One of the more popular responses to younger people complaining about the lack of decent job opportunities goes something like this-
“You should have gone into some trade or taken some vocational training.There are lots of well-paying blue-collar jobs that kids like you don’t want to do because you think they are beneath you.. yadayada.”
Another related one goes something like this-
“You should have done a major in some STEM discipline rather than some liberal pinko commie artsy subject. Look at those hard-working Asians.. yadayada “
These points, or some variation therefof are the staple responses of old farts, baby boomers and disturbingly enough some of the older gen-Xers (born before 1970). In my opinion, both types of responses are based in some combination of cognitive dissonance, lies, bullshit and wishful thinking. Here is why..
Let us look at the viability of entering vocational training, trades and similar blue-collar jobs. While some jobs in those areas still pay well, there are some serious issues with recommending them to everybody.
1a. More entrants into any of these vocations will depress wages. You must be aware that jobs related to building houses, meat-packing and even agriculture once paid OK wages. But is that still true? Could it be that an influx of Mexicans and immigrants in these occupations have depressed wages? Would more people entering these vocations not have a similar effect on wages?
1b. Technological changes can quickly render entire vocations utterly worthless. Even simple technological changes and innovations can reduce the demand for occupations or make them redundant. How often do you have to fix newer cars as compared to those built-in the 1970s? Do we still set newspaper type by playing around with hot lead and molds? How many people want to repair their computers nowadays as compared to even 10 years ago?
1c. Then there is the tricky question of how people and businesses can pay for more well-paid tradesmen when the amount of money in general circulation is shrinking. It is kinda hard to pay more people better wages when your own incomes are going down and the economy is shrinking.
1d. What about pensions, disability and money after retirement? As many of you know, tradesmen-type jobs become much harder to do after a certain age as they are physical- unlike desk jobs. Given that the income stream for most tradesmen is not constant how do you intend to provide for these people after they can no longer work in their occupations?
Now let us talk about STEM jobs..
2a. Most STEM jobs require aptitude and a significant investment in university education, typically 5 years or more. However the majority of them pay less than 70-80k/ year (typically 50-70k/ year). Today many of the people entering these fields have large student loans. Combine that with poor job security and difficulty in getting another job in the same general area. Is it still a good deal?
2b. Outsourcing, and H1B-type “insourcing”, is huge in STEM areas. What are going to do if the Harvard educated sociopaths who run your company decide to replace you with someone in (or from) China and India? Face it- they don’t care about the long-term or even the medium-term. It is all about the next four quarters and they don’t care about the quality of your replacement as long as he or she does not cause a large problem within one year (four quarters).
2c. An even worse situation occurs if they simply outsource the entire facility to China or India- as is increasingly the case. Remember they don’t care about anything that won’t hurt their gerrymandered figures for the next 4 quarters. What are you gonna do with your investment in STEM education and a huge student debt?
2d. Have you noticed that employers want exact skill fits but are unwilling to even help with basic employee training? Let us say your STEM degree was in an area in demand 5 years ago. Is that still the case? Would you be hired to do something that was similar, but not a perfect match for the advertised job? What would occur if the business focus of your employer changed?
2e. Then there is the issue of age discrimination. By the time you have put in 5 or more years in University + a few years in the area you are already in your 30s. Even if you are very competent and productive, few STEM-heavy companies now want to hire employees past their mid 40s or early 50s. What are you going to do? It is unlikely that you will have tons of money saved aside after paying off your student loans and white picket fence lifestyle- never mind kids. Can you really retrain? and more importantly- would you do that after knowing how businesses operate in neo-liberal economies?
Do you NOW see the fallacy in suggesting vocational training and careers in STEM?
What do you think? Comments?