The Unemployable Problem

Big news out of Washington D.C. recently. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest mark since February 2009, 8.5%. That’s good news if your a president in an election year.

But others would be quick to point out that 8.5% unemployment is still too high. Yet, I have to wonder. What percentage of Americans are unemployed because they are unemployable?

The other day, I took our kids to the local park for a picnic and to soak in some free vitamin D from the flaming ball which hangs in the January San Diego sky. It was a sunny, breezeless, quiet day at the park. With most kids back at school and parents back to work the park was fairly empty of the dozens of screaming toddlers on the slides and mom’s chatting on the sidelines experienced during the week before.

It was our family and a pile of random stragglers each there for their own reasons.

One man and his friend watched a little boy as they smoked weed and talked about how weed hasn’t hurt them a bit. In the same conversation they talked about their inability to find a job but apparently lacked the cognitive ability to recognize that smoking weed at a public park at 1 o’clock in the afternoon while a toddler plays under your care is as good a reason to not hire a person for a job as any other.

A young woman sat on a bench near me and talked on the phone while her daughter tumbled up and down the ladder of the slide alone. She cried, literally, to a friend about how her mom wouldn’t give her $100 to pay her cable bill. In the same conversation she lamented to her friend about not being able to find a job anywhere.

Moments later a nanny arrived with 3 toddlers. In San Diego it’s fairly normal to see a middle-aged Hispanic woman caring for 3 little white kids. I could be wrong in making that assumption, because they could have been her children I suppose, but they looked to be children she watched. She oversaw an orderly march to and from the park, the distribution of snacks and jackets, and she maintained order as they played in the sand and later helped them take turns on the swings.

So there I sat, basking in the sunlight of this irony. 4 adults at the park with very different American experiences. 3 unemployed and relatively unemployable young adults wasting every legal opportunity they have for the advancement of their life. And 1 employed, legally unemployable middle-aged woman, exhibiting professionalism and investing in the advancement of her life.

Mike Rowe is right, you know?

We have an educational system that has created a massive hole in the job market. It’s not just in my industry that there is a gap in qualified people. It’s in the trades, as well. (Read more: College isn’t for everyone)

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

10 comments

  1. Good point Adam.  Men my age (64) are retiring left and right, and leaving a huge gap.  The company I worked for in Aerospace stated recently that 50% of their workforce was over 55.  They employ every possible type of person from janitors to rocket scientests and have a great need for skilled labor.  I wonder these days why we can’t seem to match up the unemployed with the jobs.

      1. We have citizens and businesses that look as college as the only acceptable “output” as well. Why is the educational system to blame, and not individuals themselves? Are people no longer taught to take responsibility for their own thoughts/actions? Where are these values supposed to be taught?

        1. Clearly, you have a personal responsibility bent. You’ve mentioned it in 2 comments in a row! 

          I’m not sure when the last time you were in a school was. But I have young kids and I’ve worked with high school students since 1996. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways the only measurement of success in the public school system is a child going to college. 
          You hear it from kindergarten teachers! (And their parents) They want to put those children on a pathway to college as if that’s the only acceptable output of their 13 years of formal education. If you would like to see this played out I invite you to visit your nearest school board’s next meeting. 

          It’s not an evil aim. There is nothing wrong with college. But the agenda is clear. Children from 6 years old to 18 years old are told that they are a successful student if they are headed to college and anything that isn’t college bound is less successful. 

          This is the narrative of our educational system. And Mike Rowe (video above) is calling out the narrative and suggesting that perhaps we begin a new narrative highlighting the value of the trades. 

          1. As Judge Smails said in CaddyShack…”the world needs ditch diggers too.”

            I agree with both of you. The educational system is to blame, but in my opinion it is to blame for not emphasizing personal responsibility and also by emphasizing college as the only “successful” path.

            When I was a senior in H.S. I was an average to  below average student.  Not because I wasn’t intelligent, but because I didn’t try.  When I told my guidance counselor I was thinking of college, she literally chuckled.  After the momentary laugh-in, she didn’t offer any alternatives.  It was as if there were no opportunities to succeed if I did not qualify for college.  Instead of counseling me to seek gainful employment after high school or pursue a trade, I was left with the impression that I had no options – that I couldn’t possibly contribute to society if I did not get a college degree.  While she is not totally to blame, her attitude was a contributing factor in my lack of personal growth and by association, my lack of personal ambition to succeed in life outside of college.

            Thankfully, Jesus got a hold of me and showed me I had gifts and abilities that could be useful.

  2. I believe Mike Rowe is right on point. I think we (I) have indeed had a tendency to marginalize the trades, in favor of a college degree, in my desires & expectations for my sons. Turns out, school isn’t really isn’t their “thing” and now our 22 year old is working in construction / learning a trade / doing well. Kinda funny in fact, how often me and my degree have to ask him for adviYce / help with tasks around the house! Just sayin! Proud of him! Hoping / praying our younger son will follow a similar path.

  3. How exactly is this the fault of the educational system? I personally blame it on Americans turning from God.

  4. I agree with everything you wrote. The Mike Rowe video makes a good point. Here is another.

    My guidance councilor recommended apprenticeship & trade schools only to the stoners & drunks. As if those are the only types of people that would want to be a plumber, or electrician. B-C students like me are pushed towards college if they want to or not. Apprenticeships & trade schools weren’t even mentioned to me. College isn’t for everyone, myself included. I studied & paid for classes I wasn’t interested in & wouldn’t need just to get the required credits for a degree. I quit after 2 years, with $30,000 in student loans. I know a lot of others who dropped out because college wasn’t for them.

    I am now an Electrician doing mostly residential wiring. Unfortunately most of the skilled electricians, plumbers, welders & other trades here in Arkansas are mostly old guys nearly ready to retire, their sons & grandsons. A lot of the rest of the people who have been trained to do the jobs are unreliable alcoholics, druggies or have criminal records. They can’t pass a background check or drug test & are basically unemployable now. Half of the people my boss hires he can’t keep, because they don’t show up for work. If they do they are high or drunk.

    The trades need more people that are smart & haven’t screwed up. I would encourage more youths to think about apprenticeship in the trades. There are good paying jobs all over the country, but a lot of them aren’t filled.

    I feel that a lot of the schools push college over a trade schools to all but the underachievers. This has left my career with a lot of people that I wouldn’t want to hire. I’m sure other trades have been left in a similar position. It’s a shame that kids that could excel in the trades are pushed to go to college where they end up with thousands of dollars in debt. I make a decent living as an electrician.

    I think that America doesn’t respect people in blue color jobs. A lot of kids are being pushed to go to college because that is the only way that you can succeed in life according to most people.

  5. This guy said..

    “One man and his friend watched a little boy as they smoked weed and talked about how weed hasn’t hurt them a bit. In the same conversation they talked about their inability to find a job but apparently lacked the cognitive ability to recognize that smoking weed at a public park at 1 o’clock in the afternoon while a toddler plays under your care is as good a reason to not hire a person for a job as any other.”

    WHY? Is smoking weed as you look after your child, unemployed due to personality discrimination, a crime for which poverty should be punishable ??

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