Saturday, May 17, 2008

Men (NOT) At Work

Some people think men are opting out of society because society isn't kind to men. Maybe. I had been thinking it was the economy and worried that women in the work world just deflated a man's need to provide or something. Stupid idea, but I just threw it out there musing aloud. Turns out, there's an economic answer that makes a lot of sense. The economic slump (I don't think anyone is calling it quite a recession anymore, because how can a quarter of growth, no matter how slight be considered going backwards?) has not affected women in the same way it's affected men because they men are concentrated in certain job sectors. Aha! Now, that makes sense to me. But there's more, it gets worse, so sayeth Peter Coy of Business Week:

What’s going on? Simply put, men have the misfortune of being concentrated in the two sectors that are doing the worst: manufacturing and construction. Women are concentrated in sectors that are still growing, such as education and health care.

This situation is hardly good news for women, though. While they’re getting more jobs, their pay is stagnant. Also, most share households—and bills—with the men who are losing jobs. And the “female” economy can’t stay strong for long if the “male” economy weakens too much. (h/t khankrum)

Long term, it seems to me that even education and health care will slow. People need money to pay for college and health care. Around here, the census at the local hospitals is low. Yes, we're out of flu season, but people will put off elective or even needed procedures if they think they can get away with it. I've always been amazed how people will care for their cars, but not their bodies. Without health you can't work to even fix the car. But still, people can survive and be pretty sick for a long time and lots of people do. We'll know the economy is really bad when people start yanking out their teeth with pliers and college enrollments drop.

Speaking of college, is a four year degree worth anything? In some areas, I really don't know. There are a few years between now and my kids deciding their futures, which is a relief. To me, anything soft--history, literature, poly sci, etc.--is worthless. Not because those areas of study are worthless, to the contrary, our students don't get enough. However, most curricula you read these days doesn't inspire confidence and colleges filled to the brim with revisionists inspire less confidence. A four year degree seems like four years of brain washing and what's the result? A worthless degree that gets a grad no solid job. However, a degree in engineering, science, mathematics, etc. will definitely land a grad a job.

In addition, even if a person wants to be a writer or a more artsy fartsy generally, it's almost imperative to have a knowledge of technology. The world gets more complex and a foundational science knowledge helps with everything. So a four-year degree in something "hard" seems valuable. The rest of it, people can learn if they have a love of reading. Most of my history and literature understanding has come in my adult years just reading and being interested in things that didn't used to interest me.


mkfreeberg said...

As you point out, you can learn stuff the old fashioned way, by reading. And we've got a rising tide of knuckleheads with degrees.

Let's be clear on what a "knucklehead" is here. You can be a knucklehead and speak clearly. You can even write well. Knuckleheads are process-and-procedure smart. It is beyond their scope to know how things work. How a system behaves, how components of that system behave when separated from one another. How to tear things apart, troubleshoot them, and put them together again. The presumption that has become popular, is that if you have a 4-year, you must know something about that. And that presumption has run into a lot of problems.

So the question of paramount importance is, is your intention to go to a job interview and get an edge on the competition -- or to actually learn something?

Melissa Clouthier said...

Well, college seemed more about proving you can endure taking tests for four years more than learning something.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I think that even learning about stupid ideas broadens a person's perspective and so in that way, college is valuable. On the other hand, some of the most interesting people I know are those who are extraordinarily intelligent but avoided institutional learning. The key to me, is continued learning. There are many college grads who haven't touched a book, since.

But the key to job success these days is to have a piece of paper. It seems required. A friend who manages a construction company said that his foremen have to have a college degree. Is it the degree they're after or the IQ needed to finish a degree and the degree is just an easier bar. I can't help believe that some really great people are missed because of an artificial bar like that.

mkfreeberg said...

Yeah, it seems to me a rather blatant contradiction. Businesses are looking for bright, intelligent people with original ideas and acute observational prowess, and they want that piece of paper so the brightness and intelligence and originality and observational prowess can be demonstrated to hiring managers and other decision makers who are, or may be -- un-bright, un-intelligent, un-original, and wholly lacking in talent at observing things.

I mean, there's really just no other way to read it. It's not as if the hiring decision is over-n-done with inside of three minutes, or anything.

Melissa Clouthier said...

In my own hiring practices, and I'm giving away a secret here, now, I ask people their grades in High School. Still that might miss a guy who matured late or a girl with little support. But I've been surprised how accurately it indicates a person's ability to learn.

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