Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Industry, Education, and the Work-Ethic of Upcoming Generations

In every production-type corporation, there is a small buffer between the development of a product and the production of a product. This buffer consists mostly of costing-engineers, machine programmers, and draftsmen. I am a member of this little group who lives in this tight area. I help bridge the gap between engineering and production.

This position gives me an interesting perspective when viewing subsequent generations of workers. I am constantly hearing the complaints of managers that younger workers are not driven to excel the way workers of past generations were. My own generation seemingly lies right on the threshold of this dysfunction. It seems that those who graduated high school before 1990 are not as susceptible to this attitude.

But I am not sure that all my sympathies lie completely with the industries who are trying to find and separate the wheat from the tares in regards acquiring good employees. Please allow me to explain why.

Growing up, many of us watched our parents roll out of bed five, sometimes six days a week and make their way to their respective jobs. We watched as our parents dedicated themselves to the moment, and gave themselves to their employers. Most of us also watched our parents receive layoff slips from remorseless employers when orders were low. My own generation has watched employment benefits dwindle into almost nothing; even now we are forced to take retirement into our own hands with IRA’s and 401K’s, with no promise of ever getting a return on what we currently pay into Social Security. Health Insurance benefits require 3 months of work at most places now, while more and more companies are adopting the idea of a year’s service before health benefits are offered.

In short, where is the motivation for our rising generations to adopt the work ethic of our forefathers? General laborers now face the daunting task of competing against the low wages drawn by illegal aliens, along with the constant threat of oversea production services promising cheaper labor costs forcing our general labor jobs to go to other countries. This in itself is detrimental, because even though companies pay foreigners less to do the work, domestic citizens are still their primary patron. And by giving the job of manufacturing a product to a foreigner, we take the means of buying our product away from our primary patron. We castrate, and bid the gelding to, “be fruitful”.

I’ve noticed another disturbing by-product of this. In the past, college educations were fairly rare, at least much rarer than they are today. Contemporary high school students all know that the ability to earn, not even a substantial amount of money, but merely enough to survive, is greatly impeded by a lack of a formal education beyond that of high school. A much larger percentage of high school graduates pursue at least an associate’s degree after they graduate.

This influx of college graduates has forced both high schools and colleges to adopt the practice of “drilling” instead of “educating”. When I attended Drafting school, my teacher told me that acquiring the ability to draw was only part of the course; he wanted to instill something else along with it. A good drafter has the ability to effectively communicate with engineers, who often unknowingly communicate nearly incomprehensively to anyone’s intellect but their own.

Higher education shouldn’t involve the mere cramming of one’s mind with facts, but also should mold the young mind to think a certain way. Colleges today are failing to do this, and I think the horrendous influx of students, produced by the dwindling incentive to become part of the industrial world is the cause. We have exchanged quality of college graduates for quantity of college graduates.

Think about it, in the past, only the truly gifted and intellectual superior among us were given the resources to attain higher education. This was no disparagement to those unable to attend higher education, as the means to acquire a decent living was there for the less educated. Professors did not have a “check-off” list to teach by. They taught their students how to think, and consequently the students settled into the area of expertise that seemingly suited their strengths best. For example, everyone knows I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis. Based on all the biographical details of him that I have come across thus far, none of his teachers pushed him toward studying Medieval and Renaissance Literature, but merely taught him how to read and appreciate the literatures of many cultures and eras. His own inclinations and biases drove him to specialize in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Today, his observations on that literary era are still renowned in the Oxford literary community. This is such a high contrast of what’s being done today.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have kept my political leaning no secret and that is toward conservatism. It is equally known that I would only call our current president a conservative by the loosest definition of the word I can conjure. His endeavors toward making our schools better have only perpetuated said dysfunction. Instead of government involvement, individual schools should be responsible for hiring teachers that will bring more to the classroom than a mere curriculum, and not be forced to hire teachers who will just ensure good test results. Tests are a farce. The president’s “No Child Left Behind” has put out a test that students must pass, forcing our teachers to alter their curriculum, under the guise of “accountability”. Now our students are being taught what to think, instead of how to think. Our teachers, instead of creating citizens who are culturally aware and flexible to the world’s changing attributes, are simply “teaching to the test” in order to avoid reprimands. Drilling, instead of teaching, is the better word for what’s being done in our public schools today.

These dysfunctions are creating generations of people who want their endeavors, and their consequence to be cut-and-dried. They want their jobs to be on their terms, and the first thing they do when implanted in new positions is to re-wire the job to suit them, instead of adapting and endeavoring to give their superiors what they want. Potential employees want their employment to be on their terms to the extent that few, if any, employers can completely comply. Instead of producing quality, talented workers with the constitution, motivation, intelligence, intuitiveness, and skills to adequately perform their duties, we are creating employees who are self-absorbed and just want to know how their employers can benefit them. The responsibility of this dysfunction lies squarely on the shoulders of the public school system, in my opinion.

When the job market and education learn to disassociate from one another, and when higher-education establishments teach students the art of thinking, instead of just cramming facts into their heads so the next benchmark test will reflect favorably, most of the problem will leave us. Otherwise, things will continue to progress the way they are now. Bob, whose job is now being performed by a Chinaman 7,000 miles away, will not have 5 bucks to buy a gallon of milk, putting Charlie, who works at the dairy farm, out of a job. So now Charlie, who needs a new car, will not be able to go to the Buick dealership and buy new, putting Rick, who works for GM, out of a job. The dysfunction is progressive. The actions of industry, coupled by the inclinations of the public school system will determine the outcome. America’s industry will soon suffer tremendously for it. In my opinion, the cessation of outsourcing for price purposes, along with the constraints imposed on our unskilled laborers produced by this outsourcing, combined with a cessation of government interference into our public schools is the only cure.

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