The recession has hurt the job market. Unemployment is at an uncomfortable level and has been for a long time. So, there's a lot of talk about creating jobs this political season. Without getting into numbers that can be deceiving and boring at the same time, I wish to take a more philosophical view and present it here.
There is a fundamental difference between jobs and work. Jobs are well-defined, usually by a job description, holes in an organizational chart designed by entities whether they be public or private in some hierarchical fashion, that need to be filled. Since people do not fit these holes very well, having all kinds of squared off corners of experience, skills, interests, in other anomalies that don't fit nice round definitions, employers tend to drop people in that they have a “feeling,” will fit, not always, necessarily, the best candidate. Getting employed in a job, therefore, is quite often very personal and subjective, rather than truly objective as the job description and the rules of human resources would imply.
Both government and the private sector create jobs. Government jobs tend to have better tenure and benefits because there are more protections for government workers than those in the private sector. People seem to think that private-sector jobs are more efficient. However, most private-sector jobs are small businesses that contain family members who are not very productive. Most government sector jobs prohibit the hiring of family members for that very reason. Most government jobs serve useful functions and are necessary in our society. A government job may hang around a little longer than a private job when the work becomes unnecessary, but the government jobs like blacksmiths to shod cavalry horses went away in both the private and public sectors about the same time.
As an industrial engineer, my focus has been productivity. Starting with Frederick Taylor in the late nineteenth century, industrial engineers have been focused on eliminating jobs by mechanization first, and then by automation, and finally by computerization. In this effort, pay was to be defined as, “a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.” The reason for the elimination of jobs is quite simple. Machines can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until they break down, and do not have the rough edges of workers that make it difficult for them to fit in the nice round holes of the organization. All owners of businesses and directors of government operations want machines with a perfect fit to do the work of their organizations, not employees. In fact, they would be perfectly happy with no employees and machines doing all the work. Anything to make them look good or give them a profit. Just so they can run the machines and get the benefit of that job done, the most important one being increasing productivity. Ideally, this means that fewer and fewer people would have to work at jobs and could benefit from productivity and its wealth creation. Our situation is far from that ideal, because all of the wealth has gravitated towards a very few people who generally do not work any job at all, but merely direct their wealth toward making more wealth.
Which brings me to work. Work is inherent in human beings and part of our survival. In the beginning, it was all hunting and gathering. If we didn't hunt enough, or gather enough, or build or seek adequate shelter, we died. We spent any free time from work procreating because we knew our life would be very short and the only way to continue our species was to have children to take care of us when we aged and could no longer hunt and gather. In a sense, after we could no longer be productive hunting and gathering, we did government jobs like teaching and entertaining the children, advising, policing disputes, and tending the fire for the family or tribe.
Some very smart ancestors domesticated animals and plants and created farming. Tribes grew into villages. In order to keep villagers and farmers in line and working, the same ancestors created religion and class to provide for people who took natural leadership as mayors, lords, and tyrants. Without hunting and gathering, trade became necessary and businesses were formed to meet the need of commerce. Both work and jobs were very close to needs.
That is no longer the case. There's a lot of work to be done, and quite often entrepreneurs in the private sector seize the opportunity and do it with their hierarchical organizations. Some even make money doing this kind of work. Just as often, the public sees the need for work that is not being done by the private sector and asks the government to do it. Charities are formed to do it. Hence, jobs are created. If people don't act, a lot of work goes undone. A recession or depression seems to increase the tendency to leave work that should be done, undone, with the excuse that there is “no money” to do it.
Most jobs are unfulfilling and most people are working in jobs they were not educated or trained for, in spite of what most educational institutions advertise. There is also a big difference between training and education that I will cover in another article later. The fact is, industrial engineers, like me, and my twin brother, eliminated the high paying heavy industrial jobs, like most of the auto industry assembly-line installers, by automation, as early as the 1950s. Today, in the new American revived auto industry, production lines are made up primarily of robots that work without pay 24 hours a day, never get injured, and don't complain until they break down. As early as the 1950s, service jobs overtook higher-paying production jobs in the private sector. One of the larger areas of service jobs with higher pay, were the jobs created in the government sector to accomplish all the regulations required to keep private enterprise from destroying the environment and our health in the process. Regulation has become a necessary part of enterprise. Deregulation continually is seeking to remove government control and let free enterprise determine the outcome of production.
Today, while the service industry still uses many people in its processes, industrial engineers, and the newly arrived efficiency experts, accountants and computer scientists, are working to eliminate even those jobs by providing computerized ways of doing business and providing government services without people to people contact at all. The jobs that remain in these sectors tend to be very repetitive, boring, and unfulfilling. Being downsized and losing one of these jobs can be a godsend in disguise.
Which brings me back to work. The jobs aren't coming back for the very reasons I just described. Leadership in both the private and public sectors are eliminating them. To get a high-paying job, you have to have special skills, or at least a friend or relative who hires you. In spite of what all the training schools out there will tell you, you won't get those special skills in school. For example, to be a manager requires that you have a certain personality that leadership feels can be used to fit the organizational objectives. To be a skilled worker in an organization with high pay requires proven experience in that skill that is often very hard to come by because entry to those skilled jobs are so limited. Retraining and refocusing job objectives often don't work. Too many people are chasing the same brass ring.
So you are unemployed. What are you to do? The first thing is to assess whether you like work. Our society has gotten so far away from the daily struggle for subsistence that work often means little as long as we have money to pay for the things we need. If you don't like work, you probably won't get a job and you will be like most people, very dependent upon the matrix, the hierarchy, and the safety net to keep you from falling into poverty and on the street.
To like work requires discipline. Discipline requires that you focus on work that needs to be done. For example, in every community there is trash that needs to be picked up. I am not talking about aluminum cans that are easily recycled. I'm talking about dirty ugly trash that causes all kinds of environmental harm that uncaring people throw on the street. If you spend one half of your time during the day looking for a job and the other half of the day picking up trash, you'll get a healthy dose of sunshine, fresh air, and exercise, all while you're thinking of ways to do even more productive work, and eventually, finding work that will be as fulfilling as picking up trash and disposing of it properly.
After you've cleaned up the neighborhood to everybody's surprise, you can move on to even higher pursuits, like seeking out elderly neighbors and helping them mow their lawns, fix up their houses, and even do a little painting. Or, you can do a lot of painting in public areas and for businesses, seemingly too poor to spruce up their establishments.
Or, you can go into business. Most businesses fail in their first year of existence, and they fail not because of too many government regulations or taxes, they fail because their owners do not know the cost of doing business. If you know how to save money and to spend it wisely on productive things, you may be able to run a business. If you focus only on your gross income and spend all the money you make, you will fail very quickly. The best approach is to start your business small and gradually grow into it. If you see you're not making money and understand that you never will, leave the business or change its course. In the meantime, continue to work and improve your skills at what you are good at, not what some school for some “ideal” job out there tells you.
Eventually, you'll be working at what you like and making money doing it. You may even be paying taxes that will help support others who are struggling to get ahead with fewer and fewer jobs being available every year. No politician or political viewpoint will get you a job. Go to work and you will be fulfilled.