Give Me Physical Work Over a Desk Job Any Day
The Stigma Against Physical Work is Outdated
There is a lot of stigma against physical work. Society teaches us to value "a higher education" and that a plum juicy job in a nice air conditioned corporate office, along with a personal computer and a fax machine is desirable. Colleges’ are rigorously training young Americans and Canadians to become "professional white collar" workers. The belief is that we're in a "technological information age" and those skills will be sought after and shall pay well. "White collar" jobs are viewed as supreme and intellectual, while "blue collar" jobs are viewed as dirty, low paying, and of low prestige. Is this belief the truth?
Unfortunately, if you ever stopped by at your local Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and if they're lucky, Costco, you'll see a pile of twenty something’s wielding white collar degrees in dead end jobs, with absolutely no hope for the future. As much as we like to tell ourselves the job is a starting point to get job experience that will eventually lead to greener pastures, only but the most naïve of us actually believe that. . .
The best these young people can hope for is maybe the off chance of getting a government paper pushing job for around 30k to 40k a year when the baby boomers retire, which may never happen.
So what exactly happened? And how is this all so?
We're Not in the "Information Age," and Never Were. . .
That's right, all that hysteria you heard about humanity entering an "information highway," it never happened. We were all sold a pact of lies. When I look back at it during my High School years in the mid 1990s, I can now see how the argument made no sense, but even I was fooled. I was fooled despite being a smart kid who always questioned authority.
The argument that employers, entrepreneurs, businesses, etc. would actively seek "knowledge workers" becomes fickle when we look at the evolution in technology, especially that of the computer processor.
What exactly does a white collar "knowledge worker" do? He or she would gather facts, research, calculate, hypothesize, and experiment. Entry level work would most often consist of dazzling the minds of your older clientele by mindlessly spitting out every fact you've memorized about the given industry and or product you're selling. Sounds clever right? There's only one problem though; modern day computers now do all of the following tasks I listed much better than us. As technology continues to progress, I expect more and more traditional white collar jobs to become obsolete.
You see, just the opposite has happened; technology is moving us away from an "information age." The fact of the matter is up until today, society always needed a healthy dose of "information workers." They were anywhere from 10% to 25% of the population and anything from clerks, secretaries, accountants, mathematicians, chemists, and lawyers. They always were a strong minority in the workforce and were essentially our "computer processor" of yesterday. They were indeed the very backbone of our economy that made the whole contraction churn as they meticulously plotted behind the scenes. While humanity never lived to see an "information age," information jobs have always been a necessary component for thousands of years. Unfortunately, we no longer have the need for a "human information processor" that comes along with all its inefficiencies. Inefficiencies such as demanding high salaries for that college degree, numerous vacation time, human fatigue, and plain human error. Information workers are dinosaurs. We now have advanced computer processors to sort out all of our information. Computers never forget, never get tired, don't need to be trained, don't demand a salary, don't need benefits, and can process information at the speed of light. When it comes to sorting, calculating, and warding through information efficiently and quickly, computers will always have us humans beat.
If you thought all of the obstacles I insinuated were more than enough, I'm here to inform you there are yet greater forces working against the "white collar" worker both in Canada and America. . .
White Collar Jobs: Easy Handling and Low Shipping Fees
While manufacturing jobs were the first to fall from the blunt that is outsourcing and globalization, this only happened because it was the path of least resistance. Powerful political forces and special interest groups actively sought out to destroy what they saw as "evil dirty manufacturing jobs" and to have them replaced with more desirable white collar jobs or information technology jobs.
These forces overlooked that mechanically speaking their jobs are in fact more vulnerable to outsourcing than manufacturing jobs, either that or they assumed that the government would always protect them. Today we see that is no longer the case.
The few white collar jobs remaining that haven't yet been replaced by technology are in fact more economical to outsource than manufacturing jobs. One of the hidden secrets that the corporate world doesn't want us "simpletons" to learn is that globalization manufacturing webs are starting to become expensive due to raising fuel costs. We're all starting to feel this inflation before our eyes every time we shop at a grocery store. Corporations are worried the whole house of cards may soon collapse and they're at a loss as to what could possibly be done as many nations have lost not only their manufacturing base, but their entire manufacturing knowledge, for an entire generation. In fact the C.E.O of Wal-Mart has just recently confessed that such inflationary measures are a real threat to the viability of their business model. When Wal-Mart is concerned this new found reality could lead them to bankruptcy, we should all heed notice.
White collar jobs on the other hand have no such fuel costs. All you need is a computer with Internet access, and you're good to go. With the Internet, any white collar job can now be easily accessed and outsourced from around the world.
This isn't 1989 any more where it takes skills to use a computer. They have made computers so user-friendly till the point they're idiot proof. Information technology has become a commodity. Anyone can be trained to use a computer within a matter of days.
In addition, there exists no language barrier for most white collar work. Accounting, mathematics, calculus, chemistry, physics, computer programming, etc. are universal languages. The prevailing theme in all of the white collar professions I listed is they use a combination of a universal code and mathematics in order to facilitate communication. The fact of the matter is a Chinese physicist speaks the same language as an American physicist. An Indian programmer speaks the same language as a Canadian programmer. And both you and I know, mainly due to currency differentials and cost of living expenses, that Asia will always be able to do jobs cheaper. Jobs always gravitate to where it's cheapest. The Canadian and American white collar worker simply can't compete.
But We Still Need White Collar Workers, I Have a Friend. . .
I'm certain you know a few friends where the traditional path of diploma for "good white collar job" worked. Understand that they're now exception rather than rule. The truth of the matter is what allowed them to get such jobs is because they were gifted and talented in that given field. Their college degree had nothing to do with it. Their education had nothing to do with it. Arguably, even their work ethic had nothing to do with it. The fact they were Canadian or American had nothing to do with it, and I could argue their nationality probably hurt their prospects rather than helped.
Such people are the "crème of the crop", the top 1% in their fields, who will be sought out and recruited at any price tag no matter what country they reside. They're hired for different reasons than what is economical for the business. Are you in the top 1% for your given field? And if not, do you have the capacity to achieve such a goal in a reasonable amount of time? Be honest with yourself when you go over such questions in your mind. If you're in the top 1% of your white collar field, then by all means continue to pursue this field and accumulate the degrees. Understand you'll be entering a winner take all society. If you're merely competent to well above average, forget it, corporations can recruit Indians and Chinese to form the bulk of their white collar workforce. Only the best, of the very best, of Americans and Canadians have any hope of getting a white collar job. If you're not within that bracket, you're investing your time, money, and resources for a goal that is out of reach.
As I predicted earlier, technology will make white collar fields even meaner and leaner. That bulk of Chinese and Indian workers shouldn't be envied. In due time, technology will certainly phase them out, even if they work for pennies an hour. In fact, a growing problem in China right now is unemployed engineers fresh out of university.
So if we're not in a Information Age; what Age are we in?
I would argue we're in a "service age," as we always have been for the last 20 years, until we come up with something better. I won't down play the situation and tell people to "get over it." I won't condescendingly tell people to "pull up their bootstraps." I won't euphemize the message when I say this is a horrible era to grow up in.
The key to survive and possibly thrive in this era will require an attitude adjustment. The attitude adjustment begins by throwing away all the perceptions you've been taught by your parents, academia, friends, and politicians in regards to what jobs have value and prestige, and which jobs do not. This is where I believe traditionally blue collar work may be the path to take. It won't be easy though, gaining entry may be the hardest part, as not only will you have to change your own mindset, but also the mindset of others who see you as nothing more than a banker, computer guy, lawyer, teacher, etc.
I hope by now I have relieved you from some of the crack/cocaine addiction that is white collar work. If I made you at the very least question the merits of such work, I consider my task, at least fow now, complete. In Part II of this Hub, I will be explaining why blue collar work might be the silver lining in what will be difficult times. I will explain all of the overlooked benefits to blue collar work. Finally, I will personally explain why I'm badly trying to get out of the white collar world that I'm apparently "so lucky to have without a college degree." I will mention the numerous struggles I face, attempting to break all the numerous stereotypes, when I'm trying desperately to make this transition.
To make a long story short, the key to success and satisfaction may rest in the perceived undesirable, rather than the desirable. By doing the jobs other people don't want to do, yet are entirely necessary, you could potentially mass great wealth.
-Donovan D. Westhaver