the easier it will be for hiring managers to broaden their scope of talent searches.
Understand that leadership experience is a valuable commodity. The career advice I give to all college students or recent grads is to find work somewhere that would enable them to get management experience if they really want to climb the proverbial ladder to executive ranks. Industries such as food or cleaning services are a great place to get that experience. There’s often heavy turnover and hourly employees. Due to that, movement into a lead or manager position can happen quicker than in traditional office settings.
Leading people on the frontline is an excellent place to get experience. You’ll be dealing with morale issues and people who are doing the work because it provides a paycheck and not necessarily their final career stop. What that sets you up to learn is to truly care for staff, develop a team culture and work through performance issues. It’s one thing to manage people who worked their whole lives to be there vs. people who are working because the job is supporting their life vs. being the focus of it. All these skills will be critical regardless of where your leadership career takes you.