Job = Just Over Broke
Career = Creativity, assessment, responsibility, enthusiasm, effort, and reliability
I don’t like to talk much about the many careers I have had. I spent the last decade trying to pave my own way with the outcome of a job, but the effort of a career. I bounced all around the country trying to teach golf, and maintain a status in that industry. Before I fell into the golf industry, I worked a number of terrible jobs, and even the most rewarding ones were rife with all kinds of reasons for an employer to either suppress my wages, or downright steal them. I was busy driving around many of the toddlers that were offered great jobs right out of college without any life experience, and likely very little industry training while carrying a prestigious university title.
In order to follow my passion as a golf instructor, I was forced to work multiple jobs. While in my Master’s program, I drove a taxi, worked as an electrician, and also worked as an intern for 4 separate cities. I had cast a wide net in hopes that something would stick. Nothing did. I was accepted into a prestigious internship program, but the hangover from 2008 made the internship essentially useless. The mass exodus of the older generation who were of retirement age decided not to retire. The cities decided not to hire entry level replacements, and despite the fact that many of those employees would make a larger salary retired (many had been working over 30 years at a 3% retirement vestment. It was normal to meet 35 year veterans in their field who were young and refused to retire). What was once an 80% transition from internship to career, became less than 20%. I gave up on the idea of a stable government job, and loved teaching kids golf, so I tried to pursue that career. Little did I know it is a cutthroat industry with a lot of subversive characters willing to steal and throw away my marketing materials, and a cattiness akin to a junior high school locker room. I am only a couple classes away from an associate degree in Water Technology Education that I will never finish because that industry didn’t think I was a viable candidate.
I don’t need to dwell on how I’m not the ideal candidate, I want to talk about these 40 year veterans who are going to retire or die en masse in the coming years. The warning of the baby boomer retirement wave is likely to crash into the robotics wave. Robotics is going to take away all the entry-level jobs, leaving mid-level workers to take over management roles. However, many of these high-level technicians and low-level managers are terrible at one thing – teaching. I am going to try to explain these characters of which I have met two separate individuals.
Let’s call them Neal and Bob, in homage to a great movie (terrible actually) called Ford Fairlane. Andrew Dice Clay plays Andrew Dice Clay, and his memorable line for the couple of police officers trying get in his way as a private detective was, “Neal and Bob, is that your name? Or just what you do?”
I met Neal at the City of Encinitas. One reason why I didn’t get accepted into the Distribution department was because Encinitas is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The women are world class, the beaches are world class, it is a short drive to a world class city, and the desire to have a stable career in this city was always difficult. I tried for roughly 14 years to make things work in this lovely place, but never found comfort. Circumstance certainly played a role, but the ability to take timing out of the equation is impossible. Neal was a salty old curmudgeon. Neal had been working for 33 years, and was already guaranteed a retirement exactly equal to his salary. He had a very boring, monotonous job, but it included driving up and down the beach and checking the neighborhood for leakes, or just turning valves. The City of Encinitas is nearly 100 years old, as is the piping system that provides safe drinking water to every home in the city. The valves calcify because the water distributed needs to be more basic than acidic. The water delivered to any suburban home in America is generally a ph of ~8, just above the neutral of 7. It is too risky to drop below 7, so a full point higher is the safest for the pipes. The conclusion is calcification. The valves that shut off certain sections of pipe will collect calcium, so a machine is used to open and close the valves mechanically to get the best seal for the longest amount of time. Neal’s primary job was to drive the valve turning truck. I joined him, and would basically work as hard as I could to kill the time in between the nothingness that was done regularly. Neal was terrible at teaching me, and generally was an unhappy person with little thought outside of his job. This was 9 years ago, and he might still be there.
Because nobody wants to pay me for my writing, I am forced to take on another labor job. I don’t mind the hard labor, I just can’t fathom the idea of doing one task for the rest of my life. Life has far too many great experiences to be had, so doing the same thing day over day grinds my gears. My present job introduced me to Bob. Bob is a machinist. Bob has been doing the same thing for 40 years. Bob wants to retire. Bob has no idea what to do with 5 minutes of free time, how is Bob going to handle 24 hours of it? Bob, like Neal is a gruff character with a poor ability to teach. They were never trained to teach. They merely started working 40 years ago and simply got good at what they do. Bob literally told me, “Thinking isn’t how I do things.” That’s one way to get through a day’s work!
Bob works for a private company. Neal worked for a city. Bob told the company that he was going to retire in a year, and that the company needs to find his replacement. Neal told me he was going to retire and take all of his physical blueprints with him. I imagine him sitting at home, waking up at 5am, and putting his cup of coffee on his 50 year old blueprints of the city of Encinitas while he simply stares at the antiquated plans that could only be described by Neal. Bob is old enough that he is waiting for Social Security to kick in, and what they offer him will determine whether he retires, or works until he drops. I don’t know what Bob would do otherwise.
I asked Bob if he had ever seen the show Futurama, as a good portion of the job is to bend sheet metal. When I would get on a machine, all I could think of is how easily, and efficiently a robot could do this job. It isn’t that we haven’t had robots that can conduct these tasks, as many of them could easily be done by robotics. It’s that the infrastructure cost is higher than many business “can afford” to pay. When Bob retires, the company may have to invest in new methods to accomplish the tasks that Bob has been performing like a machine for decades. Machines don’t need time off. Machines don’t get cuts, go on vacation, or get fatigued. Machines require a high up front fee, but a low maintenance cost. Humans are a low up front fee, many times not getting paid for weeks before the employer is required to pay. Humans need time off, vacations, and food. A machine may have major repairs required after a handful of years, but a human needs to retire, or die. If we were to simply calculated food versus electricity, electricity is far cheaper than food. It isn’t that companies care at all about their employees, they simply want the job done with the least amount of cost. Employers use the invisible hand of capitalism to smack their employees in the face when the purse strings tighten.
Bob would have a lucrative career if Bob knew how to train employees. He is currently training me, and I have to constantly remind him that I don’t have 40 years worth of eyeballing the difference between an ⅛ of an inch. I have been very deliberate to explain to him that he needs to walk me through tasks so I don’t fuck them up. Every task has a learning curve, and this manufacturing has a relatively small, but important curve. Bob often looks at me sideways when I ask him to repeat instructions so I wouldn’t make a mistake. Bob hands me tape measures that he may have bought on his first day on the job. Bob draws lines on certain machines to remind himself of where certain pieces of sheet metal need to be bent. The lines make sense to one person, and Bob doesn’t like to explain the work, he just wants to do it. He trudged such a deep path of repetition, that there is very little resistance until a new guy comes in and wonders why the rut is so deep.
Neal was the same way – He had all the knowledge about the inner workings of his task, but it was trapped inside his own head. I have been very intrigued by communication recently, specifically with regard to high skilled employees who have trouble communicated how it is they are so skilled. Neal absorbed 30+ years of knowledge about the city of Encinitas. Bob has 40 years of knowledge of one task. Neal always avoided promotion, and the structure of the organization separated management from technicians so greatly that he was never trained beyond his skills as a technician. Neal found a niche, and avoided mingling with the higher brass who, despite making a lesser salary, would look down on a technician. Bob found his niche, and never wanted anything more, what an envious mindset. I wish I could turn off the thousands of thoughts that rush through my head on a daily basis.
Neal and Bob are representing millions of employees who were compartmentalized into specific tasks and became experts in their specific tasks. They also represent the hole left from the lack of diversified training because an employee is only good for a job, and a career is only meant for the fat, lazy middle managers who stumbled into their position through a side door of nepotism or entitlement. I was told on multiple occasions that “working your way up” is simply not the way business is conducted anymore. Well, I will sit back and laugh when the companies who refuse to cross-train employees, specifically well skilled employees to scale-up. In my opinion, scaling up means to train employees how to train employees. If you only train an employee to do a singular task over decades, and you don’t force that employee to learn such valuable tasks such as training, you run the risk that millions of companies are going to face, and have been facing for some time – Brain drain from within.
The Baby Boomer generation is coming to a close, and they are going to take as much money, and, as much skill as they can with them into either retirement or the grave. It’s a grave statement. The tail end of the Baby Boomers is approaching. We are seeing 70-80 year old people continuing in the workplace because those people either know nothing else, or never knew better than to spend everything they made. Regardless of this generation wanting to live forever, it just isn’t possible. Humans have a lifespan of around 80 years, with an incremental increase due to the miracles of modern science. We may see technicians working in their 80s due to diet and exercise, but the human body isn’t exactly accustomed to routine tasks. The body wears down in the parts of most repetition. The younger generation, born in the 70s, is next up to take on the roles that many of the Baby Boomers will leave a void. Without the input from the Baby Boomers, the new generation will have to start from scratch. This is why automation will be the new wave, rushing in just as the Baby Boomers rush out.
Those few careers left that provided the Baby Boomers with a lengthy retirement will be closed by the employer class. It is simply too expensive to provide retirement when replacement is a more profitable option. Thanks to the dissolution of Unions, even the few Unions left are trying to increase the retirement age to forgo the inevitable empty bank accounts these millions of Baby Boomers will leave behind. Why should they care about the company that disregarded them as nothing more than a bender, or a valve turner? While the middle managers of the country were treating themselves to healthy paychecks and shrinking productivity, this technician class hasn’t been properly trained, given very little retirement options, and told they are a necessity to the company.
Everyone is greedy. From the day we became sperm, we had to compete, and greed is the soul’s will to compete. Middle managers will fight to have their best, most comfortable life. Technicians, or the blue-collar workforce, will fight for their best, most comfortable life. The employer class will fight for their best, most comfortable life. Unfortunately, all 3 classes have a different opinion on what is best, or most comfortable. The blue-collar man may get into middle-management, but he will forget what it was like to wear the blue-collar. In America, we have a long history of the blue-collar man venturing out on his own and stepping into the employer class. This is great, and it is why Capitalism has pulled billions of people out of poverty in the last century alone. The lack of upward mobility within a company is only the fault of a company not looking out for the long term viability of the organization. A human resource is not a robot, and if you treat a human like a robot, you will get the output of a robot. Robots, as of now, do not know how to properly teach.