We focus on getting degrees and excelling in business and yet we forget that without the vocational workers like teachers, plumbers, electricians and mechanics as well as our nurses, rubbish collectors and street cleaners, we’d be living in something akin to a post-apocalyptic disaster movie. It blows my mind that government isn’t ploughing money into improving conditions and salaries for these vital people in our society rather than upgrading military hardware and filling pockets that are too full already.
Its with this in mind that I read and appreciated Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe’s testimony before the US Senate in May 2011 and this part in particular:
In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.
In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.
In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work.
Although Rowe talks about the situation in the United States, I wonder how much of that isn’t relevant to South Africa? Certainly we should be paying more attention to how the millions of invisible and yet vital workers are regarded, treated and paid than we should be paying attention to petty politics and power struggles.